Silent Noise


I stood at an intersection and just stopped
The cacophony was overwhelming
Street lights
Traffic lights
Power poles
Painted lines
Windows / Doors
Rubbish bins
Trucks, Buses, Cars, bikes and people

There was noise.

The city groaned and screamed as if hurt so loud that it was hard to hear oneself think.

Not just sound but a full-blown assault on the senses, sound, smell, and visual.

I had gone to stand for a short time on the corner of Beaumont and Victoria Street West where Victoria Street ends and College Hill starts. I go through this intersection in my car, on my bike and by foot everyday of every week. But to just stand and take some time, as if I was savoring the urban environment was an eye opener.

I shut my eyes.

In doing so I reduce the noise although interestingly I could still see. Momentarily just the outlines and with time my mind adjusted and filled in the detail that moments before I was struggling to see. Struggling to see as I was over whelmed by the noise.


My ears need muffs.

I have taken to wearing noise cancelling headphones. I sit in cafe’s writing with white noise being invisibly thrown at me to cancel out the surrounding discordant sounds.


Noise + White Noise = approximate silence.

Or perhaps

Noise + White Noise = the possibility of some clarity.

It seems to me that, we as people need to reduce the noise and search for more stillness and with that comes some sense of calm, a sense of peace and wellbeing. We often experience these feelings, seek this or perhaps value it more when we are within natural environments. An environment in such stark contrast to the urban although interestingly no less complex.  But somehow the natural environment seems able to assemble itself with a sense of calm and diversity, when compared to its urban brethren.

In doing so, somehow we are able to hear ourselves think.
Our cities need to calm, we need to calm, slow and with that we will be able to think.
Think about ourselves and find peace,
Think about our families and find love,
Think about our neighbors and find community,
Think about our environment and find health.

The idea of making less noise, allows us to pursue silence. A phenomenon unto itself, a thing that is hard to grasp, yet at its purist provides an unfathomable depth.



Silence one thinks is absolute. But like all things in life there are no absolutes. I don’t know if silence is even a thing; if silence is a gap between things or a thing in its own right. If it were a gap it implies it is part of something else. If it were nothing and something was something, then nothing needs to exist to allow something to exist. Philosophers have been debating these meanings for millennia and while I find it interesting what is most important is that silence has a role in our lives and our cities.

What I know is that with less noise there is more. While the idea of subtracting creates more is not new, the old design adage Less is more rings true on this occasion.

Something – something = something more

In my pursuit of more stillness, a calm a silence perhaps, I find at least a level of quietness is required. It is interesting to consider if quietness stems from the external or the internal environment and whether they are linked.

Meditation seems a way of to obtain a level of internal quietness, yet obtaining a quietness, a silence within one’s head has escaped me so far, thoughts seem to bang around in the clutter. But there is no doubt that the pursuit of that elusive quietness, stillness and calmness does pay a dividend. Not a dreary slowness, but a quiet clarity and energy to pursue everyday life.

I wonder if reducing the noise in our world is as important as seeking a silence from within. Perhaps the pursuit of some silence from within can help us better design the outside world, or understand the qualities our cities need to better empowering us as human beings.

Pursuing a silence, seeking a stillness however small, is designed in music. An entire language is created to describe, speed and space, gap in the sound, without which the sound would be continuous and monotonous, without meaning or effect. Gaps in the cities soundscape and spaces in our landscape can provide us with these pauses. The gaps in the intensity, the varying of scales create respite and give meaning in an otherwise over-powering reality.


The silence in the noise

I seek this silence, space to create.

I feel the need to design these moments in our environments in our everyday environments, our homes communities and cities. In doing so I think we will create better places, better habitats for us to thrive and allow us to live with more humility in our cities.


David Irwin
Creative Director