Photo of acoustically interesting fountain at the Canadian Embassy in Washington, DC

Weekly Gem #131 I'd like to hear that again

Published 8/26/2017

Location:  This 'hidden gem' is one of the coolest and most interactive pieces of architecture in Canada, but you have to go to DC to experience it (located at the Southeast Corner of the Canadian Embassy, in Washington, DC) (see the Clue Me! Map). Unfortunately, most passersby focus only on what they can see from the outside, and thereby miss what they can hear from the inside.

To be sure, the outside is pleasant ... there is a thin film of water flowing over the tan brickwork at the bottom which somehow draws people near, leads them to poke their finger through the water and then look around self-consciously to see if anyone saw.

Now, before moving on, let's go inside. You can hear a pin drop in the middle of the city, simply because of the shape, and placement, of the dome. First, listen to what you can hear from this sidewalk, just for a comparison. Then walk up the driveway, step to the west (you're now technically in Canada, having entered the embassy) and enter the back side of the dome. Notice how much quieter it just became. Then, move to the very center of the dome, and talk quietly ... or have anyone who is with you talk quietly, or drop a pin, from inside the dome.

Here's what's happening.

Let's say a pin drops on the sidewalk next to Pennsylvania Avenue. The sound travels in every direction, only a tiny amount reaching your ears, and it is of course drowned out by the cacophony. Now, drop a pin inside the dome. The ceiling is flatter in the middle and steeper near the edges, so that every nugget of sound that hits the ceiling from anywhere inside the dome is redirected to where you're standing in the center. The sound is massively amplified, coming at you from all directions. You might actually be able to hear that pin drop.

Remember though that Pennsylvania Avenue is still there, just a few feet away, and noisy as ever. The ceiling amplifies, but the other secrets to this dome are how it stifles sounds from outside. This was accomplished in two ways. First by elevating the floor so that only a small amount of street level noise enters. And then by elevating the dome high enough so that any outside noises that hit the ceiling are not just redirected outward, but are directed high enough above your head so that they don't interrupt the Canadian solitude.


Here's the hidden gem entry from our Clue Me! map.


I'd like to hear that again


Though this is a nice fountain, the 'hidden gem' is the spot dead center under the small dome.

Why It's Interesting

This is an acoustic echo chamber. Just go and make a little noise.

Related Gems