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Freepenguin via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0
Freepenguin via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

7 Whispering Galleries From Around the World You Can Visit

Freepenguin via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0
Freepenguin via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Curving walls and towering domes can produce great architectural effects. But in some cases, their acoustic qualities are even more impressive.

A whispering gallery takes advantage of the properties of certain curved spaces to offer a unique sound experience. To know if you’ve found one, stand facing a sloping surface while a friend does the same several yards away. When you whisper into the wall, your partner should hear your voice as clearly as if you were standing next to them.

This seemingly magical phenomenon can be explained by whispering gallery waves. When whispers hit the circular or semicircular surface of the gallery, those vibrations cling to the surface and “creep” along the gently curving path. The slight angle of the structure keeps sound waves from dispersing out to either side. When the message reaches its intended listener, it’ll have barely diminished during the journey.

Whispering galleries can be found in some of the most iconic landmarks on Earth. Here are seven enchanting examples.

1. ST. PAUL’S CATHEDRAL // LONDON

 
St. Paul’s in London is home to perhaps the most famous whispering gallery, a circular walkway perched 257 steps above the floor and around the perimeter of the cathedral's famous dome. At nearly 100 feet up, the balcony is not for the faint of heart, but if you’re not ready for a trek yourself, you can send your whispers for a spin. Although architect Sir Christopher Wren didn't design the balcony for its acoustic properties, they've since become well-known: In the late 1870s, the British physicist Lord Rayleigh used it as the setting for groundbreaking research on acoustics. He was the first person to propose the existence of “whispering gallery waves” that travel along a curvilinear path. Today visitors to the cathedral can recreate Lord Rayleigh’s experiment as it was done 140 years ago.

2. THE GOL GUMBAZ MAUSOLEUM // BIJAPUR, INDIA

Santoshsmalagi via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

 
Vijayapura, India is home to the 17th century Gol Gumbaz Mausoleum, final resting place of Sultan Mohammed Adil Shah. Its name literally means “circular dome,” and the distinctive topper forms one of India’s most famous whispering galleries. Visitors walking along the balcony that rings the dome’s edge can have the chance to test it out. As is the case at St. Paul’s, sound vibrations hug the walls of the walkway while the dome curling above keeps wayward sound waves contained. A whisper originating at one point can be heard on the opposite side of the 44-foot wide space.

3. GRAND CENTRAL STATION // NEW YORK CITY

 

At most spots in Grand Central Terminal, maintaining a conversation with someone standing 30 feet away during rush hour is an impossible task. There’s one place where that doesn't apply. The herringbone-tiled roof arching outside the Grand Central Oyster Bar creates a whispering gallery in the middle of Manhattan. Rather than transmitting the whispers horizontally, sounds waves shoot up one of the four corners, along the arched surface of the ceiling, and back down the pillar on the opposite side. Travelers passing through Grand Central will know they’ve found the right spot when they see what looks like tourists talking to themselves in the corners.

4. THE BENCH OF WHISPERS // SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA, SPAIN

 

Not all whispering galleries are located beneath domes. Sometimes the back of a semi-circular bench will do. After this granite bench was constructed in a park in Spain around 1916, it didn’t take long for couples to catch on to its unique sound effects. Word of the location spread among young singles, and it soon became a popular meeting place for unmarried couples looking for privacy. In a time when the courting process was strictly monitored for indecent behaviors (i.e. touching, or even speaking), the Lovers Bench, or the Bench of Whispers, was the perfect solution. From afar, two people sitting on opposite ends can appear to be minding their own business, when in reality they’re exchanging illicit whispers of affection.

5. THE ECHO WALL IN THE TEMPLE OF HEAVEN // BEIJING

Daniel Case via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

 

Erected in the 15th century, the Temple of Heaven long served as a setting for prayer ceremonies asking for good harvests. Today the UNESCO World Heritage Site is a popular Beijing tourist destination. The Imperial Vault of Heaven, located south of the Temple’s main structure, is surrounded by a smooth, round wall—known as the Echo Wall—that’s heard half a millennium's worth of whispers. To get the full experience, visitors should plan to arrive early to avoid being drowned out by crowds of tourists with the same idea.

6. THE WHISPERING ARCH (FLÜSTERBOGEN) // GÖRLITZ, GERMANY

Andreas Praefcke via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 3.0

 
The whispering gallery in Görlitz, Germany is easy to miss. Instead of an ancient church or mausoleum, it’s located in the entryway of a regular building in the town's Lower Market area. The channeled stone arch above the doorway at house No. 22 carries sound waves from one end to the other. The Flüsterbogen, or “Whispering Arch,” as it's known, is one of many charming attractions in the medieval German town.

