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On This Campus, They Can Hear You Now

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

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A new architectural installation on Rice University’s Houston campus has students talking…and listening.

The Soundworm!, created by a team of architecture and engineering students, is a 26-foot-long twisted steel pipe that streams live conversations from many points throughout the campus.

Photos: Rice University

The Soundworm! was designed and built by Rice University students. It brings sounds from five locations around campus to the two-ton tube.

The Rice School of Architecture (RSA) describes the bright yellow sculpture as a form of “creative eavesdropping.”

Designing the Soundworm!

The team arrived at the form and function during a frenetic weekend of design as part of an RSA charrette that called for a “physical installation to represent the intersection of analog and digital lives.”

A charrette requires teams to conceptualize and complete a design in a strictly limited amount of time, mimicking the real-world pressure of an architecture practice.

RSA students George Hewitt, Juan Borbon, Adelina Koleva, Lydia Smith, Juncheng Yang and Nathan Keibler designed the work in January.

Rice University / YouTube

An interdisciplinary jury deemed the interactive project the best of six entries, and the team was given $6,000 to make it a reality, according to Rice.


"Getting this project built [was] exactly like building something in the city," said RSA Dean Sarah Whiting. "The students had to get permissions from FE&P (Facilities Engineering and Planning), the provost’s office […] and even the chief of police.

“The team worked like an office, divvying up the tasks and brainstorming when anything hindered their progress. They collaborated with students, faculty, administrators and technicians from across the entire campus. They raised additional funding. And they built it outside through the heat of the summer.”

Construction of the two-ton installation and control hardware and software finished with a reception Oct. 3.

How it Works

At five points along the tube, speakers link listeners to microphones scattered about campus.


Students at Soundworm! guess where the sounds are coming from.

The well-marked microphones are in common areas, like the campus coffeehouse and recreation center, for starters, the team says. The microphones pick up snippets of conversations and the random workday sounds of people going about their business.

The speakers are not marked at the tube, leaving listeners to guess where the sounds are coming from.

Connecting People

The design has brought people together—a goal of the project.

Patrons of Rice’s graduate student pub have had beers on the steel structure and construction workers working on projects on campus have stopped to check out the installation, according to the team.

"Really, it's not our project anymore," said Hewitt. "It becomes open to interpretation by everyone else, and they will decide what they will do with it, what they think of it. Usually we only get feedback from each other and from jurors, but now the real world is letting us know what they think of our design."

The students expect Soundworm! to be in place for at least a year.

They'll maintain and repaint it every few months and relocate the microphones on a regular basis.


Tagged categories: Aesthetics; Architecture; Artists; Color; Color + Design; Design; North America; Project Photos

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