Ear & Stone: Acoustics, Architecture and Art in Ostia, London Roman Art seminar

Yesterday, I presented at the London Roman Art seminar, which I attend somewhat regularly. Unlike the majority of my presentations, the Roman Art seminar was a 45 min presentation and I could layout my argument in more detail. The presentation was a summary of my PhD research with some hints at more recent work along the same lines. Those of you that read my posts regularly will no doubt recognise much of the presentation, although it does draw on much of my recent non-theory architectural work. The Lefebvre work is in the background and due to the audience not discussed in any detail. Instead, I focused on three case studies, which build an argument for the rethinking of internal and external noise as socially manipulated within the city of Ostia. In the presentation, I went off script and walked through the physics behind many of the slides. The Q&A reflects the oral version, which downplayed the literary material and was more focused on internal/external and public/private divisions. The paper is posted below and a summary of the Q&A is at the end.

Ear and Stone: Acoustics, Architecture and Art in Ostia

Jeffrey D. Veitch

University of Kent

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My title is taken from Richard Sennett’s provocative 1994 book Flesh and Stone: The Body and the City in Western Civilization. I will not discuss this book in any detail and use it namely to point out Sennett’s reliance on sight as a quintessential Roman architectural virtue. For Sennett, Rome was governed by visual order with Hadrian being the epitome (87-123).

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This reliance on Roman visual culture was already beginning to be questioned by studies of social practices, such as Roger Ling’s discussion of way finding in Pompeii (1990). What remained elusive was the auditory character of Roman cities and the ways in which Roman inhabitants experienced architecture.

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Recently, the role of sound in Roman culture has begun to be explored in the epigraphic and literary sources. Initial studies have highlighted the character of social taboos in terms of trades (Bond 2016) and social history of professional musicians (Vincent 2016).

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The sound specific studies draw from an increasing scholarly awareness of movement and multisensory approaches, like that of Eleanor Betts (2017), in shaping social space of Roman places and cities. It is in this context, and specifically Eleanor’s 2013 conference of the same title, that I first began to think about acoustics and Roman social relationships.

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It is worth briefly introducing my own non-academic background in sound production, as it has led my interests in acoustics, social theories and architecture. Acoustics can be approached from a diversity of different fields, shown here. Prior to my undergraduate and postgraduate work in archaeology and ancient history, I worked as a sound engineer for live shows. For just under a decade, I worked for bands and venues producing, what is often called ‘mixing’, sound. This work centres in the ‘auditorium acoustics’ circle in the lower right corner. My first two years of university, I was in the electrical engineering department, before moving into the music department for a year and then transferring into the philosophy, history and religious studies departments, as there was no ‘classics’ department within the institution. So, a decade later, when approaching ancient sounds and Roman archaeology, I was thinking in engineering and arts terms, not life sciences or earth sciences terms represented in the diagram.

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I had originally planned on writing a thesis on the role of social relationships in neighbourhood formation at Ostia, paralleling some work I had done on collegia there. In the first couple months of my PhD, I attended Eleanor’s conference, presented on street blocking along the Decumanus at Ostia and was reaching a dead end with mapping neighbourhood relations. While the there is a wealth of evidence for collegia social networks, neighbourhood groups, and certain architectural boundaries, these forms of evidence are rather challenging to place either geographically in the city or chronologically in relation to one another. The problems of excavation at Ostia, mostly undertaken by Guido Calza in the 1930s, are well known. The poor documentation and simultaneous reconstruction of the site leave a majority of questions unanswered, or raise more questions than they can answer. I had decided to concentrate on a series of studies that focus on the particularities of the site, especially in contrast to Pompeii. In the process of preparing for an end of year review, I realised that sound, used a tool for analysis could help navigate the challenges I faced. With this in mind, I turned to the standing remains in Ostia. Now, sound as tool often gets missed in presentations so, I want to spell out what it entails through my first case study of building materials.

Building Materials
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The uniformity of building techniques at Ostia, even with or without plaster, creates an equal uniformity in acoustic properties. What create auditory hierarchies, in this case, are the dimensions of the space. Differences are evident between opus incertum, used at the Casette Tipo (3.12, 3.13), and opus reticulatum or brick-faced concrete, used in the Insula dei Dipinti (1.4.4). The mass of the wall materials produces transmission loss ratings of 65 dB(A) for opus incertum, 67 dB(A) for opus reticulatum or brick-faced concrete (Veitch 2017). While these are numerically minor differences, namely 2 dB(A), that is enough of a difference for the human body to hear the change.

This suggests that while the difference between opus reticulatum and brick-faced concrete would not be noticeable in terms of sounds, the use of opus incertum was noticeable. This suggests an experiential difference, a difference that could potentially reshape social relations through the wall, and a difference in the chronology of construction techniques. The choices and transitions in building techniques and styles are also choices in the experience of the spaces constructed.

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In this way, the famous line of Augustus finding Rome a city of mud-brick and leaving it a city of marble reflects auditory experiences of changes, as well (Suet. Aug. 29). In the slide, I have converted the construction techniques into their absorption coefficients, measured in Sabins (named after Wallace Sabine founder of the field of architectural acoustics). The Sabin gives the amount of sound energy absorbed by the material, which then is converted into the length of time a sound takes to decrease by 60 dB. Turning to the remains at Ostia, the different construction materials and techniques can be converted into their auditory properties and the acoustic properties compared.

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In this image, the various interactions between a sound signal and a wall are depicted. The sound (s) will strike the wall, reflecting some sound energy back into the room (A) and some energy being absorbed by the material (F). This will happen again as the sound signal encounters another material, until the sound signal passes through the wall (D) at a diminished sound energy level.

Acoustics is the study of the room based on the auditory properties. In this case, sound is not the object of study, but the methodological tool to analyse the characteristics of the room. In cotemporary design, the room’s acoustics are measured through the recording of sound in the room. Absorption coefficient is the amount of sound energy absorbed by a material, while transmission loss is the amount of sound energy that passes through the material. These modern measurements give numerical values for the reaction of sound passing through or reflecting off a given material. Thus, in Augustus transformation of Rome, the experience is one of less sound absorption and more sound reflected. Sound, in this instance, is the tool for measuring the materials and dimensions of the space, rather than the object of study.

The case studies chosen, namely streets and apartments, highlight the distinctive character of Ostia, especially in terms of building materials and acoustic properties. What these case studies help answer are the relationship between street noise, a product of street activity, and internal space. Or more broadly questions about the interaction between internal and external space, the relation between the concepts of public and private in Roman understanding, and the human experience of Roman architecture.

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The density of, and potential for high levels of activity, evident in Ostia would affect internal spaces (see Laurence 2007: 107-9). Hence, do we see evidence for the arrangement of internal space to suppress, or dampen, noise (a modern question)? Or do we in fact need to rethink the boundary between streets and internal space and instead ask, what social function does noise play in Ostia? As Monica Degen, a contemporary sociologists notes, ‘Sound or its absence, can link or divide two separate spaces: inside a house the noise of outside traffic, such as police sirens and beeping cars, disappears or filters through, and questions what is inside or outside, public or private’ (Degen 2008: 44). In answering these questions, I move from apartment arrangement into the streets. Along the way, I will draw on some further research not included in my thesis looking at Mithraea for comparative examples within second century CE Ostia where visibility is restricted into the space.

Apartment Arrangement
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When looking at the arrangement of apartments in Ostia the rectangular shape of the units leaves the long sides facing the street (most often) or internal space. In certain cases, namely the Garden House complex and the Casette Tipo, the apartments are surrounded by neighbouring buildings insulating them from certain streets. Of particular importance is the presence of windows along one façade, which in 14 cases front onto streets. Now unlike brick-face concrete, windows allow for higher levels of noise to pass through (measured in terms of SPL). It is worth commenting on the standard measurement of sound intensity, or loudness, which is the Sound Pressure Level, or SPL. The SPL is a standard unit, which is the base for modern auditory measurements. The human ear can differentiate between SPL measurements of at least 2 dB and can perceive sounds between 20 dB and 120 dB; over 120 dB the body feels pain and can experience immediate damage.

In this case, the acoustics of the internal room affect the level of sound audible in the street. That is to say, in certain rooms, namely the reception rooms at either end of the apartment, the acoustic properties show an ability to amplify the overall SPL levels, making the space sound louder, and enabling higher levels of noise to be heard outside. Now, the level of auditory clarity diminishes, in this case, making the particularities of exact words harder to interpret. We will return to the affect of auditory clarity at the end and the role of noise, understood as unclear auditory information.

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At the scale of the city, it was the location and position of the apartment, in terms of the windowed façade, that suggest forms of ‘noise suppression’, a modern term for the control of sound. Here in the centre of the city, just off the forum and N Cardo Maximus, the Insula of the Painting faces into an internal area, not the street. In contrast, the two apartments in Region 5 form an ‘L’ windows facing onto the street (5.3.3, 4). The acoustic properties of the largest reception room (marked by red diamonds) can be analysed. What results is that 5.3.3 and 5.3.4 have broader frequency response and longer reverberation times, which suggest acoustic properties that make the space seem larger than its dimensions and the ability for higher levels of noise, especially high-frequency noise, to pass through the windows and walls. Where physical location was the only recourse to ‘noise suppression’ the analyses suggest the opposite: the apartments facing the street were potentially ‘louder’, than those facing an internal space. In comparison, the earliest Mithraeum in Ostia, ca. 162 CE, shared a wall with a row of shops and a small courtyard house (3.1.6; see White 2012). In this case, the opus incertum walls acoustically connected these neighbouring spaces, even with visibility complete cut-off.

A contradiction of conclusions can be drawn: first, location was the only form of control over sound, as certain regions or areas of the city could be louder; second, locations were of key social importance for inhabitants. Thus, ‘where’, location of the apartment (or Mithraea), and ‘what’ could be heard were the rhythm of Ostian high-status apartments (or Mithraea) social networks. In either case, apartments or Mithraea, the acoustic properties cannot contain the social groups within, sound emanates out into neighbouring space, creating a wider auditory geography than the physical walls, ceilings, and spaces of social activity.

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The first conclusion needs a clarification, namely how locations within the city can be classified as ‘louder’, ‘noisy’, or more auditorially active. A variety of measurements have been devised for the possibility of street activity since Ray Laurence’s ratio of street length to doorway distance (1994a: 88-96), Space Syntax being the most common and complex. A simple look at the location of shops, in relation to the apartments, offers some insight. Shops surround the Insula of the Paintings, while the apartments in Region 5 are devoid of them. By comparison, Hannah Stöger’s Space Syntax analyses suggest that the streets, on which the apartments are found, are in the lower end of statistical movement analysis (choice and integration) (2011: 213-9). This suggests that these streets were not likely used in getting to other area of the city (integration) or as a potential destination for movement (choice). However, Stöger leaves out any connecting road along the north end of the city, thus creating dead ends where the buildings stop. The importance of a street along the river is evident in the placement of porticoes along streets perpendicular to the river, even lesser streets, and a topic I will be discussing at CA on Friday.

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The reorganisation of the N Cardo and surrounding area between 116-120 CE highlights the continuation of the streets to the river and connections in the east-west direction. Heinzelmann’s geophysical survey of sections north of the Decumanus suggests possible streets along the river (not published yet), as well as Italo Gismondi’s plan in Scavi di Ostia I indicates an intersection by the river and a north-south street across from the Via del Sarapide (on the 1:500 plan). Connecting these to possible streets along the river seems reasonable and would, therefore, alter the integration and choice measurements for streets connecting the Decumanus and river.

