The Silent Room is an urban intervention that proposes public shelters where citizens can freely rest, insulated from the noises of the city and other sensorial aggressions.
“Silence is becoming a commodity for the privileged,” says designer Nathalie Harb. To live in an urban environment is to be subject to a torrent of information and distraction, while public space is disappearing in a relentless wave of privatisation. The Silent Room responds to this context, providing a cocoon-like space isolated from the city’s noise. “It offers the luxury of silence to everyone, regardless of background or status. It redresses the sonic inequity within the contemporary urban landscape.”
Visitors enter a perforated brick and timber tower and ascend a staircase to the wooden upper level, which houses the Silent Room. The light inside is very dim, providing the absolute minimum of visual information: “It’s not a space that’s designed to be seen, so much as sensed,” says Nathalie Harb. The walls and floor are lined with fabric, which is also in a very subdued tone. Eight speakers gently broadcast a field recording of the city at its quietest moments. This is all that the visitor will see and hear. “I hope that it’ll give the visitor a different way of thinking about the urban environment, of understanding it in terms of noise and silence, over-stimulation and peace: that you’ll come away from it with an increased awareness of the soundscape around you and its effects.”
The Silent Room was inspired by Nathalie Harb’s home city of Beirut. “It came out of the very particular soundscape of that city, which is itself a product of the fact that physical space is so limited there. Sounds are very close to you, and short and sharp – it’s a hugely saturated environment.” The Silent Room, on the other hand, is a place of absence.