Urban Sound and the Politics of Memory

Urban Sound and the Politics of Memory is a networking and exchange visit to Beirut organised in partnership between the research groups Recomposing the City and Theatrum Mundi.

Can the past be heard in the acoustic ecology of a city? Do the echoes of the past resonate within musical culture, sonic art, and the sounds of public life in streets and buildings? If so, how do practitioners process memory by reshaping the sounds of the city into new forms? During this week long visit we will facilitate opportunities for exchange between practitioners and researchers from Lebanon and the UK, to share understanding of the ways sound art imagines and is shaped by histories inscribed into the fabric of the city. We intend to assemble a small group of musicians, sound artists, urbanists, architects and scholars that will work together to exchange knowledge and practice through a series of activities over 3 days.

UK participants:

  • Gascia Ouzounian, University of Oxford / Recomposing the City
  • Richard Sennett, London School of Economics / Theatrum Mundi
  • John Bingham-Hall, Theatrum Mundi
  • Christabel Stirling, University of Oxford
  • Merijn Royaards, Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London

The Sound-Considered City Launched

On the 19th February, we launched our new publication at Belfast City Hall. We thoroughly enjoyed the event, and thank everybody who came for your support.

The occasion was elevated by fantastic presentations from Dr. Ken Sterrett (City Reparo), Adam Turkington (Seedhead Arts) and Richard Dougherty (Hall McKnight Architects). 

Photo Credit: Conan McIvor 

To download a pdf of The Sound-Considered City click here.

To watch news coverage of the event click here.


RTC Present Research at Parliament Buildings, Stormont

RTC's Dr Sarah Lappin and Dr Rachel O'Grady were delighted to present their latest research at the Northern Ireland Assembly's Knowledge Exchange Seminar Series (KESS).

The Assembly’s Research and Information Service (RaISe) jointly delivers KESS with the Queen’s University of Belfast (QUB – co-founder 2011), Ulster University (Ulster - 2012) and The Open University (OU – 2013).  It is the first of its kind in the United Kingdom, formally partnering a legislative arm of government – the Assembly - with academia.  Aiming to promote evidence-led policy and law-making, KESS provides a forum in which academics present their research findings in a straightforward format, on issues that are relevant to governance in Northern Ireland.  It seeks to bring those findings to the attention of key participants and decision-makers, including MLAs, the wider public sector and others, in a “safe space” that encourages discussion, fosters improved understanding and seeks to enable opportunities for more in-depth engagement in future.  (Source: niassembly.gov.uk) 

Sarah and Rachel presented at the session alongside Prof. Keith Attenborough of the Open University who delivered a fascinating presentation Acoustics for STEM and STEAM.

For more information click here.


Going Ahead! Acoustic Cities Study Day

We look forward to welcoming you to the Acoustic Cities Study Day tomorrow, Friday 2 March, 9.30 AM - 5.30 PM in the Faculty of Music, University of Oxford.

We are going ahead with the event despite weather / travel disruptions.

More information on the symposium here: http://recomposingthecity.org/symposia/

Acoustic Cities Study Day

The interdisciplinary research groups Recomposing the CityUrban Rhythms Network, and Theatrum Mundi will co-host a Study Day on Acoustic Cities in the Faculty of Music, University of Oxford.

The Study Day will be devoted to exploring a wide variety of issues and practices related to urban sound: city symphonies, acoustic architectures, the politics of sound and noise mapping, intersections between sound art and urban design, sound and pedagogy in architecture and urban studies, and the challenges of acoustic planning, among other pertinent issues.

Registration:  https://www.eventbrite.com/e/acoustic-cities-study-day-tickets-42691602733


We are grateful to the AHRC, the Faculty of Music at the University of Oxford, and the TORCH Centre for Research in the Humanities at Oxford for their support of this day.

Conor McCafferty and Elen Flügge present at 'So What?'

RTC's PhD researchers Elen and Conor have been invited to present at PLACE's So What? series on the 13th February in Belfast. The title of the presentation is Exploring Urban Space in Belfast Through Sound. The idea of So What? is to showcase the range of research in architecture and urban planning going on in Northern Ireland.

Find out more about the So What? series here.

 Still from the  HEAR YOUS:LISTEN UP  interventions, Culture Night 2017.  Dr. John D'Arcy, Queen's University Belfast.