In terms of street sounds, similar acoustic analyses can be done based on the building materials and dimensions of facades and pavements. In Ostia, the majority of streets were paved in basalt, which gives a uniform measurement for the paving. This overlooks the reconstructed aspect of street pavements in Ostia, which requires its own study.

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This graph shows the acoustic properties of the three widest streets, all with porticoes along a given section. In this graph, a sound is hypothetical made at the middle of the street (0 along the bottom of the graph). The sound travels down the length of the street in both directions (descending lines from the centre). As the pavement and facades are constructed out of similar materials, the presence of porticoes and the dimensions are the differences shown in the graph (especially evident in the graph of the Via Epagathiana). The dimensions of the street were the primary difference in the acoustic properties, but in this final section I want to turn to another source of evidence for the particular sounds associated with streets and draw some conclusions about the relationship be internal and external space, and the concepts of public and private.

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Latin literary sources make frequent reference to streets and sounds as displayed in this chart. The forum is by far and away the most referenced space associated with sounds, followed by via, vicus, semita. What the chart shows are the total counts of sound root words within 100 characters of the corresponding street term, pulled from the Packard Humanities Library. This is not surprising, as Cicero and Livy form the largest corpus of literary texts in the PHI. What this shows is an association between certain literary spaces, namely forum, via, vicus, and semita, and sound.

What, however, this kind of graphing allows for is the particularities of certain sounds in relation to the way streets are conceived within Roman literary sources. In general, ‘son-‘ words are associated with vicus, ‘clam-‘ words with the forum and ‘silent-‘ with the forum and vicus.

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If we run the same network with a particular sound carried by people, namely rumours (rumor or fama), the trio of forum, via, vicus shift as via and vicus overtake forum. This association of certain sounds with particular places within the city of Rome reflects the experience of streets. As Ray Laurence discussed, rumours were part of the political communication between elite and non-elite in the late Republic (1994b) and, as shown here, were placed in certain streets by the literary sources. In this case, the misinformation associated with rumours could be seen as a diminished level of auditory clarity, noted in relation to the reception rooms within the apartments.

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As noted, the arrangement of apartments was parallel to streets with a central façade and windows predominately along the street. I suggested that this physical arrangement of space created the contradiction of isolating noise through the geographical location within the city and acoustically linking internal noise with the street. As we saw, geographical location and arrangement were evident in the two sets of apartments, however there was no complete sound isolation, or sound proofing. Sounds from the main reception room could be heard in the street at certain apartments. This is in opposition to the way street noise is discussed today (mostly in terms of traffic noise). Today we are concerned with outside, traffic noise, being filtered out or separated from inside noise. What I suggest, in conclusion, is that Roman concerns, both positive and negative concerns, were associated with inside noise being heard outside.

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This experience of the breakdown between inside and outside parallels the social role of rumours in streets. The street is associated with rumours and, as shown, acoustically linked to high-status apartments, in the case of Ostia. Now, references to rumours are primarily from the period before Ostia’s peak. Here, Augustus boast returns. The development of construction techniques, materials and the reconfiguring of Roman cities were experienced through Roman ears. The lack of clear sound isolation or development of sound reducing arrangements in the period between the late Republic and 2nd c. CE suggest that the experience of overhearing inside noise did not develop into a particular architecture, but it held a social importance, which breaks down the division of internal/external space and critically questions the continued utility of distinctions between public and private at the entrance to spaces.

M. Degen (2008) Sensing Cities: Regenerating Public Life in Barcelona and Manchester (London).
R. Laurence (1994a) Roman Pompeii: Space and Society (London).
R. Laurence (1994b) ‘Rumour and Communication in Roman Politics’ Greece and Rome 41: 62-74.
R. Sennett (1994) Flesh and Stone: The Body and the City in Western Civilization (London).
H. Stöger (2011) Rethinking Ostia: A spatial enquiry into the urban society of Rome’s imperial port-town (Leiden).
M.L. White (2012) ‘The Changing Face of Mithraism at Ostia’, in Balch and Weissenrieder (eds.) Contested Spaces: House and Temples in Roman Antiquity and the New Testament (Tübingen), 435-492.

Q&A Summary:

I had a series of questions about basic physics of sound (does sound travel up or down at the same rate, if so, what about first floors?) and its relation to particular elements, mostly non-fixed elements (like furniture). I will summarise my response to these questions as a group, as many responses overlapped each other: Sound travels in all directions from the source of the sound. In the case of streets, the sound starts at ground level and reflects off the tarmac, as well as travelling upward. In this instance, sound would travel to upper floors, but it would be diminished as it passed through the building materials, same as the ground floor. First floor windows, in many cases, seem to be open with wooden shutters, rather than glass. This would allow certain levels of noise to enter unimpeded, distance from the sound source being the only effect on the sound level.

In terms of internal furnishings: yes, they alter the acoustics of the space and I did include them in certain instances. Room A in the apartments display signs of usage as dining rooms and I analysed the acoustics with three dining couches, using Pompeian examples, and nine adults (three on each couch as is typical of depictions of dining). Other furnishings like tapestries and carpets are evident in certain sources, and would change the acoustics, but as there is no direct evidence for them in Ostia, I did not factor them into the analysis. All these elements can be added to my database, but I started with the basic room.

I had some questions about transmission loss and its relationship to the width of walls. In particular, comparison was made to modern London where wall widths are, in comparison to Ostia, extremely narrow (difference between brick and mortar walls versus wood frames and sheet rock or wood): The transmission loss is measured not by the width, but by mass. So, wider walls are usually walls with greater mass (unless there is a hollow core, in which case you could calculate the transmission loss of each part individually). There are ancient construction techniques that would block out the majority of sounds, however, in the case of Ostia, these were not standard techniques. The use of the older castrum wall in several warehouses, is a case in point.

I had some further questions about particular sounds in relation to rooms and the layout of spaces, especially in terms of household activities. The first question was the relationship between day and night sounds, as certain carts were barred from entering Rome during the day time. This does provide a key piece in understanding the timing of noise throughout the day and night. Although I did not bring it up in my paper, the cycle of sounds throughout the day is one of the most important factors in assessing Roman inhabitants general perception of sounds. Another comment along these lines was about the level to which an average Roman would even care about noise. I think this is a valid point, which I agree with, but that does not invalidate asking the question. In fact, the lack of clear temporal reference to sounds within the literary sources (Martial’s complaint being the exception that proves the rule) suggests that these noises were not unusual, but in fact very usual and part of the lived experience of cities.

There were also a series of questions about windows: Roman window glass are small panes set within a framework, usually wood. The panes themselves are rather thin, 3-5 mm, and were usually not clear, but coloured. This adds an interesting element to the internal/external discussion, as these are not windows through which someone could see what was happening. The activity could be heard, as I discussed, but the participants would only be recognised by the sound of their voice. Window glass has a distinct reaction to certain sound levels, namely short and loud noises. In these instances the glass reflects a greater portion of the high-frequency sound, creating what is called a ‘slap back’, a sound of the energy bouncing off the glass. This effect happens to varying degrees depending on the sounds produced, but it is a particular effect to glass.

The discussion of activities within the apartments was based on a comparison with Pompeii. The Pompeian house is set perpendicular to the street, which effects the depth to which sounds penetrate the space. Several colleagues are looking at these types of questions (Hannah Platts, RHUL, has discussed this in relation to the Villa of Diomedes outside the Herculaneum Gate). I am interested, and this is potential future study, in looking at the arrangement of entry spaces in Pompeii, as well as first floors (likely Herculaneum, rather than Pompeii), to asses the level of sound penetration in comparison to Ostia. As noted in the paper, the distinctive parallel arrangement of Ostian apartments breaks down the internal/external divide in certain instances. Pompeii provides a different arrangement, as well as different building techniques, that are worth comparative analysis. Now, household activities within the apartments are somewhat limited in choice of location. The small rectangular shape leaves limited places for cooking and suggests that noise associated with these activities would filter through the apartment quite easily. Many of the internal walls are thinner than the exterior walls and would, therefore, allow more sound to pass through. By comparison, the Pompeii house arrangement allowed for a certain level of separation, or distance between reception spaces and household spaces. This is one of the few potential ‘sound isolating’ techniques available. By physically separating activities the sound had to pass through more space, which increases the dissipation, lower the SPL once it reaches the destination.

It was a great discussion and I am grateful to Will Wootton for the invitation, as well as to all those present for the rich engagement with my work.

The Roman City in Motion Presentation Kiel, Germany

Image: North Cardo Maximus, facing south towards the forum, at Ostia (Jeff Veitch)

I am in Germany for an international workshop (details here) and presented some of my work on porticoes. Unlike the majority of presentations last year, I presented from a manuscript, as I wanted to stay focused on some key points of discussion. I had not originally planned to discuss porticoes (was going to save it for another paper), but did not have the time to develop my work on the Vicus Iugarius in Rome to a presentable point.  The majority of questions following the paper were aspects of clarification, many of which were due to my ownpresentation style. I continually struggle with a good balance between spatial theory, physics of sound, and my case studies. In this paper there is a clear preference on the theoretical framework, at the expense of the physics of sound and sound analysis. I have included a summary of the discussion following the paper at the end.

The Roman City in Motion: Senses, Space and Experience

Jeffrey D. Veitch, University of Kent

[Title Slide] Thanks to the organisers of the session and to you all for being here.


Image: Lefebvre on Roman space

[Lefebvre Rome] At several points, Henri Lefebvre makes reference to two topics taken up in this paper: the senses and Roman space, although neither is in reference to the other. For Lefebvre, following Nietzsche and Marx, the senses are theoretical tools for understanding space,[1] while Rome serves as a concrete example of the social production of space within Lefebvre’s history of the city.[2] In this paper, I take Lefebvre’s twin suggestions as a starting point for a theoretically informed interpretation of Roman urbanism. That is to say, the senses serve as tools for understanding the reciprocal influence of the body and space in the formation of urban experience.

Using the senses as a theoretical tool, following Lefebvre, I want to make this argument: by placing the sensory experience of street acoustics under the microscope, I argue for an experiential agency of portico space that is shaped by physical architecture, bodily movements and literary perceptions. Each of these aspects will be addressed in that order and set the framework for the argument of this paper. In this way, I draw together the two elements of Lefebvre’s suggestions and argue for experiential agency as sensory perceptions of urban space and its formation of the Roman sensorium.

The Senses as Kinaesthetic Tools

[Lefebvre books] Let us begin by listening to Lefebvre and bringing his insights in line with recent emphasis on kinaesthetic and embodied forms of knowledge. Recent studies of Roman space and spatial concepts have drawn primarily from the work of Henri Lefebvre. Writing in the late 1960s to mid-1970s, Lefebvre formulated the groundwork for what was letter termed the ‘spatial turn’(See Harvey, Social Justice and the City (University of Georgia 1973); Soja, Postmodern Geographies (Verso 1989)). Lefebvre suggests a ‘pedagogy of the body’ that ‘would connect the conceived to the lived (and conversely), assumes a form of qualitative knowledge still in a state of germination and promise. Rhythmanalysis, for example’.[7] The invocation of rhythmanalysis draws the senses and times into this ‘pedagogy of the body’, as the rhythmanalist ‘thinks with his [sic] body’.[8] This further elaborates the nature of Lefebvre’s tripartite division of space between the conceived, perceived, and lived. The knowledge derived from the connection of the conceived and lived is sensory knowledge. Lefebvre draws on smells and musical metaphors to describe the rhythmanalist’s methods and emphasises the measurement of space by the body.[9]


Image: Libet Diagram (Source on the slide)

Lefebvre does not develop these ideas into a method and they are scattered throughout his diverse writings. Here I want to draw in some more work, which grounds these ideas in movement and embodiment. [Libet Diagram] By the end of the 1970s, several experiments had verified that between an event and our sensory experience there was a half-second delay.[11] In following experiments it was further confirmed that unconscious reactions had delays of 100 ms, or a tenth-of-a-second delay.[12] What this suggested is that conscious reflection or action based on sensory stimuli was, in fact, a reflection on a past event, all be it a very recent past event.[13] To put this in Lefebvrean terms, lived space precedes conceived space in its mediation by the senses. Or simply, we sense the world before we act, think or reflect on that world.

