When Architecture Whistles…

It’s time to use the internet’s favorite word: CONSPIRACY!!!!!! Back in 2006, an article in New Scientist quoted an engineer describing building-related noise as “a construction industry cover-up,” calling it another example of bad planning on the part of architects. It seems that the sounds of whirrs, whistles, and hums could be the counterpart to the intense heat given off by a number of reflective buildings, which serves as an example of how aesthetics are given more importance over functionality. The example New Scientist’s Mick Hamer brings up is the eerie humming from the Beethem Tower in Manchester was reported shortly after the building opened in 2006, and according to witnesses, the vibrations struck a rough “middle C on the piano.” Engineers say the cause of the sound is from the vibration of wind around the thin blade of louvres that extend above the top floor. Here, take a listen:

That’s the gist of almost every single instance of architectural howling: when wind passes over an aperture—similar to a bottle—it creates an oscillating vortex that creates pressure inside the aperture. Should the speed of the wind be similar to the frequency of the air inside, it results in a noise called a Helmholtz Resonator, which is a common explanation for noisy architectural structure. There also exists the Aeolian tone, another aural phenomena, that occurs when wind passes over a sharp edge, such as a louvre or a wire.

Cabrini-Green projects in Chicago, razed due to noise.

ISVR, a consulting firm that deals with noise and vibration, stated that “these resonances create the architectural equivalent of a musical instrument, such as a flute or an Aeolian harp, which generate a tone at particular wind speeds and directions.” On some occasions, the building’s geometry is too complex to figure out or even assume what exactly causes the noise. This was the case behind the razing of the infamous Cabrini-Green projects in Chicago, which reportedly howled, hummed and whistles for weeks during the demolition process — in pain, maybe? Buildings must have feelings, too……


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