The Quietest Space In New York City

You can only imagine what it must feel like to be inside Doug Wheeler’s art installation at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, when you compare its maximum sound intensity of 10 decibels to other daily sounds — a whisper produces around around 40 decibels, an incoming subway train amounts up to 100 decibels.

The artist’s installation PSAD Synthetic Desert III is a chamber filled with a sound-absorbing material called basotect. The material can reduce the sound in a room to uncomfortable or disorienting levels — the Synthetic Desert features 600 pyramids and 400 wedges made from this material, arranged into a sort of miniature mountain range.

Doug Wheeler, PSAD Synthetic Desert III, 1968 (detail), Ink on paper, 61.1 x 91.4 cm Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York Panza Collection, Gift, 1991 © Doug Wheeler

Doug Wheeler, PSAD Synthetic Desert III, 1968 Ink on paper, 61.1 x 91.4 cm Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York Panza Collection, Gift, 1991 © Doug Wheeler

Visitors can enter the room in groups of five and are given some time to completely immerse themselves in the experience of being in a nearly soundproof room. The artist was inspired by his trips to the Northern Arizona Deserts and the near silence he had experienced there. The only, very faint sound in the room is a modulated recording from that very place in Arizona.

More than half of the world’s population lives in cites nowadays and we are continuously exposed to a wide range of sounds and volumes. Arguably, being inside one of the quietest places in New York City must sound very appealing. We are so accustomed to the sound of chatter and moving vehicles around us that this art installation provides a stark contrast to daily urban life — one that we might not experience that often, unless you happen to live close to Northern Arizona Deserts.

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