Our ocular-centric tendencies have hindered the way we design. As a culture, we are bombarded with images, which desensitize and alienate us, regarding our surroundings as a series of potential two-dimensional photographs. As designers, we are trapped in an artistic visual game, detached from culture, society, and time, centered on rendering and photo opportunities and immediate visual impact. Renderings are taken from the strange angles of bodiless observers, and with the help of technology, the design process has become a series of two-dimensional manipulations. Designing solely in this visual dimension creates a meaningless retinal journey, explaining the growing popularity of introspective activities such as meditation and yoga. Architecture should strengthen our sense of being, our compassion, and our participation in the world. We must remember we are composers of volume, choreographers of motion, and sculptors of light and shadow. Rather than regarding the buildings we are designing as distant objects on a computer screen, we must remember that buildings are our instruments. We must imagine how they feel in our hands, how they sound, and how they age; we should be able to play them with our eyes closed. Located in subterranean Detroit, The Sensorium utilizes the architectural materials of texture, scale, vibration, light, shadow, and spatial sequencing; translated from the musical notation of The Firebird, by composer Igor Stravinsky, to evoke motion and elicit emotion. Through a holistic synesthetic experience, the visitor sees sound, touches the rhythm of dance, listens to geometry, and walks around music.
1,150 ft below the surface, The Sensorium is located in subterranean Detroit, and makes use of the existing head-frame and mine shaft of the Detroit Salt Mine Company. In Detroit’s southwestern industrial corridor, occupying only about an acre of land on the surface, the Detroit Salt Mine spans more than 8 square miles below the city’s surface. Together with the choice of the song, was the decision to build underground, eliminating a façade, and therefore, eliminating the immediate visual impact from the surface. Salt mines do not have the harmful environmental effects associated with other mining practices, and when abandoned, are often used for storage. Recently, the healing power of salt for respiratory ailments as well as numerous other ailments has inspired a few spas to head underground, finding that in terms of the benefits from exposure to salt, one hour in a salt spa is equivalent to three days at sea. Detroit’s urban fabric shows a pattern of areas of high industrialization surrounded by dense residential areas, originally formed for the convenience of walking to work. Now that the effects of such industry on air quality are better understood, this layout can be extremely harmful for the citizens of Detroit. In addition to the sensual synesthetic experience, The Sensorium also provides an oasis for the citizens of Detroit. While inspired by the song, The Sensorium was also influenced by volumetric proportions and construction types of the existing Detroit Salt Mine.
Currently on display at The Pennsylvania State University, the artifacts act as an example of the notational coalescence of disciplines, and are each unique synthetically volumetric experiences. By unifying our sensory responses with music and time, as well as the participatory haptic qualities of dance and motion, we can enhance sensory density, complexity, and dimensionality of our built world by creating what Edward Tufte, author of Escaping Flatland, refers to as “narratives of space and time.”