Still from the HEAR YOUS:LISTEN UP interventions, Culture Night 2017.  Dr. John D'Arcy, Queen's University Belfast.

Sarah Lappin presents new RTC publication at AIARG Conference

The 7th annual conference of the AIARG (All Ireland Architecture Research Group) took place on 25th-26th January. The conference, named Res Publica explored the relationship between architecture and the public realm. As part of this exploration, Dr Lappin presented our new publication The Sound-Considered City as part of her talk 'Sound Art and the Making of Public Urban Space'.

 AIARG Conference Image by Rebecca-Jane McConnell

AIARG Conference Image by Rebecca-Jane McConnell

The Sound-Considered City - Launch: Speakers Confirmed

We are delighted to confirm that we will have three guest speakers at the launch of our new publication The Sound-Considered City on the 19th February:

The event will take place in the Reception Room in Belfast City Hall on Monday 19th February 2018 from 4pm to 5pm. Drinks and light refreshments will be served.

Please RVSP and direct any questions to recomposingthecity@gmail.com.


Public CoLab

On 8 January 2018, RTC's Dr Sarah Lappin and sound artist and composer Dr Matilde Meireles offered advice on design and sound elements of the student proposals for Public CoLab.  

Public CoLab, led by Dr Nuala Flood with Niek Turner and Dr Jasna Mariotti is a live project that harnesses the skills, talents and creativity of the architecture students at Queen's University Belfast. It directs them towards a pressing and pertinent issue facing the people of Derry-Londonderry. The project has been developed in collaboration with a riverfront regeneration initiative called Our Future Foyle. It aims to understand the negative connotations associated with the River Foyle and promote a greater sense of health and wellbeing along its banks. It was commissioned and initiated by the Public Health Agency for Northern Ireland and implemented by the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design at the Royal College of Art, London. 

The architecture students have designed a number of interactive installations to bring vitality and joy to this part of the city. These interventions provide a place to pause and enjoy the landscape and, also, to showcase the output of one of two creative local enterprises. The first is a musical composition that reflects the River Foyle and the second is a number of 3D prints created as part of Remake, Reimagine Replay - a national lottery funded project that invites the children of Northern Ireland to reinterpret items for the regions museums using 3D printing technologies. A number of the installations, designed by the QUB students, will be built and tested in-situ in late April 2018. The Derry/Londonderry based Fablab will play a key role in the manufacturing process and they have worked closely with the students for the duration of the project.

 Image: Proposed interventions created by stage 1 students, QUB, 2017-2018

Image: Proposed interventions created by stage 1 students, QUB, 2017-2018

Dr Ouzounian and Dr Lappin to present at Northern Ireland Assembly's KESS

On 28 February 2018, Dr Lappin and Dr Ouzounian will present the findings of RTC to date at the Northern Ireland Assembly's Knowledge Exchange Seminar Series (KESS).  The event, which occurs throughout the year, allows academics and researchers to present their work to elected officials, policy makers and civil servants.  The session on 28 Feburary will feature work of scholars on the topics of "People and surroundings -- impacts of sound."

New Issue of Evental Aesthetics on Sound Art and Environment

Update on Urban Sound Workshops

In September 2016, RTC conducted several workshops with planners, councillors and professionals to better understand the ways in which the sonic environment can be better considered at early stages of urban design projects in Belfast. We were overwhelmed by the interest in our workshops from all areas of planning and urban design and the primary conclusion drawn was that designers and decision-makers alike are calling for sound to be recognised as a key factor in any successful urban setting.

Workshop attendees included:

  • Ards and North Down Borough Council
  • Belfast City Council -- Planning and Environment; City & Neighbourhood Services Department
  • Belfast Harbour Commissioners 
  • Belfast Healthy Cities
  • Belfast Tourism
  • City Reparo Lobbying Group
  • Department of Agriculture Environment and Rural Affairs
  • Healthy Ageing Strategic Partnership, Belfast Health Development Unit
  • Hogarth Group, Landscape Architects
  • Ciaran Mackel Architect
  • Mid Ulster District Council
  • Optimised Environments Consultants
  • Peter Lloyd Associates Acousticians

Since these workshops, RTC have met with key decision-makers in planning and tourism in NI, some of whom asked us to pursue further research to inform their work. As a result, RTC prepared a briefing paper for Belfast City Council describing how acoustic considerations will directly affect the objectives set out in NI’s Local Development Plans.

