Ultrasonic architecture I

Exploring ephemerality in the built environment

Link to project booklet

This project began with exploring ways of sensing various spatial phenomena in the built environment through the analysis of light and sound, and then focused on translating the phenomena into an architectural construct. The first phase of the project, titled Ultrasonic architecture I, dealt with the sensing and recording of temporal and immaterial phenomenon through the membrane of an environment.


The early stage of the project involved the recording of machines and objects that emitted inaudible ultrasonic sound, which led to an architectural investigation of this phenomena. The result was a fountain that invited the user to manipulate it in order to discover its hidden ultrasonic properties.

Ultrasonic listening device

I designed an ultrasonic listener which consisted of a microphone capable of receiving ultrasonic sound. The frequencies were then divided by a factor of seven using a CD4024 seven-stage ripple carry binary counter, in order to shift the frequencies into an audible hearing range for humans. A LM386 op-amp served as an audio amplifier. With this device, I made recordings of sources that emitted ultrasonic sound. I created digital notational drawings, overlaid on top of objects that were creating ultrasonic sound. This allowed for a graphical representation as a means of representing what I was hearing. A high-pressure steam valve created mysterious pips and ticks - a signature of its function. The continuous brushing of a motor created a circular rhythym of low-pitch hums, intensifying and attenuating as the listener moved around the machine.

Notational image of a motor

Listen to an ultrasonic recording of the motor

Notational image of a steam valve

Listen to an ultrasonic recording of the steam valve

Emulating the high-pressure water systems and oscillating motors that I had investigated, I built a copper fountain with manual valves that would change the pressure and sound of the water being pumped through it. The outputs of the fountain were crimped and bent in order to shape the streams of water as they exited the fountain. The duality of the fountain in its on and off states served to highlight the monolithic physical structure of the pipes, and the temporality of the sprays of water that were constantly changing. These jets enveloped the shaking pipes and created an evolving form. The observer could use the ultrasonic listening device to investigate different areas of the fountain and hear the ultrasonic sounds.

A user could take one of two ultrasonic listeners, now equipped with loudspeakers, to move around the device and listen to the sounds created by the water. As they opened and closed valves on the fountain, it would shake and the water would spray in different ways, not only emphasizing a temporal architecture created in the moment through the spray, but a symphony of sounds, tailored to each user's experience.

Final model



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