This places human agency at the start of interactions with the built environment, rather than beginning with language or thought. I like the emphasis on agency; performative acts do ‘something’ to space (I am also keen to keep the ‘something’ ambiguous). Here reflexivity becomes important, especially in terms of atmosphere and the social action of participants. I want to extend the reflexivity to the space of action, as well as the action itself. The reflexivity of architecture coincides with the reflexivity of the senses.[15] In my own work, I stress the role of architecture in social construction based on auditory experience; the human bodies auditory system interprets space in the act of hearing. At the same time, what, where, and how we hear are part of the social and cultural understandings (habitus) we learn through repetitive experience of space.

Interpreting Streets through the Senses


Image: AC & TL Diagram (Veitch 2017)

[AC & TL] The embodied knowledge carried within a cities inhabitant’s places agency as central to knowledge formation.[16] Simply put, human agents create the social, cultural and physical world through sensory experience, first unconsciously and then through cognitive reflection. However for Romans to be social agents a mass of infrastructural material must already be in place.[17] The infrastructural materials can be assessed and measured to analyse the kinaesthetic experience in terms of comparative figures. Physical dimensions and construction materials shape the auditory experience of the streets, which can be measured using modern acoustic design tools.


Image: Eleanor Betts recent publication (Routledge 2017)

[EB Book] In my chapter in Eleanor Betts’ recent publication, I focus on Absorption Coefficient (AC) and Transmission Loss (TL). I explain the physics of these measurements in that chapter and here point out the basic difference as sound reflected, AC, or sound passing through the material, TL.[18] [Augustus] The reflection, resonance and other auditory effects of sound create the experience the body interprets in the half-second delay. These auditory effects are directly related to the dimensions, size and shape of urban space. In particular, I want to look at the basic architectural structure of streets in Ostia, with some comparisons to Pompeii and Rome, to assess the kinaesthetic experience and knowledge potentially created.


Image: Streets and Shops in Ostia (Veitch 2017)

[Ostia] At the scale of the city, by the second century CE Ostia had developed beyond any formal grid system. However other forms of standardisation were at work within Ostia. Ellis has shown a clear preference in Ostia for shop entrances on the right-hand side of the threshold.[19] Street widths in Ostia display an uneven geographical distribution, same as Pompeii, although with a clear preference in width of 4-6 m.[20] However Ostia has a limited number of streets roughly 8 m in width, the other major grouping in Pompeii.[21] Instead, 94% of the streets in Ostia are less than 7 m in width. The widespread use of basalt on streets across Ostia suggests a certain foundational auditory experience, as the absorption coefficient is low (0.01-0.02) and sound would reflect off the surface.


Image: Streets and Porticoes in Ostia (Veitch 2017)

In terms of auditory experience, the limited range of widths in Ostia suggests building height and architectural elements being prime motivators of auditory differences. Unlike Pompeii, street architecture, such as benches and sidewalks, are primarily reconstructed and there are limited remains for analysis. [Portico map] Porticoes appear in Ostia, although again, in an uneven geographical distribution across the city. Beginning in the early 2nd c. CE, several large-scale building projects, with associated porticoes, began to reshape the city’s urban experience.[22] Unlike benches, fountains, or shrines, porticoes create a space of experience defined by the architecture. The semi-enclosed area is experienced as acoustically separated space from the roadway beyond, even as sounds will pass between the two auditory fields. In this way, the two auditory fields influence each other. Sounds from one bleed into the other. What becomes an issue is the terminology and language of description, which we will return to at the end.


Image: Sound Dissipation on 3 Streets in Ostia (Veitch 2017)

[Sound dissipation] Turning to the kinaesthetic experience of porticoes and streets in Ostia, the acoustic properties of street canyons can be modelled using based on the materials and dimensions of the street. Here the sound dissipation on 3 streets, all with porticoes along some part, is modelled. Measurement is made based on a noise in the centre of the street. The Decumanus is the widest (10 m), while the N Cardo is the only street with porticoes on both sides for the whole length (130 m). What the graph indicates is the steep dissipation of sound in the Decumanus, while N Cardo mimics this experience due to the addition of porticoes. In the case of the Via Epagathiana, with a portico on one side and for a limited length the dissipation is skewed on one side of the graph. However, the experience of sound in all three streets shows similar trends. Chronologically, the N Cardo is the earliest large-scale redevelopment with a portico as a defining feature in Ostia (116 CE). Porticoes are constructed along the neighbouring Via dei Misuratori del Grano and Via della Fortuna the next year (117-8 CE), while the forum is finished in the 120s.[23]


Image: Chronology of Porticoes and large-scale building projects (based on DeLaine 2002)

[Portico chronology] It is worth briefly concluding on the chronology of porticoes and shop standardisation outside of Ostia. Pompeii does not have any porticoes along it’s streets in the 79 CE plan. Rome, on the other hand, sees two distinctive groupings of portico construction, namely the late Republican/Augustan period and the Flavian period.[24] However these porticoes were a distinct architectural form, one that does not continue after the Flavian’s in Rome.[25] In roughly the same time period, the regulation of street porticoes is prescribed following the 64 CE fire in Rome.[26] While the literary sources, from the 2nd c. CE (Tacitus and Suetonius), set the motivation for porticoes in the need to control and prevent fires, it is worth noting that it is in the same time period as the last series of portico structures. Here the distinction between experience, in the streets of the 2nd c. CE, and narrative reflection, instigated in the 1st c. CE, is evident. Returning to Ostia, it is not during the Flavian period that porticoes begin to appear but rather at the start of the 2nd c. CE. That is to say, the experience of the portico street was an experience in Rome that reappeared between Pompeii’s destruction and the start of Ostia’s large scale rebuilding.

That the auditory experience is important is obvious, however the connection of that importance to understandings of Roman space is subtler. At the start of this paper, I drew on Lefebvre’s suggestions to use the senses as theoretical tools and the role of Rome in the production of (social) space. Porticoes, I argue, serve to bring together these two points. I noted the unconscious experience of space as being the first point of interaction between humans and the built environment. In the case of the N Cardo, the two porticoes lining the street created a comparable auditory experience to the wider and more limited portico frontage along the east Decumanus. The Via Epagathiana showed the way portico frontage, in that case on the west side, altered the auditory experience of the street. Further study of other streets and porticoes will nuance these findings further.


[Concluding slide] Finally, I want to end with a brief comment on sensory and spatial metaphors as ways of describing the changes in perception. Out of the experience of space, and in particular the changing experience of streets at the end of the first, beginning of the second century CE, Romans perceived of space differently, although not in complete rejection of previous perception.

The associations and metaphors used to describe this translation of experience into literature give clues to the power these experiences could have. Today, we rely on visual and spatial metaphors to describe social relations and urban environments; cities are images, the public eye, we ‘map’ and ‘explore’ social relations and networks. However, these visual and spatial metaphors reduce spatial and social relationships to static and abstract understandings.[29] In the translation of experiences of space to literary reflection vision is given power over other sensory experience.

In the Latin literary context, the verb incedo and its noun incessus refer to walking, which also carries associations with bearing or how one carries oneself.[30] The association of movement with comportment is key. In moving through the city, inhabitants carried themselves, or, in Bourdieu’s terms, enacted their habitus. By drawing movement and comportment together the metaphor places the power on walking, not seeing. The person walking/carrying themselves is the subject. What are necessary are a need to critically evaluate the experience of space, as I have tried to show, as well as the metaphorical conceptions of space. Non-visual, sensory metaphors offer a way forward in understanding the metaphorical architecture of Roman urbanism.


1. If sounds could happen anywhere on the street or in the portico, why is the model based on a sound in the centre of the street? i.e. carts, sellers in the portico, people walking in the street or in the portico.

The model of the acoustics is based on generic sound (white noise, or sound across all frequencies) in a fixed location. This gives us the acoustic foundation from which we can then move to particular sounds. In this paper, I focused on the architecture along the street and the role of porticoes in altering street acoustics. I was less concerned with the catalogue of sounds possibly produced along the street.

2. As a medievalist, we have evidence for mud and dirt along streets and these would dampen sound. Is there any evidence of this in the Roman period?

Short answer: no. There are anecdotal stories of magistrates not cleaning streets (Suetonius, Vespasian 5), legal regulations of what can be left outside of properties (Dig., duties for magistrates to clean and maintain streets and sewers (Dig. 43.23.1-2). Mud and dirt would dampen the sound dissipation of the streets.

[Later thought: this dampening would suggest that the sound dissipation curves for the N Cardo and Via Epagathiana would decrease at the top, moving closer to the Decumanus curve. In the case of the Decumanus, the dampening would happen at the edges of the curve, due to the streets extended length]

3. I am working on urban ecology, what would be the role of birds in your analysis or are there any studies on bird noise?

I do not know of any studies of bird noises in Rome. Particular sounds, such as bird noises, can be modelled in the street space. These would produce different sound dissipation curves to the ones I showed.

4. a) You do not use the term ‘soundscape’ but surely it plays a part in the social porduction of space; b) you ended with [Latin] words, but these would be aspects of the perceived sense, in a theoretical definition of ‘perception’. For example, my husband could snore and this sound would bother me, but may not bother others.

First, soundscapes: I am growing uncomfortable with the term [although, I have used it in publications]. I find its use unclear in defining its geographical extent and it being associated with cataloging all the sounds in a space (again, without reference to the flexibility of this term). That leads to the second point. Yes, ‘perception’ is culturally constituted and that is why I looked to Roman usage of metaphorical walking was associated with comportment. This offers a critique of our own reliance on visual metaphors to describe cities and urban space.


[1] Lefebvre, The Production of Space (Blackwell 1991), 399-400; a point also made by Terry Eagleton but with no reference to Lefebvre, Eagleton, Materialism (Yale 2017), 62-3.

[2] cité: Lefebvre, Metaphilosophy (Verso 2016), 142, 209-215; The Production of Space (Blackwell 1991), 239; see my own review of Lefebvre’s use of Rome and the ancient city at Ancient Noise (blog, jeffdveitch.me).

[3] Laurence, Roman Pompeii: Space and Society, 2nd ed. (Routledge 2007), 103.

[4] Laurence, Roman Pompeii: Space and Society, 2nd ed. (Routledge 2007), 107-9.

[5] Poehler, ‘Measuring the Movement Economy: A Network Analysis of Pompeii’, in Flohr and Wilson (eds.), The Economy of Pompeii (OUP 2017), 204.

[6] Poehler, ‘Measuring the Movement Economy: A Network Analysis of Pompeii’, in Flohr and Wilson (eds.), The Economy of Pompeii (OUP 2017), 204.

[7] Lefebvre, Towards an Architecture of Enjoyment (University of Minnesota 2014), 149.

[8] Lefebvre, Rhythmanalysis: Space, Time and Everyday Life (Bloomsbury 2013), 21.

[9] Lefebvre, Rhythmanalysis: Space, Time and Everyday Life (Bloomsbury 2013), 21, 27, 33.