7. THE U.S. CAPITOL BUILDING // WASHINGTON D.C.

 
The dome of the U.S. Capitol building is more than a distinctive silhouette against the Washington D.C. skyline. When it was first constructed, the structure helped amplify the voices of members of Congress, long before microphones appeared on the scene. According to one urban legend, John Quincy Adams pretended to be asleep at his desk while listening to echoes of his opponents’ conversations happening in different parts of the room. This so-called “whisper spot," now part of he National Statuary Hall, is now designated by an official plaque on the floor marking the location where the former president sat during his time in Congress. According to the Architect of the Capitol, the whispering gallery effect can still be heard in sections of the hall, but the building’s acoustic properties are less pronounced than they were prior to its renovation at the turn of the 20th century.

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Arend Kuester, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
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Qatar National Library's Panorama-Style Bookshelves Offer Guests Stunning Views
Arend Kuester, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Arend Kuester, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The newly opened Qatar National Library in the capital city of Doha contains more than 1 million books, some of which date back to the 15th century. Co.Design reports that the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) designed the building so that the texts under its roof are the star attraction.

When guests walk into the library, they're given an eyeful of its collections. The shelves are arranged stadium-style, making it easy to appreciate the sheer number of volumes in the institution's inventory from any spot in the room. Not only is the design photogenic, it's also practical: The shelves, which were built from the same white marble as the floors, are integrated into the building's infrastructure, providing artificial lighting, ventilation, and a book-return system to visitors. The multi-leveled arrangement also gives guests more space to read, browse, and socialize.

"With Qatar National Library, we wanted to express the vitality of the book by creating a design that brings study, research, collaboration, and interaction within the collection itself," OMA writes on its website. "The library is conceived as a single room which houses both people and books."

While most books are on full display, OMA chose a different route for the institution's Heritage Library, which contains many rare, centuries-old texts on Arab-Islamic history. This collection is housed in a sunken space 20 feet below ground level, with beige stone features that stand out from the white marble used elsewhere. Guests need to use a separate entrance to access it, but they can look down at the collection from the ground floor above.

If Qatar is too far of a trip, there are plenty of libraries in the U.S. that are worth a visit. Check out these panoramas of the most stunning examples.

Qatar library.

Qatar library.

Qatar library.

[h/t Co.Design]

All images: Arend Kuester, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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After Four Months, a Frank Lloyd Wright House in Glencoe, Illinois Goes Back on the Market

Most architecture nerds would be thrilled to live in an original Frank Lloyd Wright house, and occasionally, they get their chance—as long as they’re willing to pay a few million dollars. As of late 2017, there were Frank Lloyd Wright homes for sale in New York, Minnesota, Ohio, Connecticut, and elsewhere for $1 million dollars or more (in some cases, way more). Sometimes, you can find a deal, though, like the $445,000 Usonian home that went on the market in Michigan in 2016.

Sadly, as Curbed reports, a newly for-sale Wright house in Glencoe, Illinois is not such a deal anymore. Only three months after its $752,000 sale, the 1914 Kier House in suburban Chicago has been renovated and is back on the market for $837,500.

Many Wright homes need a little love after decades of use. For one thing, the architect is somewhat notorious for building leaky roofs. Their small kitchens and shag carpeting are no longer quite so desirable, either.

But for many buyers and architects, restoring a Wright home is a labor of love, one that often takes several years and aims to respect the original designer’s genius while bringing the house up to modern standards. (For some of the historic homes, permanent easements also prohibit most exterior alterations, further limiting what a remodel can involve.)

The Prairie School-style house, though it has Honorary Landmark status, isn’t entirely original to Wright. It has a more modern kitchen, a new family room, and updated bathrooms (with a steam shower!). Previous owner Susan Cowen, who owned the house for a number of years and spent an undisclosed amount on refurbishing it, sold the residence in January to a pair of documentary filmmakers, according to Patch. The sale, which included a significant price drop, only took a few months. They, in turn, made a number of improvements. The owners fixed up the chimneys, boiler, and furnace, added a limestone bar separating the kitchen and dining room, and raised part of the ceiling above the stairs.

Now, four months later, it’s on sale again, and, thanks to the upgrades, a little pricier. The latest sellers may find, though, that not every Wright sale goes as quickly as their purchase. The architect’s homes are highly prized, but also known to be very difficult to sell, sometimes languishing on the market for years before finding a buyer.

[h/t Curbed]

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