Thanks to the Urban Sound workshops, our attention has been drawn to several planned urban projects in Northern Ireland that we hope to enhance through advising careful consideration of the sonic environment. For example, research into three scales of sound art installation in urban areas was supplied to Pier Morrow at Belfast Tourism. RTC has applied to present information to the Northern Ireland Assembly in Autumn 2017 as part of the Knowledge Exchange Seminar Series (KESS). KESS is annually delivered by the Northern Ireland Assembly’s Research and Information Service (RaISe) and local university partners: Queen’s University Belfast (QUB), Ulster University (Ulster) and The Open University (OU).

Advice Note

RTC is currently finalising the first draft of a Planning Advice Note. This work is based upon extensive research across Europe, and informed by the workshops held by RTC in Belfast last September. We have carried out a detailed analysis of particularly impactful advice notes from around the UK and the EU.

Consultation sessions will be held shortly with planners, council officers, and professionals in the built environment before the Advice Note is issued. It will set forth RTC’s primary concerns and will include a variety of international examples of sound art installations that have impacted on a number of key factors as identified by the new Belfast Area Plan including:

  • shared space
  • ageing populations
  • sustainable development
  • tourism
  • connectivity

For this reason, the RTC project is currently one of the possible Impact Case Studies for REF UA16 for QUB Architecture and Planning.

Briefing Paper: Planning for Healthy Acoustic Environments

In October 2016, RTC created a briefing paper called Planning for Healthy Acoustic Environments commissioned by Martina Lundy, Belfast City Council, as part of the council’s drafting of new planning policy.

Health will be an important consideration for councils in Northern Ireland as they prepare Community Plans and Local Development Plans as a result of the local government reform in 2015. Sound is an important but often overlooked factor affecting health and wellbeing, especially in cities, and while many environmental health factors in urban areas are improving, noise pollution continues to rise (Goines and Hagler, 2007).

The way that sound affects our wellbeing goes far beyond the impairment of the ear organ and noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). It has been shown to affect blood pressure, mental health, crime and antisocial behaviour as well as economic sustainability and the biodiversity of our natural environments. Therefore, acoustic planning is relevant to councils’ Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) for the Community Plan, and the Sustainability Appraisal (SA) that accompanies the Preferred Options Paper for the Local Development Plan.

This briefing paper presents evidence of health issues associated with noise and sound, and how this can relate to land use planning. It provides evidence that land use planning can improve such issues through considering sound at an early stage, and that this can contribute to economic, environmental and social sustainability.

 Taking sound measurements and recordings in the Cathedral Quarter, Belfast

Taking sound measurements and recordings in the Cathedral Quarter, Belfast


Thank you to all those who have engaged with our workshops on urban sound this week at The MAC, Belfast. We have had an outstanding week of discussions with a wide range of participants from organisations including Belfast City Council, Mid-Ulster Planning Department, Department for Communities Belfast, Landscape Planning and Development Belfast, Healthy Ageing Strategic Partnership, Ards Planning, Belfast Healthy Cities -- as well as an inspiring group of architects, landscape architects, urban planners, developers, policymakers, artists and academics. It has been an intense and invigorating week.

Special thanks to Ken Sterrett, Matilde Meireles and Conor McCaffery for their contributions to the workshop, and to the staff of PLACE NI, the MAC and Queen's University Belfast for their support. The workshops were generously sponsored by the Arts & Humanities Research Council (UK) as part of our project 'Hearing Trouble: Sound Art in Post-Conflict Cities'. A report on these workshops will be available on www.recomposingthecity.org later this month.


Recomposing the City and PLACE Architecture & Built Environment Centre will co-host a series of 3 workshops at The MAC Belfast in September on the topic of urban sound design. The workshops, which are generously supported by the Arts & Humanities Research Council, will bring together urban planners, architects and sound artists in discussing the role of sound in the design and planning of urban environments. We look forward to welcoming workshop participants at The MAC in September. 


 'Listen to this Wall' public art initiative, San Francisco. Photo by Gascia Ouzounian 2016.

'Listen to this Wall' public art initiative, San Francisco. Photo by Gascia Ouzounian 2016.