[10] Lefebvre, Rhythmanalysis: Space, Time and Everyday Life (Bloomsbury 2013), 32; cf. Lebas and Kaufman, ‘Lost in Transposition – Time, Space and the City’, in Writings on Cities (Blackwell 1996).

[11] See Libet et al, ‘Subjective referral of the timing for a conscious sensory experience: A functional role for the somatosensory specific projection system in man’ Brain 102 (1979), 191–222.

[12] Libet et al, ‘Subjective referral of the timing for a conscious sensory experience: A functional role for the somatosensory specific projection system in man’ Brain 102 (1979), 191–222.

[13] See also Thrift, Non-Representational Theory: Space, Politics, Affect (Routledge 2008).

[14] Lefebvre, Towards an Architecture of Enjoyment (University of Minnesota 2014), 151.

[15] Lefebvre, Towards an Architecture of Enjoyment (University of Minnesota 2014), 41.

[16] Eagleton, Materialism (Yale 2017), 65-6.

[17] Eagleton, Materialism (Yale 2017), 67.

[18] See Veitch, ‘Soundscape of the Street: Architectural Acoustics at Ostia, in Betts (ed) Senses of the Empire: Multisensory Approaches to Roman Culture (Routledge 2017), 54-70.

[19] Ellis, ‘Pes Dexter: Superstition and the State in the Shaping of Shopfronts and Street Activity in the Roman World’, in Laurence and Newsome (eds.) Rome, Ostia, Pompeii: Movement and Space (OUP 2011), 160-173.

[20] Pompeii, Hartnett, ‘Si quis hic sederit: Streetside Benches and Urban Society in Pompeii’, AJA (2008), 110.

[21] Pompeii, Hartnett, ‘Si quis hic sederit: Streetside Benches and Urban Society in Pompeii’, AJA (2008), 110; Ostia, Veitch, Acoustics in Roman Ostia (unpub. PhD).

[22] See DeLaine, ‘Building Activity in Ostia in the second century AD’ in Bruun and Gallina-Zevi (eds.) Ostia e Portus nelle loro relazioni con Roma (AIRF 2002), 41-102 for discussion of large-scale building at this time.

[23] See DeLaine, ‘Building Activity in Ostia in the second century AD’ in Bruun and Gallina-Zevi (eds.) Ostia e Portus nelle loro relazioni con Roma (AIRF 2002), 41-102 for dates.

[24] Macaulay-Lewis, ‘The City in Motion: Walking for Transport and Leisure in the City of Rome’, in Laurence and Newsome (eds.) Rome, Ostia, Pompeii: Movement and Space (OUP 2011), 274.

[25] Macaulay-Lewis, ‘The City in Motion: Walking for Transport and Leisure in the City of Rome’, in Laurence and Newsome (eds.) Rome, Ostia, Pompeii: Movement and Space (OUP 2011), 274-5.

[26] Tacitus Annales 15.43.1-2; Suetonius Nero 16.

[27] Lefebvre, The Production of Space (Blackwell 1991), 40.

[28] Agricola 19-21⁠; Laurence and Trifilò, ‘The Global and the Local in the Roman Empire’, in Pitts and Versluys (eds.) Globalisation and the Roman Empire (CUP 2015), 103.

[29] See Smith and Katz, Grounding Metaphor: Towards a spatialised politics’, in Keith and Pile (eds.) Place and the Politics of Identity (Routledge 1993), 67-83; Massey, Space, Place and Gender (Polity 2002).

[30] Jenkyns, God, Space and City in the Roman Imagination (OUP 2013), 148.

Porticoes, Embodiment and Street Cries: Recent work…

Image: North Cardo Maximus, facing south, towards the forum in Ostia (Jeff Veitch)

Currently, I am working on a variety of different things all at once (presentations, publications, job applications). I have not posted here as much due to these activities and some, like job applications, are not very exciting things to discuss on the blog. However there are a couple of concepts and ideas that are worth briefly discussing, in the hopes that it will motivate me to devote more time to them in the coming months. So, here are a couple of topics swimming in my head right now…

Porticoes: I have two upcoming presentations that I am working on (details here). Originally, I had planned to write two completely separate papers on different aspects of my work (motivating me to write and formulate more particular approaches, ideas, etc). Instead, the two presentations will draw on case studies of porticoes from Ostia. In preparing these presentations, I keep returning to the experienced difference of portico architecture within the social space of streets. At a basic level, the portico is shaded and separated from the street. In auditory terms, the portico and street are different auditory fields, however the two fields influence each other. When the acoustic properties of street canyons are modelled, in instances where porticoes exist, the properties show a marked progression towards the acoustic properties of Ostia’s main street, the decumanus. In a way, certain streets approach the auditory character of the decumanus with the addition of porticoes. The chronology further emphasises the experienced character of the space, which is replicated to various degrees in other places across the city. Streets that could never reach the scale of the decumanus are able to mimic its auditory experience through more controlled and smaller scale developments. I will be testing some of these ideas this next week, when I present in Kiel, Germany.

Embodiment: Several books, lectures and writings have brought embodiment back to the forefront of what I am doing. I picked up Terry Eagleton’s new book, Materialism, and he makes a case for the importance of embodiment in Marx, as well as other forms of materialism. Tied into the emphasis on embodiment is the role of the senses as ways of measuring urban space or embodiment as site of particular forms of knowledge gleaned from the senses. These are not new ideas for me, but they are beginning to crystallise in particular ways (as well as focusing my generally scattered interests). Much of these ideas will appear in my presentations coming up, although they are primarily in the background and theory behind the presentations.

Finally, street cries: Street noise is one of the primary topics in my work and one that I continue dig into. After the winter holidays, I read through a series of books on Paris in the 18th and 19th century. Street criers, sellers and vendors were a part of the landscape of the city in that period and changes to the architecture of Paris were expressed in relation to street noise. There are some parallels with the ancient world, although comparisons need to be cautiously approached. What I find most useful, however, is the theoretical implication of much of this work, which builds bridges between social, political and economic aspects of the senses and their spatial settings. In short, as the topography of Paris changes, the sensorium likewise changes; these shifts produce different social, political and economic spatialities. Rome, I would argue, undergoes parallel changes in many ways. To say that architectural changes that alter the topography of Rome change the experience of the city is obvious. However, what need further study are the particularities of these changes.

How did the addition of porticoes change the way sellers utilised street space? What are the economic implications? Or social? Or political, for that matter? Do street traders change tactics in response to the development of porticoes along streets? Some of these questions have begun to be addressed in various ways. Sarah Bond’s new book, Trade & Taboo: Disreputable Professions in the Roman Mediterranean, address aspects of social stigmas towards criers and auctioneers (praeco). In particular, Bond emphasises the changing nature of such social stigmas from the late Republic to late antiquity. The emphasis on changing stigmas, parallels my own interest in changing urban forms. In a different context, Arjan Zuiderhoek, in The Ancient City (part of the Key Themes in Ancient History series), discusses (briefly) street sellers in terms of a wider understanding of ancient cities. Zuiderhoek covers a similar longue durée of ancient history, although he highlights continuity in city formations, focusing instead more on the archaeological material and current debates. Both are recent publications, which highlight some of the areas for further investigation.

Hopefully, in the coming months some of these ideas will formulate into even more coherent research agendas, possible publications and further blog posts. In the meantime, it’s back to presentation prep and editing a chapter due by the end of the month…

The [Ancient] Urban Revolution

This is the second post in a series on Lefebvre & Ancient Space, the project description is here. Page references are to the 2003 University of Minnesota translation by Robert Bononno with a forward by Neil Smith, available here.

In the opening line, Lefebvre sets out the hypothesis for The Urban Revolution: ‘society has been completely urbanised’ (1). This opening hypothesis requires definition and Lefebvre continues ‘an urban society is a society that results from a process of complete urbanisation’ (1). In contrast, and causing confusion, urban society is used by others to refer to any urban agglomeration or city, whether the Greek polis, oriental or medieval cities, commercial or industrial cities, small cities, the megalopolis (1). However, ‘urban society’ cannot be applied to all phases in the history of the city only to the particular phase following industrialisation (2). The categories of cities are important, as they draw on the general phases of the history of the city in Marxist thought (discussed in a previous post). Lefebvre uses a space-time axis of urbanisation to signpost the division of time, one part of the history of the urban, that is abstract, arbitrary and gives rise to periodisation that have no privilege over other divisions (7). It is worth noting that this is not a history of urbanism, a point Lefebvre draws out at the end of chapter two (41). Three categories correspond to historical cities, which lead to a ‘critical phase’ of current urbanisation, and are placed on the space-time axis: the political city, mercantile city, and industrial city. While Lefebvre’s main concern is with understanding the critical phase, one is required to trace the development to understand the current urban reality.

In Marxist Thought and the City, Lefebvre connects the political city with the ancient city and draws out the implications for social relations (see post here). The ancient city politically dominated the countryside and public and private ownership of property marked the space of the ancient city (Marxist Thought and the City, 29, 77-80). The same definition of the political city is found in The Urban Revolution (8-9; see Marxist Thought and the City, 29), but the discussion opens up the several aspects of the categorisation. The political city closely follows, or accompanies, from the establishment of organised of social life, agriculture and the village (8). For this reason, Lefebvre places the political city at the origin of the space-time axis (8). Socially the political city is made up of priest, warriors, princes, ’nobles’, military leaders, as well as scribes and administrators (8). Writing is necessary for the operation of the political city and it is given over to power, through orders and decrees (8). This implies exchange, which is needed to gain the materials for warfare and excreting power, and artisans and workers to fashion such items (8). What Lefebvre lays out is the material forms of the social and political organisation of the ancient city, although without the use of the term ‘ancient city’. Here we see one of the challenges with Lefebvre: discussion of a single concept spans several writings and, at times, without direct reference to each other.

The transition between the political city to the mercantile city, according to Lefebvre, is precisely over exchange and the integration of markets and merchandise (both people and things) into the city (9). The political city is dependent on exchange however, control and power are excessed to manage such spaces. Spaces of exchange are marked by signs of heterotopy, which are at the outset excluded from the political city (9). Clearly with Foucault’s use of the term in mind, Lefebvre places heterotopia in a different register that of places of informal exchange: caravansaries, fairgrounds and suburbs (N. Smith, ‘Forward’ to The Urban Revolution, xii). It is this process of integration, which Lefebvre notes took centuries, of heterotypic spaces into the city that marked the shift to the mercantile city. For Lefebvre, this does not fully happen until the late Middle Ages and prior to this it was the space of assembly (the agora or forum) at the centre of the city (10). The transition to the merchant city saw an associated shift in the urban form, as exchange became an urban function embodied in the this new city structure (10). Lefebvre dates this transition to the fourteenth century and emphasis the three elements in the transition of form, function and structure (10-1). At a certain point, and Lefebvre does not give a specific date, there was a shift in the relationship between city and countryside (11).

The relationship between city and countryside is discussed at length in Marxist Thought and the City and here, references is focused on the shift from countryside to city in the merchant city phase (see the previous post & 11). Lefebvre argues that at this time the individual losses connection with the city, as well as with nature and the countryside (11). Instead the state takes over both the city and countryside, but is veiled from the individual (12). Reason, logos in Lefebvre, is reborn, not attributed to the urban, but as a transcendent ideal (12). Attachment to the material elements of the urban is lost and Lefebvre notes this loss as the cause of decline in Athens and Rome (one of the few direct references to Rome, 12). At the same time as the rationalism, which culminates in Descartes, the importance of urban life comes to the fore and an image of the city emerges (12).

