Observing Sound

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  • Observing Sound
  • At Inchindown Fuel Depot
  • October 2014 – April 2015
  • M.Arch. Thesis Project
  • UBC SALA Vaughn Berg Memorial Prize Recipient 2015
  • Media : BandcampVimeo

Welcome to Inchindown.

Adapted from the subterranean tunnels of a WWII oil storage depot, the Inchindown Sonic Observatory is an exploration of the human experience of sound and space. With a phenomenal reverberation time of 75 seconds, the existing structure provides a unique set of acoustic and spatial starting conditions, into which a sequence of specific experiences is embedded. By exposing the senses to a calculated composition of auditory, as well as visual and tactile stimuli, Inchindown Observatory aims to heighten the inhabitants’ awareness and understanding of the sonic environment.

Longer stays are recommended for full effect.

This thesis investigates how architecture can re-engage the sonic environment – a powerful aspect of spatial experience which is often neglected in design today. It is an exploration of space and sound both acoustically (objectively) and experientially (subjectively). Through parallel processes of designing, modelling (simulating), and rendering, architecture and acoustics are simultaneously deliberated. In order to faithfully describe the project in a multi-sensory manner, both visual and auditory renderings are created and composed together. Ultimately, the goal is to leverage acoustics, as a science and as a phenomenon, to design spaces of embodied experience.

The intent of this thesis is to use the existing geographical, spatial, and acoustic conditions of the Inchindown Fuel Depot to create a synthetic experience of space and sound. As well, this project is an exploration of how the science of acoustics can integrate into the practice of architecture through the parallel processes of designing, modelling, and rendering.

Note: The following version of the final rendering has been mixed down (from the original quadraphonic version) for stereo playback using headphones. Enjoy!

Observing Sound audio renderings and full thesis report (interactive PDF including the final audio/visual rendering) can be downloaded from Bandcamp. The final rendering can be viewed on Vimeo.



The site of this thesis is the Inchindown Fuel Depot, located in Invergordon, Ross-shire, Scotland (57.74102, -4.20508). The site was selected due to its geographical remoteness, environmental insularity, and above all, its phenomenal acoustic properties.

In 2014, the Inchindown Fuel Depot broke the Guinness world record for the longest echo (Cox & Kilpatrick, 2015). At 125 Hertz, the frequency typically made by a tuba, the reverberation time inside the fuel tank was 112 seconds; for mid-frequencies important for speech, the reverberation time was 30 seconds; and the broadband reverberation time, which considers all frequencies simultaneously, was 75 seconds.

75 seconds is the longest reverberation time ever discovered in a man-made structure.

Note: Official information and photographs of the site can be found on the Canmore catalogue.


Since the subject of this thesis is sensory experience, a site visit was critical. The site visit to Inchindown was conducted on Wednesday January 13th and Thursday January 14th, 2015.

The intent of the visit was not to gather accurate acoustical measurements; it was to make first hand observations and recordings, as well as to fully experience the site using all our available senses. In order to capture as many senses as possible, a variety of documentation approaches were employed: written notes, sketches, photos, video, and, most importantly, audio recordings.


Beginning with the tank section, 120 sensory experiences were imagined and sketched. This series of drawings became the point of departure for idea generation, categorization, and synthesis. From this series, a set of design themes eventually emerged: Section Sketches of Inchindown Fuel Depot.

The proposed design project is a sonic observatory. A retreat for the senses inspired by Inchindown’s original purpose: the storage and movement of fluid. The observatory is an adaption of the existing complex, into a series of passages and rest stops built around the multi-sensory medium of water. Visitors have the choice to explore various pathways; each path offering a unique perspective and sensory environment composed of both physical and sonic structures, old and new.


In order to recreate the sonic experience of Inchindown, an acoustic model of the complex was built. Odeon Room Acoustics Software was used to compile the spatial, geometric, and material properties of the fuel depot in order to accurately predict its acoustic behaviour. This model was used to simulate how the tanks would change sonically when filled with water. Ultimately, the software was used to create auralizations, the sonic equivalent to a visual rendering, to be used in the final rendering of the project.


In this last step of the thesis, impulse responses obtained from the acoustic model were used as the building blocks in the composition of a spatio-audio rendering. In parallel, a series of visual renderings were also created.

All sounds in the final rendering were either recorded on-site or auralized; using dry audio samples and data from Odeon. It is as faithful a representation as possible, considering today’s technological limits. This final step taps into a powerful potential: the potential to express objective acoustic results as subjective sonic experiences.