3 Architecture and Sensory Perception

A number of researchers have examined the role that sound and vision may have played in mediating how spaces were experienced by peoples in the past (Devereux 1996; Goldhahn 2002; Watson 2001). Sound, for example, is a universal part of ritual discourse because it is commonly used as a method of contacting and journeying to the spirit world (Watson 2001, 179). Ethnographic studies indicate that Siberian shamans would use drums to modify their voices in ways that caused sounds to become disembodied and shift around the space where they were performing.

Studies of the acoustic properties of megalithic monuments by Watson (2001) and Devereux and Jahn (1996) demonstrate that these structures were occasionally designed in ways that allowed individuals to separate and control sound for the purposes of ritual. Elsewhere, Goldhahn (2002) has argued convincingly that Bronze Age rock engravings in Northern Sweden and Scandinavia were frequently situated in areas adjacent to noisy, running water. Goldhahn suggests that the resulting 'soundscape' may have been used strategically to prevent others from hearing the production of the rock art, thereby concealing evidence that they had been made by human rather than supernatural forces (Goldhahn 2002, 55).

Visual perception has also been considered an important factor in mediating how human beings experience the world around them. Wheatley and Gillings argue that while senses such as smell and sound are important, the visual appearance of a place is one of the most important determinants for the location and layout of sites and dwellings (Wheatley and Gillings 2002, 201). Typically, archaeologists have used two formal concepts to determine visibility: field-of-view, which measures the area visible from a fixed location, and inter-visibility, which calculates the presence or absence of a line of sight between features (Wheatley and Gillings 2002, 202). The desire to make one location visible from two or more other locations can be mediated by both defensive and symbolic factors. Inter-visibility between cairns in Wessex, England, was used by Renfrew (1979) to argue that Neolithic and Bronze Age long barrows functioned as territorial markers for families. Later studies have taken a less formal and more phenomenological approach to visibility (Tilley 1994; 1996). Tilley (1994), for example, visited long barrows in Cranborne Chase and moved around them, interpolating lines of sight from a number of points on the landscape. Unlike Renfrew's work, which measured inter-visibility from fixed points, Tilley (1994) concentrated on how the field of view widened and narrowed as one moved through the monuments. To Tilley (1994) these alternating sequences of display and concealment constituted visual cues which conveyed meaning to the visitor.

If human senses such as sound and vision mediate the experience of 'place', and if these experiences can be expressed and regulated through architectural design, then it is essential that researchers develop methods for simulating the sensory effects of that space. In the case the Thule whalebone house, we were interested in evaluating the premise that the visual exploration of an accurate computer model in virtual reality could be used to achieve this purpose.


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