Lefebvre maintains the importance of exchange and commerce, which imply forms of capital, in the transitions between city phases. Industrial cities emerge from the development of industrial capital and the growth of markets, just as the mercantile city was grafted onto the political city before it (13). There is little reference to the ancient city in the rest of the chapter and, as we have seen in Marxist Thought and the City, Lefebvre argues for social relationships being constituted in the physical and conceptual idea of the city. That is the form, function and structure of the city embody the particular social relationships of that given culture.

Chapter two, ‘Blind field’, again has limited reference to the ancient city, but deserves some close consideration. The theoretical importance of the argument will be apparent and it frames some of the arguments in other writings. The space-time axis, which Lefebvre introduces in the previous chapter, leads to a virtual object (complete urbanisation) (23). In reference to the previous city forms, each successive form allows the previous to be understood. Thus, the breakdown of the precapitalist and preindustrial city, caused by the introduction of capital and industry, allows for the industrial city to be understood; the mercantile city enables the comprehension of the prior political city (23). In this respect, complete urbanisation, a virtual object (the 100% point on the space-time axis), allows for understanding the current form of the city, despite the fact that the complete urbanisation has not yet happened and creates a blind field in social theory (29).

Lefebvre brings in another triple division in phases in the space-time axis: the rural (peasant), the industrial, and the urban (28). These phases are ‘not simply social phenomena but sensations and perceptions, spaces and times, images and concepts, language and rationality, theories and social practices’ (28). In the transition between these phases, the previous phase blinds one to the next phase; the urban is understood by concepts derived from industrialisation (29). Here we see one of Lefebvre’s driving forces in his spatial theory. Theory, as well as philosophy, needs to move beyond the confines of its own production; that is the contemporary city must be understood through theories that have moved beyond those of the prior industrial city. ‘Field’, for Lefebvre, indicates not an approach but, a global concept of a succession of periods and the periods taken individually (32). That is not simply layers of facts or phenomena but, modes of thought, action and life (32).

The urban is a new field, according to Lefebvre, poorly understood and unknown (36). As a new field, urban thought needs reorient itself to the blind field by focusing on social, spatial and temporal differences (37). Another triptych of concepts is introduced in order to understand these differences: isotopy, heterotopy and utopia (37-8). Any place and its surrounding area (neighbourhood, immediate environment)no matter the geographical distance, is an isotopy; that is anything that makes a place the same place, a homologous or analogous place (37-8). Within that place, however, there is always another place, a different place, which is heterotopy (38). A ‘incision-suture’ space, a neutral space, is necessary to differentiate the juxtaposed spaces, which take the form of streets, squares, intersections, gardens or parks (38). However there is also an elsewhere, a non-place, which is the utopia (38). This utopia is not an abstract imaginary but, a real place connected to situations of people (individuals and groups) associated with divinity, power or the imaginary (38). Lefebvre is clearly engaged with Foucault’s idea of heterotopia, but as Neil Smith notes, Lefebvre invokes heterotopia at a more ‘critical register’ that of renegade commercial exchange, politically and geographically independent from the political city (xii). In reference to utopia, Lefebvre draws on the concept of monumentality, especially in relation to the ancient city, as the site of utopia (38-9).

In chapter five, ‘Urban myths and ideologies’, Lefebvre discusses the myth of Atlantis in Plato’s Critias (104-5). The myth of Atlantis serves to introduce Lefebvre’s definitions of myth, ideology and utopia, which are discussed throughout the chapter. Lefebvre begins by posing the question of whether Atlantis could be classified as an urban myth (104). In ancient Greece, as seen in Marxist Thought and the City (2016: 78-82), the political city dominated its surrounding territory, whether villages or peasant groups (104). Plato, thus, applies philosophical thought to the problem of the ancient city, that is the problem of the ancient city’s rational and threatened institutions (105).

The city also offers political thought a ‘re-presentation’ of its political existence (105). This presentation is specific to the city but, not dependent on the institutions associated with the city (105). This creates a utopia inherent in urban thought; one that has urban and agrarian sources (105). But Lefebvre asks, is Critias not a philosophical discourse consisting of myth, ideology and utopia (105)? In this case, myth is non-institutional discourse; ideology is the discourse of institutions; and utopia transcends the institutions by using myths (105). Non-institutional discourse, however, cannot be spoken by anyone or in any place. It requires a specific or specialist group, such as Greek philosophers (105). The triple concepts of myth, ideology and utopia create work together and require conflicts and contradictions to be managed through magic (105). Art is a form of such magic and Greek tragedy can be seen as the working out of conflicts between the city and countryside; the city gives birth to an Apollonian spirit, while the countryside gives birth to a Dionysian (106). The repetition of tragedy therefore becomes a second-order event; a controlled mimicry of the city and countryside conflict played out on the theatre stage and offering a glimpse of the future city (106). Drawing on another of Lefebvre’s primary influences, it is a Nietzschean reading of Greek tragedy mapped onto the city and countryside. The ancient city is threatened by various forces and tragic themes are attributable to the urban, just as agricultural themes were absorbed by the city (106). Tragedy, in this context, is the resolution of a series of conflicts within the ancient city: law versus custom, justice verse violence, the individual verse the brutal community (106). However, these resolutions are not urban myths, which mark the moment when the modern city begins to take shape (106). In comparison to Marxist Thought and the City, Lefebvre here focuses on the social, rather than political or economic, implications of Greek tragedy within a history of the city. It is not phases within this history, as in the first chapter, but, social and philosophical conceptions that are grounded in the city.

The Urban Revolution has a number of interesting threads that relate to various aspects of Lefebvre’s other works. As Neil Smith points out in the introduction, in many ways The Urban Revolution is a precursor to The Production of Space (xii), although grounded in the political immediacy of Paris in the late 1960s, early 1970s (xiii). However, The Urban Revolution also maintains connections with Lefebvre’s earlier Metaphilosophy (1965) and Critique of Everyday Life (vol 1: 1947, 2nd ed. 1958; vol 2: 1961). Lefebvre contextualises metaphilosophy within his discussion of urban phenomenon and the production of models (64-67). The critique of everyday life appears in discussion of urban strategies (139-140). In a way, The Urban Revolution shows the divergent themes in Lefebvre’s work focused on a particular issue, urban society. There are also several points and discussions that do not appear in the later The Production of Space, especially the discussion of nature and Heidegger’s sense of dwelling (‘habiting’). For unknown reasons, these topics are not picked-up again by Lefebvre, although Heidegger appears in the unpublished Toward an Architecture of Enjoyment (written just before The Production of Space). Further parallels will be drawn out in the discussion of those texts, but that does not lessen their importance here. Again, the emphasis in The Urban Revolution is on understanding urban society today and attempting to move beyond older modes of analysis indebted to the industrial city. In that sense, the transition from ancient city to medieval city is placed within the broader transition from the political city to the industrial city.

Some Thoughts on 3D Models, or Putting 3D Models to Research Use

I have an unease with ‘historical reconstructions’, 3D modelling and VR/AR of historical remains that centres on questions of research (see here). This is not to say such reconstructions are ‘bad’, but they seem to be an end-in-themselves. The reconstruction is a way of visualising the total understanding of ‘X’ (whether a building, street, city, etc.) and that is that. No further questions.

However, this reduces the reconstruction to nothing more than a pretty spreadsheet. Yes, a very pretty spreadsheet, but an expensive catalogue of archaeological remains (like this). Instead, I see the ‘tool’ side of models as their primary purpose. Models can be used as a tool to critically evaluate the ancient remains in a way other forms of research do not. As an example, a friend posted this NY Times article on mapping the shadows of buildings in NYC. It is a fascinating read about the effects of the skyline in everyday choices, movements, and, most important for NYC, property values.

‘Sunlight and shadow shape the character and rhythm of New York’s public spaces. They have the power to control the flow of foot traffic on our city streets and decide which plazas hum with activity and commerce and which stay barren and desolate. And probably most noticeably, they have the power to change the rent.’ (Bui and White).

Air and sunlight are, for NYC, commodities that shape the value of a property. I was immediately drawn to Roman law. Air and sunlight were legal requirements that restricted extensions to buildings (Dig. 7.1.30; 39.2.25; 8.2.11) and Vitruvius discuss the placement of certain rooms based on seasonal sunlight patterns (De Arch. 6.3.11; 6.6.6). The importance of air and sunlight were recognised by the Romans and this importance worked its way into law. This process from lived experience to legal requirement can be seen in terms of the commodification of sunlight similar to NYC (although, not in the same capitalist sense).

In my own research, I have looked at some of the social processes (all related to sounds) that shaped the way the ancient urban environment was constructed. Sunlight is an example of a natural process (non-built) that shapes social interaction in urban space. It is that point, the non-built aspect of sunlight in relation to physical buildings that allows for models to be a critical tool. I can stand in Ostia and track the movement of the sun’s path, but by modelling the building and sun’s path, I can question building heights influence on street space, or requirement of internal lighting for room usage, or even hypothesise relative values based on direct sunlight in comparison with other buildings. The list goes on the more you think about (as I have found out…). So, with the legal requirement of light and the archaeological remains of Ostia (as well as a question from a friend), I went fishing for sun path models to apply to Roman buildings.

It did not take long to find Andrew Marsh’s blog, which has a web-based app for 3D sun path analysis. As the sun’s path is based on the geographical location of the space in question, the app uses Google earth to pull coordinates (top left in the screenshot below). There is a map of the daylight length (bottom left) and a moveable 3D model of a multifunctional urban space (right). The 3D is centred on the building in red and set on a compass so, you can orient it, if you like (I set it roughly to the orientation of the site so, I did not confuse myself).


Sun-path for the Portico di Pio IX in Ostia on 12 Jan. at 10:30am (from http://andrewmarsh.com/apps/staging/sunpath3d.html)

I selected the Portico di Pio IX on the north card maximus in Ostia (see here, here and a forthcoming chapter here) and tomorrows date (12 Jan.) at 10:30am. The day length is relatively narrow and the suns path is rather low in the sky, running from 120∘ (SE) – 240∘ (SW). This creates long shadows to the west in the morning appearing between 8:10-20, direct sunlight down the street at midday, and long shadows to the east in the evening until sunset around 16:30-40. This forms the basic outline of sunlight throughout the day (at this point in the yearly cycle).

Now, what are missing in this scenario are the buildings along the cardo maximus. The mixed-use urban space in the 3D model is instructive, but only if you know the buildings on the street (this is where models become more than pretty pictures). Now, the cardo is an open space (8 m wide and 130 m long) with two identical buildings on either side (rows of 8 shops with a portico in front). At midday (12:00), the sun would be reaching its peak, almost due south of the street. Two things come to mind; 1) this indicates that the temple (Capitolium) in the forum would receive direct sunlight to its facade and steps, while 2) casting a long shadow down the cardo. This feature would not change throughout the year, as at the summer solstice and winter solstice the sun’s position, at midday, remains in the southern region of the sky.

I also found a dynamic daylight analysis app on Marsh’s blog, which allows one to simulate daylight in a simple room (initial release so just a square room). So, I built a shop in the Portico di Pio IX and set a window to the size of the front door (as there is no ‘door’ in the model).

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Dynamic daylight model of a shop (Portico di Pio IX) (from http://andrewmarsh.com/apps/staging/daylight-box.html)

The shops in the Portico di Pio IX had two levels (a mezzanine space above the ground floor); the model is of the ground floor area, under the mezzanine. Again, the app allows you to mess with the orientation and you can adjust all the elements as needed. The result, shown above, is as expected. A high daylight factor (DF) in the area around the shutters with the work plane height set at 1 m. The DF range is between 2.7% and 23.9% with an average of 5.7%. The DF is the ratio of light inside to light outside the room (a calculation used in architectural design. There are slight changes to the DF ratios as the work plane changes (avg increase to 6.8% at 0.05 m from the floor) and at a work plane height of 2.135 m the DF avg drops to 4%.

