Grey Room

Thinking through Noise, Building toward Silence: Creating a Sound Mind and Sound Architecture in the Premodern City

Niall Atkinson

Marble portrait bust of Seneca, ca. third century CE. Found in Rome, 1813. Antikensammlung, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. Photo by Calidius. Creative Commons license CC BY–SA 3.0; the original has been modified.


The article is an epistolary dialogue across time and space about how an array of intellectuals—from Seneca to Schopenhauer—described the noise around them, especially in premodern and early modern urban societies where noise was not yet an institutionalized concept in need of systematized regulation but was treated as a problem within the communicative framework of social relations. The author uses these intellectuals’ reactions to these aural assaults to understand the role that architecture has played in the collective construction of urban society and the fashioning of one’s intellectual self through the creation of spaces of acoustic solitude.