Grad Center Playground is a superimposition of sonic imagery onto the Graduate Center spiral staircase and terrace at Brown University that creates a cognitive dissonance between the brutalist, oppressive architecture of the structure and the cheerful, whimsical sonic atmosphere that is projected through speakers positioned in the staircase and on the terrace.
Constructed in 1968, the Graduate Center features modernist, concrete structures connected by narrow, elevated walkways and a swooping concrete spiral staircase modeled after a single-helix RNA strand. Rumor has it that the complex, whose architecture appears fun and playful at first glance, was carefully designed to be riot-proof in order to deny any possibility of popular protest on its premises and suppress the University’s radical student body. (Visit brown.edu/cis/sta/dev/providence_architecture/locations/college_hill/graduate_center/ for more information on the Graduate Center.)
By superimposing sounds of a carnival and slide whistle onto the spiral staircase, the structure is transformed into a giant playground slide, and one is forced to reconsider his or her surroundings as a space for exploration and joy. The cold, empty terrace features sounds of children playing and splashing in a pool as well as snippets of an ice cream truck, once again asking listeners to re-imagine this oppressive space as one made for children and playfulness.
Sonic Psychogeography: Site and Sound, Brown University, 2011