As an example, I placed the work plane height at 0.85 m, which corresponds to several bar counter heights in Ostia (see Hermansen 1982). The result is interesting, or at least allows for some comment. At 3 m into the shop, the DF is in the range of 6-8%, suggesting that natural light would light a counter (as counters were under 3 m in length).

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Dynamic daylight in shop (Portico di Pio IX) with a work plane height of 0.85 m (highlighted in red; bar counter height) and DF contour grid in 3D. (From http://andrewmarsh.com/apps/staging/daylight-box.html)

What is missing, which will change this model, is the portico space in front of the shop. As seen in the sun-path, there will be little direct sunlight into the shops along the Portico di Pio IX. In particular, the shops on the westside will get early morning sunlight and the westside, evening sunlight. The portico will block much of the light at these times, however in the midday sun, it will provide needed shade (as anyone who has worked in Italy in August can attest). What this model does suggest is that choices, such as counter height, could be dictated by natural light, and importantly, the heating capacity of natural light. Although, in the case of the Caseggiato del Termopolio (1.2.5; the most well-known bar in Ostia) it’s counter and space orientation will never receive direct sunlight. What we might begin to see is the material remains of the ‘commodification’ (for lack of a better term) of sunlight within an ancient context.

Finally, it is worth returning to the start of this post. 3D models and reconstructions are useful and helpful for historical research. The discussion here has benefited directly from such modelling techniques, although, as stated, it was the need to move past the image, fly-through, or even simply trying to document every element within the model that drove my interest. We need to push the utility of 3D models and reconstructions for critical questioning of our own academic assumptions and start to use them for addressing new modes of enquiry and topics of interest, rather than as an end in-themselves.

KISS Inaugural Lecture, University of Kent: Alan Penn ‘Architectural Space and Social Action: How does the built environment relate to human society?’

‘Buildings, or cities, are different from different points of view.’ –A. Penn

On Wednesday, I was in Canterbury for the KISS (Kent Interdisciplinary Centre for Spatial Studies) Inaugural Lecture given by Alan Penn, Dean of the UCL Bartlett School of Architecture. The lecture introduced the concept and basic form of analysis know as Space Syntax. I have used Space Syntax in my own research and it serves as a sounding board for the acoustic analysis I undertook in my PhD. Space Syntax is one of analysing, and more importantly discussing, the micro-macro movements of people in space. That is Space Syntax analysis focuses on the relationship between a single space (room, street segment, etc.) and the whole (building, neighbourhood, region, city) in terms of movement. In this reflection, I want to draw out the way the senses serve as critical tool in interpreting the micro-macro experience of space.

To start out, I should be clear that I find Space Syntax to be a very fruitful tool to think about space. The basis of the analysis is movement through space and in time. The combination of space-time is a necessary starting point for any understanding of urban experience. In the field of Classical Archaeology, a professed ‘spatial turn’ has happened (although, many think it is just now starting). The emphasis, therefore is on space, not time. In my own work, time is just as important. Sound happens in space, but, more importantly, it happens in time. Following Doreen Massey, I seek to emphasise the combination, space-time, as the key to understanding urban soundscapes (see Massey 1994). Space Syntax has a slightly different, although parallel focus, on movement in space-time. In Space Syntax terms, ‘integration’ defines the relationship between a single space and the whole. Thus, the integration value also serves as a space-time measure, as more integrated spaces are more easily accessible.

But here I run into one of the distinctive differences between Space Syntax and my own phenomenological approach: do we experience the whole (whether building, city, region, neighbourhood)? Space Syntax seems to say yes, the whole is implicit in the particular, although the whole is made up of all possible ‘points of view’. I am hesitant to agree and I find the senses to be useful critical tools in describing my hesitation.

Sensory experience, in the broadest sense, is a made up of various sensory registers (associated with the different senses). These registers have particular distance decay rates. A sound decays by 3 dB when the distance from the sound is doubled. Smells have different decay rates, which are shorter. Sight covers the furtherest distance and is the central analytical approach in Space Syntax. The decay rate influences the total area perceived and even when all the sensory registers are combined there is a limited range. Now, the limited range is further constrained by conscious awareness. As people move through space, much of what is interpreted by the sensory systems is interpreted unconsciously, often spoken of as ‘experience’. This is not to say that it does not form knowledge, but that it forms a tacit knowledge of urban environments. In particular space-time settings, different sensory registers come into play. In way finding, sight and hearing take precedence, while in food shopping, smell and touch take on greater roles. In this sense, the ‘experience’ of space-time dictates the sensory registers in which we consciously pay attention to. This attention is often fleeting, but it does indicate the way in which human perception of ‘space-time’ as a thing is mediated by the senses. We make sense of the worlds we experience through our senses.

This guiding principle is part of the Space Syntax approach and I assume many in that community would not disagree with it. However, as a historian, as opposed to designer, architect or urban planner, I deal not with future potential, but with analysing the past. This has implications for the source materials at my disposal, as well as for the interpretive questions I bring to those sources. In many ways, this makes me less concerned with the ‘intelligibility’ of a city (a key term in Space Syntax) and more interested in response inhabitants had to the experience of ‘intelligibility’. Take hearing as an example: we will instinctively turn in the direction a sound is perceived to come from, most often based on where we expect the sound to be produced, not where the sound actually comes from. The instinct is not wrong, but built through the experience of urban space, particular objects and habitus (to use Bourdieu’s term). Getting the spatial location right is not as interesting as exploring why I looked where I did. The same goes for the ancient city. I am more interested in the way Roman authors describe places, whether intelligible or not, through their senses, as a way to understand the space of the city. This allows me to push the literary sources further and ask how that experience creates an uneven urbanism, an urbanism of certain space-times and not others, or of certain streets (or buildings, neighbourhoods, on and on…) and not others. ‘Intelligibility’ becomes a comparative tool to understand the descriptive experience, or the fashioning of the historical space-time.

Alan Penn ended with some points on architecture as a discipline and the theoretical/methodological focus, which Space Syntax brings. In particular, two points stood out, namely buildings, or cities, are non-discursive objects and configurations are relational. I make similar points through my own work and both points appear in this post. For me, these points are implicit in a sensory approach to urbanism, or architecture. Movements, sights, sounds, smells and any other sensory stimuli are the product of space-time and social activity. In this way, the senses are the non-discursive interpreters of the built environment, as well as being indicators of the relational character of urban configurations. The senses draw out these points, requiring us to think about the implications for the ancient world.

Reflections on Sensory Theory, Methodology and Experience: Contemporary and Classical Perspectives, Part 3: Sensory Experience

‘Among the Roman’s, until their long decline, we find a powerful sense of civic involvement that connected individuals to the city. The most important pleasures were experienced within a social framework; in other words, private and public were not yet separated, and public did not yet have the unpleasant, almost ridiculous, character it has assumed in our society… [The Baths of Diocletian in Rome], covering nearly fifty-seven acres, was a small city in the City of Cities, and surrounded by a vast park. Intended to cultivate the body as well as the mind, the Roman baths are one of the most original architectural creations that history has known… Even today, the buildings themselves appear to be characterised by a degree of luxury next to which our own cultural institutions and stadiums appear to descend from barbarians and puritans, more ascetic than they are subpar.’ –H. Lefebvre, Toward an Architecture of Enjoyment, 136-137 (emphasis mine).

Sensory experience was the last theme of the conference Sensory Theory, Methodology and Experience. In the last two posts, I took up the themes of theory and methodology, which overlapped in several key ways. However, sensory experience moves the discussion outside of approaches to material and physical sources and into the realm of the sources themselves. In the previous posts, I argued for the senses as critical tools in theorising space and society. Methodologically, the senses are reflexive, requiring inventories that shift due to space and time. The senses also serve as thick descriptors of the reflexive nature of space and society. Sensory experience entails the combination of space, time and reflexivity. In a way, sensory experience is the result of a sensory theory and methodology of the body in space. To that end, let’s see where the theory and methodology of the previous posts have to lead us in terms of sensory experience.

Sensory Experience

I began, once again, with a quote from Lefebvre. In Toward an Architecture of Enjoyment, Lefebvre draws on the Roman baths as some of the ‘most original architectural creations’ of a space of enjoyment (137). As discussed in the first post, Lefebvre has a broad definition of architecture that includes the physical building as well as the feelings, desires, pleasures that it entails and the space it produces. In the context of Lefebvre’s exploration of enjoyment, the Roman baths do not have enjoyment as their goal; rather the baths allow it, prepare for it and lead it (Toward an Architecture of Enjoyment, 151). We can easily substitute experience for enjoyment. Sensory experience is not the goal, but rather a product of the space.

The body takes the central position in this respect and Lefebvre sees this placement as requiring a new paradigm (Toward an Architecture of Enjoyment, 150). Lefebvre suggests a ‘pedagogy of the body’ that ‘would connect the conceived to the lived (and conversely), assumes a form of qualitative knowledge still in a state of germination and promise. Rhythmanalysis, for example’ (Toward an Architecture of Enjoyment, 149). The invocation of rhythmanalysis draws the senses and time into this pedagogy of the body, the rhythmanalist ‘thinks with his [sic] body’ (Rhythmanalysis, 21). This further elaborates the nature of Lefebvre’s tripartite division of space between the conceived and the lived. The conceived is the body, or space, of scientific knowledge of anatomy, or of physiology, which is focused on the subject, while the lived body, or space, is one of imaginary appropriation and makes symbolic use of the body’s objects (H. Lefebvre, The Production of Space, 39-40). The knowledge derived from the connection of the conceived and lived is sensory knowledge. Lefebvre draws on smells and musical metaphors to describe the rhythmanalist’s methods and emphasises the measurement of space by the body (Rhythmanalysis, 21, 27, 33). The senses bring with them a multiplicity of meanings (sens), which can mean ‘sense’ or ‘meanings’ (Rhythmanalysis, 32; cf. translation by Kofman and Lebas, Writings on Cities). But this is exactly the point. There are a multiplicity of senses and meanings, which the body constantly negotiates, interprets and reflects upon. Sensory experience is the multiplicity.

This sensory experience also entails a multiplicity of times. Lefebvre draws a distinction between linear and cyclical time, however temporalities extend beyond this simple division (Rhythmanalysis, 30). Doreen Massey argues for the reintegration of space and time within a conceptualisation of space-time, that is seeing the spatial form of social relations constituted in time, as well (Space, Place and Gender). Massey draws on contemporary physics to conceptualise space-time as n-dimensional (see her quotes in the previous post). By this way of thinking, social relations who constitute space are dynamic and simultaneously coexistent in time (D. Massey, Space, Place and Gender, 265). Time, like space, has a perceived, conceived and lived element (to use Lefebvre’s division). This is a useful way of drawing together the elements of space-time, the body and the senses into the concept of experience. The body interprets the multiplicity of sens, both meanings and senses, which constitute space-time, as sensory experiences.

