The Hive: An Acoustic Playground Made out of Cardboard Tubes

Jeanne Gang describing The Hive / Dana Davidsen

Spiraling upwards into the grand space of the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. is the Hive, a trio of domed chambers designed to create unique acoustic experiences. Conceived by Chicago-based architect Jeanne Gang, the Hive towers some 60 feet and is comprised of over 2,500 cardboard tubes. Within its chambers are chimes made out of building materials, like copper pipes and wrenches, and a giant tubulum, an instrument constructed out of pipes of varying sizes that produces warm, surprising sounds.

The Hive / Dana Davidsen

In a tour of the Hive, Gang explained how she used sound to define the space. In the vast expanse of the National Building Museum, “you can’t really hear someone just 10 feet away from you. The sound gets lost, as it does in a big field.”

Within the museum, Gang instead wanted to create an intimate acoustic space. She wanted to recreate the sense of being inside a forest clearing, open but enclosed by trees, where one can sense, acoustically, the bound space as sound waves bounce off trees.

Working with acoustic engineers with Threshhold Sound, Gang and her team accomplished a similar surround sound effect inside the Hive, using catenary structures, painted silver and magenta, to create a full, harmonious timbre.

Inside The Hive / Dana Davidsen

Gang seemed particularly excited about the tubulum. “When everyone plays together, the chamber will be rocking!”

Tubulum / Dana Davidsen

The structures are inspired by both built and natural forms — Gang talked about the oculus of the Pantheon in Rome and mused about pine cones. “We see spirals in nature, too.”

The Hive is open until September 4. Interactive sound experiences will be held on Saturdays. Tickets are $16 for adults and $13 for kids and seniors. Get your tickets in advance.

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