the nordic house, reykjavik (1968)

Approaching Alvar Aalto’s Nordic House across fresh snow – the heaviest overnight snowfall in Iceland since 1937 arrived three days earlier – was a delight. Blue glazed tiles sparkled against a clear sky.



The Nordic House was set up to promote cultural exchange between the Nordic countries, and the building was designed to host and inspire a diverse cultural programme. The community/ performance space is not the largest space but is at the centre of the plan and is the high point of the section and elevations, next to the library – the big event of the building. The ground plan is interesting for the way this space can open up to the library, for various and flexible uses of the building. The building is modest in size but dynamic in plan and section, with a great flow between the spaces. Currently there is a ground floor bistro and small shop, and in the basement an educational space.

The roof of the community/ performance space steps up away from the library, and is lined internally with timber. The attention to design detail and quality of environment is obvious, with ventilation ducts in the ceiling and natural lighting to the interior.


The main library is filled with light, and has a sunken area at the centre with study tables tucked away.

Just one example of Aalto detailing…

A beautifully ergonomic door handle

photos: natasha nicholson, march 2017

no man’s land

‘No Man’s Land’, an installation by sound recordist Chris Watson, on the curve of the cliff at Berry Head Quarry, Brixham, played for nine days in September 2017. This ambi-sonic installation included high-quality recordings from orcas to Weddell seals. Ranging across the frequency spectrum, there were high frequency bird sounds and low frequency humpback whale sounds including chest-thumping infrasonic frequencies.

Electronic sounds can be used to great effect in this kind of natural environment (but only outside of the nesting season). Using the natural acoustics of the cliffs (as the seabirds do), and the unexpected acoustic reflections from the concrete hut on the quay, the installation has a real impact, with remarkable sound quality.


Sketch of the spatial arrangement of the installation
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The curved limestone cliff face with speakers and suspension cables just visible

pistol shrimps at dawn

Chris Watson, sound recordist and longstanding collaborator of David Attenborough, hosted a fascinating workshop at Berry Head Quarry, Brixham in September. With a storm raging outside we gathered in the Artillery Store for Chris’ introduction to sound recording and the acoustic world of the ocean. (As a novice sound recordist I had my Zoom H4n handy recorder with me, eager to pick up some tips). During a brief break in the weather we walked down to the Quarry Quay and Chris showed us how to set up the hydrophone (underwater microphone) equipment with plastic bottle floats, canes as fishing rods and cable lines – literally fishing for sounds. With a speaker set up under an umbrella, we could clearly hear the pistol shrimps (or snapping shrimps)

Pistol shrimps are common throughout the world’s oceans, and their sounds are the background fuzz of the underwater soundscape around any shoreline. The snapping sound is made by the implosion of an air bubble produced by the shrimp’s powerful claw, in order to stun their prey.

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Chris Watson at Berry Head Quay setting up the hydrophones with workshop participants
Hydrophones in the water with plastic bottles as floats