To return to the Roman baths, the site is one of multiple temporalities. Daily routines of bathing were based on different times of attendance. Changes to temperature in the bathing rooms further differentiated the temporality of the space. Choice was another factor, especially choice as to which bath one attended. Other temporalities are evident, such as construction and maintenance in the inscriptions. Naming of baths connected the location with a family, person and time. Fires, extensions or contractions of the space also mark temporalities. Yet all these times, overlap with the space of the baths. The mediation of the temporality and spatiality of the bath was the sensory experience of the bath. Bathers moved through the different rooms from cold to warm, as well as from areas of activity to more passive areas. Movement serves as the basis of interpretation of the space-time of the baths. Informed by the senses, the body moved through space-time in both the present, as well as being drawn into the historical pasts and other time through interaction with inscriptions, statues, mosaics and other pieces of art. As Lefebvre notes, there was a social framework that Romans experienced, which gives clues to the way society worked (Toward an Architecture of Enjoyment, 136). The sensory experience is implicated in the production of history through its mediation of space-time (D. Massey, Space, Place and Gender, 254). Here we come back to Lefebvre’s point, by way of Nietzsche and Marx, that the senses are the theoretical tools by which we produce and interpret space-time. This history of sensory experience is the history of space-time, a history of movements.

Reflections on Sensory Theory, Methodologies and Experience: Contemporary and Classical Perspectives, Part 2: Sensory Methodologies

‘What I propose to understand by ‘architecture’ is the production of space at a specific level, ranging from furniture to gardens and parks and extending even to landscapes… This sense of the term corresponds to the way it has been used since the beginning of the twentieth century, which is to say since architects began to design furniture to express their views and present their projects on what is commonly called ‘the environment’ – although I shall be carefully avoiding this expression because it has no precise meaning and has been corrupted by abuse.’ –H. Lefebvre, Toward an Architecture of Enjoyment, 3.

 The second theme of Sensory Theory, Methodology and Experience was methodology. In many ways, the overlap between theory and methodology was constantly negotiated by presenters and respondents, which lead to fruitful points of contact and divergences. In particular, much of the discussion centred on the concept of ‘atmospheres’, drawing on the works of Tonino Griffero, Peter Zumthor and others. While I found the discussion helpful, it, at times, lacked a spatial grounding. No surprise, I was drawn to Soja, Lefebvre and Massey and I want to explore the way atmosphere might lead to methodologies which bring together senses, space and time.

Sensory Methodology

There is no singular sensory methodology, a point brought out in the range of speakers and respondents at the conference. Robin Skeates presented on fieldwork and archaeological practices from a sensory perspective, highlighting three key elements of reflexivity, inventory and thick description (Sensory Archaeology). While particular to archaeology, these three elements are useful in critically engaging with the methodologies discussed, especially the concept of atmospheres. I open this post with another quote from Lefebvre, as I find his expanded definition of architecture to be similar to atmosphere, but the crucial dimension of space is shot through Lefebvre’s redefinition. Martin Walton’s presentation (The Silent Transformations of Rosemary Lee’s Meltdown with a response by Helen Slaney) brought the challenge of the senses and space to the forefront in discussion of Rosemary Lee’s Meltdown, a choreographed performance by Dance Umbrella in London’s Brunswick Square (2011). Stillness and silence opened up affective space in urban space. As discussed in the previous post, the senses served as interpreters of the change in atmosphere of the space. The separation of ‘space’ and ‘atmosphere’ highlights the distinction implicit in the discussion, namely that the two elements were distinct. The discussion was reminiscent of Soja’s description of secondspace (Lefebvre’s conceived space), a space of imagination, reflexive thought or symbolic representation (overview in Postmetropolis, 10-12). The space was altered through the affect of the performance, or the atmosphere changed the quality of the space in the act of performance.

I like the emphasis on agency; the act of performance does something to space (as I am also keen to keep the ‘something’ ambiguous). Here reflexivity takes on importance. Atmosphere is a reflexive term, building on the social action of participants. I want to extend the reflexivity to the space of action, as well. I should note that many of the presenters and respondents would agree with this and I do not wish to imply that they were opposed to object or architectural agency. This is also at the base of Lefebvre’s theory of the production of space. Starting from the body, Lefebvre notes that there is a possibility of multiple codes and encodings (citing the visual, or the sensory, or the communication in space), without privileging any one, since there is no encoded architectural or spatial effect (Toward an Architecture of Enjoyment, 151). The reflexivity of architecture coincides with the reflexivity of the senses (Toward an Architecture of Enjoyment, 41). As a methodological pointer, the body as interpreter of space uses the senses to interpret atmosphere. In my own work, I stress the role of architecture, in Lefebvre’s broad definition, in social construction, while the senses are interpretive tools, which are used to analyse the process of social construction.

The reflexivity of senses, spaces and social constructions was further brought to the forefront in Matthew Nicholls’ response to Ben Jacks, who first raised atmosphere as a theoretical concept. Nicholls focused his response on his own digital reconstructions of Rome, which lack the social reflexivity implicit in atmosphere. The visual dependence of 3D reconstruction has yet to move beyond the display of already known facts of space (usually in Soja’s firstspace sense). In this way, atmosphere is completely missing from the reconstruction and spatiality is no better than a hyped-up 2D plan. This tension was brought up by Jacks in response, noting the unease he has with VR, AR and other reconstructions. My own unease comes from the reduction of lived space to what Lefebvre calls a ‘lunar landscape’ where space has lost the ability to attract and tempt the user with objects, people, encounters, or enticements and adventures, namely space without atmosphere (H. Lefebvre, Critique of Everyday Life, 603). Or as Massey comments,

‘A first requirement of developing an alternative view of space is that we should try to get away from a notion of society as a kind of 3-D (and indeed usually 2-D) slice which moves through time… Instead of linear process counterposed to flat surface (which anyway reduces space from three to two dimensions), it is necessary to insist on the irrefutable four-dimensionality (indeed n-dimensionality) of things. Space is not static, nor time spaceless.’ –D. Massey, Space, Place and Gender, 264.

My own discussion of reconstruction in terms of sound requires not simply a model but the archaeological detail of the site, space or building. Materials, dimensions and construction methods, as well as decoration are all necessary in order to place sound with in the model. The same should be done for the producer, which is also a function of time, of the sound to even closely approximate the soundscape. In this way, my own method entails a fair degree of inventory, as well as reflexivity in the inventory itself. However, to only include inventory (categorisations, lists, etc) or reflexivity limits the possibilities of the methodology.

I am somewhat less inclined to thick descriptions, although I do see the use and value in Skeates’ own work (see his An Archaeology of the Senses: Prehistoric Malta). My emphasis on space and spatiality however, indicates a different form of thick description. The importance of the interaction between senses, space and society coincides with the importance of mediation. As Lefebvre states,

‘[t]here is no sensation without mediation or activity, and, therefore, no sensation as such, no sensation without appreciation with its implicit judgement. Pure sensation has never existed. Immediacy is found within the bounds of the sensory, within the indiscernible ambiguity of the sensory and the sensual. It is also found beyond it, in the unity of the sensual and the sensory of a space.’ –H. Lefebvre, Toward an Architecture of Enjoyment, 115.

A sensory methodology, like a sensory theory, needs to grapple with the way sensory modalities mediate space and time. Space and time are at the centre of experience, which I will deal with in the following post. However, the bringing together of the senses and society in space has methodological implications for understanding senses. In particular, it is the ‘mixity’, as Doreen Massey puts it, of space, where a multiplicity of histories are brought together in specific places, that produce tacit knowledge gained through the senses (D. Massey ‘Cities in the World’, in City Worlds). In this way, the multiplicity of histories can be told as thick descriptions of space.

In a way, the senses serve as thick descriptors of space. Spatial work and architecture, in a limited sense of buildings, are mediators between the sensory and metaphysical perception and conception of objects, but fail to mediate between the sensory and the active perception of space (H. Lefebvre, Toward an Architecture of Enjoyment, 95). Taken as thick descriptors, the senses serve to construct specific places and times, that is atmospheres. Lefebvre makes reference to this possibility in a footnote, noting that noise, as the residue of sound, can be taken as means of constructing ‘contexts for a life to be created (‘moments’)’ (H. Lefebvre, Metaphilosophy, 303 n.7). Writing thick descriptions of the senses are therefore one methodological approach, which can serve to encapsulate the complexity of senses and society for any given period.

In the next post, I turn to the theme of experience, which draws together much of the discussion from the last two posts. The role of sensory experience in theorising and formulating methodologies is central and needs further nuance than often given. The movement here from theory to method will continue to experience. In particular I have mentioned the centrality of time, the senses grounded in space-time and can serve, again, as a useful tools in understanding the experience.

Reflections on Sensory Theory, Methodology and Experience: Contemporary and Classical Perspectives, Part 1: Sensory Theory

‘The truth of space thus leads back (and is reinforced by) a powerful Nietzschean sentiment: ‘But may the will to truth mean this to you: that everything will be transformed into the humanly-conceivable, the humanly-evident, the humanly-palpable! You should follow your senses to the end [Eure eignen Sinne sollt ihr zu Ende denken.]’ Marx, for his part, called in the Manuscripts of 1844 for the senses to become theoreticians in their own right. The revolutionary road of the human and the heroic road of the superhuman meet at the crossroads of space. Whether they then converge is another story.’ –H. Lefebvre, The Production of Space, 399-400 (emphasis mine).

I spent the end of last week, Friday and Saturday, at a conference titled Sensory Theory, Methodology and Experience in Canterbury hosted by my own department, Classical and Archaeological Studies. The two days were full of great discussion and presentations on sensory studies from a variety of disciplines, although anthropology was notably missing. However, I walked away with several questions about the role of three themes in the title: theory, method and experience. I found myself frustrated and enlightened by the way these themes were brought together or played off one another. Here, I want to take of each in critical conversation with my own approach (I was not a presenter or respondent) to the senses. I have broken-up each theme into an individual post due to constraints of space and time. This first post will be more theoretically driven, than other posts on the blog, which deal with physics and acoustics in practice, however the conference was primarily focused on cross-disciplinary discussion and therefore much of the conversation was theoretically informed (those that know me, know that I am very at home having theoretical and theory driven conversations). I will tackle methodology and experience in the next couple of posts, although all three play off each other continually. With that, let’s jump right in!

Sensory Theory

I started with Lefebvre’s comment on Nietzsche and Marx because, for me, it offers a key clarification of sensory studies, namely do we study the ‘senses’ as objects (‘things’ in the world, categorising the smells, tastes, touches of a particular time or place) or do we use the senses as theoreticians to understand a social or cultural group? For Lefebvre, it is the latter. The senses offer tools for analysing the way space is perceived, conceived and lived (to use Lefebvre’s tripartite division). Monica Deegan, the first presenter (Researching Time, Senses and the Urban, co-presented with Astrid Swenson), brought this point to the forefront, commenting that the city, or urban, was first and foremost experienced through our bodies. The role of the body would return again and again in the discussion, but what struck me was the immediate recognition that senses overlapped, while at the same time combined to interpret the urban (or any other form of landscape). That is to say, our bodies and sensory modalities make the world cohesive, although not always in a linguistical manner. Our senses, then, are the tools used in the social production of space (to use Lefebvre’s terms again). Here, we come to one of my own interests that were only briefly touched on. If the senses are the tools for interpretation, then the senses can be theoreticians in their own right, as Marx indicated.

This requires us to set aside the categorisation of senses into lexical groupings and instead use sense perception as a theoretical approach to the ancient world (or any time period). For me, this is where the acoustic measurements are useful as spatial abstractions, which can be related to bodies in space. A particular space can be measured to indicate the way the room effects sound. This measurement will give us a numerical indication that avoids resorting to linguistical categories (like loud, quite, soft, etc.). But even more important the measurement is a direct measurement of sound produced in that space. The direct correspondence allows for the limitation of possibilities. Certain sounds will cause fundamental problems for the use of the space. These limitations will also apply to the social use of the space, as well as its sensory experience. In a way, this brings us back to the lexical categorisation, although we have to pass through the body and its sensory experience. Again, Lefebvre was already aware of this feedback loop created by space and the senses:

‘Something is adjusted to each body, precisely to the extent required. Space speaks and does what it says. Is it the human being present in such a place who receives a message from that space appropriate to its meaning – contemplation? On the contrary, wouldn’t it be space that receives the perpetually confused message of the human being in search of life and truth, and that reflects back upon him, or restores it clarified and intensified?’ –H. Lefebvre, Toward an Architecture of Enjoyment, 11 (emphasis mine).

