An animated interpretation and street view sketch of Grand Central Terminal.
Karen Van Lengen and Jim Welty affiliated with The Institute for Advanced Technologies in the Humanities at the University of Virginia: Director Worthy Martin An animated interpretation and street view sketch of Grand Central Terminal.


The Museum of the City of New York (MCNY) announced the opening of a new installation, “Soundscape New York,” which explores the audiovisual experience of iconic buildings in the city, including Grand Central Terminal, the Rockefeller Center, the Seagram Building lobby, the New York Public Library Reading Room, and the Guggenheim Museum. The exhibit—a collaboration between University of Virginia architecture professor Karen Van Lengen, FAIA, and artist James Welty—will involve recorded sounds from inside each of these buildings, as well as the interpretive animations of those noises projected onto a screen.

Grand Central Terminal’s soundscape, for example, involves an oceanic-style animation with waves and sound representing the background noise, with clangs and echoes depicting a continuous flow of movement in one of the city’s busiest train stations.

The Soundscape project invites the public to tune in to the oft-ignored aural experience of architecture, while exploring the process of graphic displays of those audio characteristics.

An animated interpretation of the Guggenheim Museum.
Karen Van Lengen and Jim Welty affiliated with The Institute for Advanced Technologies in the Humanities at the University of Virginia: Director Worthy Martin An animated interpretation of the Guggenheim Museum.


An animated interpretation of the Seagram Building lobby.
Karen Van Lengen and Jim Welty affiliated with The Institute for Advanced Technologies in the Humanities at the University of Virginia: Director Worthy Martin An animated interpretation of the Seagram Building lobby.


When ARCHITECT interviewed Van Lengen in March 2014, she said the project "comes out of thinking in terms of how to promote the consciousness of our aural requirements in architecture and in our public realm, in general. It’s a difficult issue, because we are predominantly a visually-based discipline."

Van Lengen began working on the project with Welty in 2012 when she became a fellow for the Institute for Advanced Technologies in the Humanities under director Worthy Martin. She spent several days recording the sounds heard at each building and played them back, listening for particular sounds—such as trains arriving at Grand Central Terminal—that overlay the general aura of background noises. She then selected sound bites she considered to be most characteristic of each space.

Those distinct sounds that stood out in each clip provided the working material for the 3-D animations. Van Lengen created abstract images to visually interpret ambient background noises and distinguished sounds. Welty then used those drawings to develop animations of the audio clips.

"We hope to inspire a joy for attentive listening to the public realm and all the rich discoveries that it holds," Van Lengen wrote in an email. "The process of visualizing the sounds through drawings and animations has given us an intimate 'knowing' of these places that we are pleased to share with our audience."

The exhibition opens with MCNY architecture and design curator Donald Albrecht moderating a panel of speakers, including Van Lengen, Welty, and author Tony Hiss on March 10 and runs through June 7, 2015.

Check out our previous coverage of the Soundscape project.