Pistols in St Paul's

Science, music, and architecture in the twentieth century

By Fiona Smyth

Pistols in St Paul's
Hardcover -
  • Price: £25.00
  • ISBN: 9781526180209
  • Publish Date: Sep 2024
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
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    Book Information

    • Format: Hardcover
    • ISBN: 978-1-5261-8020-9
    • Pages: 328
    • Price: £25.00
    • Published Date: September 2024


    A ground-breaking account of the scientists and architects who pioneered acoustics in twentieth-century Britain.

    On a winter's night in 1951, shortly after Evensong, the interior of St Paul's Cathedral echoed with gunfire. This was no act of violence but a scientific demonstration of new techniques in acoustic measurement. It aimed to address a surprising question: could a building be a musical instrument?

    Pistols in St Paul's tells the fascinating story of the scientists, architects and musicians who set out to answer this question. Beginning at the turn of the century, their innovative experiments, which took place at sites ranging from Herbert Baker's Assembly Chamber in Delhi to Abbey Road Studios and a disused munitions factory near Perivale, would come to define the field of 'architectural acoustics'. They culminated in 1951 with the opening of the Royal Festival Hall - the first building to be designed for musical tone.

    Deeply researched and richly illustrated, Pistols in St Paul's brings to light a scientific quest spanning half a century, one that demonstrates the power of international cooperation in the darkest of times.


    'Fiona Smyth's energetic prose brings to life the gradual emergence of the science of acoustics in Britain between 1901 and 1951. In this pioneering and fascinating book, she combines an engaging sense of humour with absolute seriousness of purpose.'
    Deborah Howard, Professor Emerita of Architectural History, University of Cambridge

    'Expertly researched, Fiona Smyth's Pistols in St Paul's exudes authority. Exploring the development of the concept of "building as instrument", Smyth enhances our understanding of how past sonorous encounters have shaped today's built environment. Her book makes an important contribution to how we should think about the historical formation of the soundscapes of modernity.'
    Edward Gillin, editor of Science and Sound in Nineteenth-Century Britain

    'Fiona Smyth's history of architectural acoustics in modern Britain is a fascinating and vivid journey across the frontiers of scientific research, religious faith, musical expression - and, above all, architecture as a medium of experience and a form of thought. Captivating and deeply researched.'
    Joseph L. Clarke, author of Echo's Chambers: Architecture and the Idea of Acoustic Space


    Prologue: pistols in St Paul's Cathedral
    1 1901: music in light of space
    2 Science as applied to building
    3 Catalysts and controversies
    4 Designing for musical tone
    5 Leagues apart
    6 That little old echo
    7 Prelude to reconstruction
    Conclusion: 1951: internationalism


    Fiona Smyth is an Associate Professor in the School of Art History and Cultural Policy at University College Dublin. Her research has been awarded the Newman Medal for Architectural Acoustics by the Acoustical Society of America, the Stanley Smith Prize for Construction History by the Construction History Society and the Hawksmoor Medal for Architectural History by the Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain.

    Pistols in St Paul's

    By Fiona Smyth

    Hardcover £25.00 / $36.95

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