 Lefebvre’s question is apt, is it space than sends a message or human beings that send messages into space? In a typical Lefebvrean manner, he says both. It is the social activity, in this case contemplation, that creates an effect, which is reflected back by the space in which contemplation takes place. Place, in this sense, becomes a space and social actions in space. But it also is the sensory perception of space, social action and time. Yi-Fu Tuan, who was referenced in Deegan’s presentation, provides a helpful reminder of the experiential aspect of place (I know I said I would deal with experience in the last post). For Tuan, ‘space’ and ‘place’ are differentiated by experience (Tuan, Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience). Drawing on a conversation between Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg on visiting Kronborg Castle in Denmark, in which Bohr relates the difference in feeling the castle assumes when thought of as the place where Hamlet lived, Tuan sets out to understand the aura of ‘place’ described by Bohr (Space and Place, 4). Here, again, sensory modalities are social and cultural constructs, which produce non-communicative experiences, experiences that are indescribable. In this case, sensory studies offers a way into these experiences, a way led by sensory theories (not theories about the senses, but the senses as theoreticians).

Tuan makes a distinction that connects with the Roman world, as well as being part of the discussion following the final presentation at the conference (Louise Richardson on Distinguishing Senses: Naturalism and Non-Naturalism with a response from Clare Batty and Kelli Rudolph). Space is known through movement, while place is pause (Space and Place, 6, 12, 179-83). Several presentations touched on aspects of movement, anywhere from walking to theatrical performances, to traffic and cart movements, not to mention combinations of these, such as the York Corpus Christi plays that were moving shows performed in the 14th century (Annette Kern-Stälher, Engaging the Historical Archive of Sensation). However, in the final presentation, which followed the discussion of the York plays, a presentation of non-Naturalist categorisation of senses was given (analytical philosophical approach). Richardson commented that a non-traditional categorisation of the senses, Piers Plowman’s in this instance, could be possible, but that it was unclear why ‘walking’ could be a sense. The categorisation depends on a specific definition of ‘sense’, but that was the problem. Definitions are part of the social, cultural and experiential construction of a given group. That is to say, sensory perception will be different for different social/cultural times, as well as spaces (the second being more important for me, at times). Space, as Lefebvre’s approach encapsulated in the quote above, is theorised through the senses. Abstracting the senses from space, to analytically categorise them, reduces the categorisation to box ticking (if, then statements, listing propositions, etc.). Those who know my own interests will not be surprised to hear I disagree with this line of enquiry. Senses, as spatially and socially formed, cannot be reduced to words and texts, which often fails to adequately describe sensory experience (a point made by several other participants). In this case, movement is a mode of interpretation of the environment. This is a point made by de Certeau in The Practice of Everyday Life:

‘[Ordinary practitioners of the city] walk—an elementary form of this experience of the city; they are walkers, Wandersmänner, whose bodies follow the thicks and thins of an urban ‘text’ they write without being able to read it.’ -M. de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, 93.

 I do not like to see movements as ‘texts’ for the exact point that de Certeau makes in the second half of the quote, that is movements cannot be read. However, it does open up the possibility to see movement as an interpretative process of spatial negotiation. In the same way the senses interpret space and time so, movement do the same.

In my own work, the idea of movement as an interpretive tool comes to the forefront when looking at the language of noise in Latin. The most common term for loud noise (strepitus) was associated with busy activity and confused movements, while silence (silentium) had the connotation of stillness and lack of movement (Veitch, Acoustics of Roman Ostia, 44). The close connection between sound and movement further emphasises the potential for the senses as theoreticians. The social construction of mobility in the Roman world produced particular movements (see J. Urry, Mobilities and R. Laurence, ‘Towards a History of Mobility in Ancient Rome’, in The Moving City). These movements were structured in the same way as sounds. The physical spaces structured movement and acoustics. In this way, by placing the physics of sound within the human body, a theory of auditory movement could be applied to the ancient world. My own PhD was the basis for my developing auditory theory, but the other senses could be offer different perspectives on the social construction of the ancient world.

In the next two posts, I will reflect on the topics of methodology and experience. In particular, I reflect on the discussion of Peter Zumthor’s concept of ‘atmospheres’ and my own desire to see architectural environments (the subtitle to Zumthor’s book) as part of Soja’s Thirdspace and Lefebvre’s expanded definition of architecture in Toward an Architecture of Enjoyment. In the last post, sensory experience is taken-up and I reflect on my own unease with the term (an unease not helped by Lefebvre).


Presentation: Sound, Space and Soceity: Urban Acoustics After Pompeii

I will be presenting a paper at the European Association for Urban History, Reinterpreting Cities, 13th International Conference on Urban Hisotry at the end of the month and as I was asked to upload a summary of my paper on the EAUH site, I have also posted it below. I have been busy finishing my PhD, which is now a full draft being edited for submission. In many ways, this presentation is a summary of some of the conclusions, although being a 20 min pres it does not cover everything. Anyways, here is the summary and key points I’ll be talking around Thursday morning, 25 August, in Helsinki:

[Opening Quotes] The production of space, according to Lefebvre, is just as much about the physical buildings and imaginary worlds as it is about the sensory activities and bodily functions.[1] For Lefebvre, the senses, especially sound, offer a theoretical tool by which to analyse the daily rhythms of the city.[2] While the production of space has come to the forefront of Roman urban studies, especially in Pompeian studies, the role of sensory activities remains minimally explored.[3] In this paper, the perception of sound serves to elucidate the urban space of Ostia Antica. Drawing on the theoretical work of urban geography, introduced by Pompeian scholars, this paper will argue that production of space in Roman cities was fostered by the acoustic inclinations of Romans. In this way, the paper takes ‘after Pompeii’ in two simultaneous directions. On the one hand, it seeks to build on the approaches tested in Pompeii; on the other hand, it applies a case study from a city that displays the architectural developments that immediately preceded Pompeii, namely the second century CE. Sound provides a critical tool to analyse the experience and interaction within urban space, as well as being an object of study within literary sources on Roman urbanism. The result is a better understanding of the changing perceptions and conceptions of urban space, beyond simply reconfigured urban space, either through construction or deconstruction.

[Sound & sources graph] The literary sources display a particular anxiety towards noise, especially the sounds of movement or the movement of sound. It is worth defining sound and noise, as these terms reflect a perceptual difference that is socially and culturally specific. Sound is any auditory stimulus that is interpreted by the human auditory system (ears, body, brain, etc.), while noise is unwanted sound, being an auditory judgement. In short, one person’s sound is another’s noise. The distinction is therefore a judgement, drawing on status, gender, age distinctions in relation to things experienced outside the perceiver.

[Juv. Quote] The social anxiety towards noise is manifest in two forms. First, noise complaints about the sounds of the city, in this case Rome specifically. Juvenal offers a pertinent example in Satire 3, were Umbricius complains that the sick die from lack of sleep due to the noise. The caput mundi, Rome, is filled with noise, making it the caput morbi, ‘head of the disease’.[4] For Juvenal, as well as Martial and Seneca, satire served as a social critique of the architectural changes to the experience of streets following the fire in Rome of 64 CE. [Street terms & sound refs] This is an important point in terms of ‘after Pompeii’. The building regulations (street widening, porticos and height restrictions) are evident throughout Ostia, but only minimally present in Pompeii.[5] The brief period between the destruction of Pompeii and the rebuilding and extension of Ostia was a period of intense construction, which also changed the perception of the urban space.

Noise complaints are connected to certain spaces, as well as certain times. The forum, via and vicus are most referenced pubic space in terms of sound, with semita and clivus all being over 10%. Most sound roots are connected with movement, which is the base of auditory anxieties. For example, strepitus carries the connotation of busy or stressful activity, while fremitus has connotations of animals buzzing or humming, such as bees.[6] In contrast, silence, sileo, is connected with non-movement, or stillness, which emphasises the combination of sound and movement. Through both etymology and associations, sound roots are connected with movement; to move is to make sound. The fluidity of spatial practices underlines the role of sound in defining space.

[Rumour terms] Sound anxiety also appear as anxiety over the movement of sound, in this case rumours, gossip and the like. Fama, either rumour or fame, is constantly on the move, restless and unstable.[7] The spatial boundaries of fama, therefore, constantly shift, or more precisely never stop long enough to be spatially fixed.[8] Speed is part of the moral topography of movement, as O’Sullivan has shown.[9] Running is characteristic of slaves and effeminate action, an association also connected to movement of fama.[10] In this case, rumours are the target of social control due to association with non-elite forms of urbanism, specifically neighbourhood groups, vici, and small gatherings in the forum, circuli.[11] [Augustus] These informal groupings were the sites of popular resistance in the late Republic, which were later incorporated into the imperial state; through the reorganisation of the vici and the control of movement in the Forum Romanum both in the Augustan period.[12]

[1] H. Lefebvre, Critique of Everyday Life, Verso, 2014, p. 484.

[2] H. Lefebvre, The Production of Space, Balckwell, 1991, p. 405; cf. Lefebvre, Rythmanalysis: Space, Society and the Everyday, Bloomsburry, 2013.

[3] E. Betts, ‘Towards a Multisensory Experience of Movement in the City of Rome’, in Laurence and Newsome (eds.), Rome, Ostia, Pompeii: Movement and Society, OUP, 2011, pp. 118-32; A. Haug and P. Kruez (eds.), Stadterfahrung als Sinneserfahrung in der römischen Kaiserzeit, Brepolis, 2016.

[4] Juv. Sat. 3.234-6; J. Hartnett, ‘Sound as a Roman Urban Social Phenomenon’, in Haug and Kruez, n. 3, p. 166.

[5] See S. Ellis, ‘Pes Dexter: Superstition and the State in the Shaping of Shopfronts and Street Activity in the Roman World’, in Laurence and Newsome (eds.), n. 3, p. 173.

[6] Strepitus, Hor. Carm. 3.29.12; Epist. 2.2.79-80; fremitus, Sen. Ep. 94.72; Vir. Geo. 4.216.

[7] P. Hardie, Rumour and Renown: Representations of fama in western literature, CUP, 2012, pp. 3-11; 248.

[8] R. Laurence, ‘Towards a History of Mobility in Ancient Rome (300 BCE to 100 CE)’, in I. Östenberg, S. Malmberg, J. Bjørnebye (eds.), The Moving City: Processions, passages and promenades in ancient Rome, Bloomsbury, 2015, p. 181.

[9] T. O’Sullivan, Walking in Roman Culture, OUP, 2011.

[10] Corbel 2004, pp. 107-139; O’Sullivan, n. 8, pp. 11-33; Hardie, n. 6, pp. 357-360; 387-391.

[11] Vici, R. Laurence, ‘Rumour and Communication in Roman Politics’, Greece and Rome 41 (1994), pp. 62-74; circuli, P. O’Neill, ‘Going Round in Circles: Popular Speech in Ancient Rome’, Classical Antiquity 22 (2003), pp. 135-76.

[12] Reorganisation of vici, A. Wallace-Hadrill, Rome’s Cultural Revolution, CUP, pp. 276-90; Forum Romanum, D. Newsome, ‘Movement and For a in Rome (the late Republic to first century CE)’, in Laurence and Newsome (eds.), n. 3, pp. 304-5.