Book Review: Architecture of the Air

Architecture of the Air: The Sound and Light Environments of Christopher Janney by Beth Dunlop

Christopher Janney is a man of many titles: architect, artist, musician. His creations seem to fuse these three realms into environments that reward playful participation, or, as the book says, "turns spectators into participants." This may occur via panels on a parking garage that light up part of the facade when pushed, via sounds triggered by waving a hand in front of a sensor on a subway platform, or by running around a grouping of columns to release steam. These and other public projects make up the first part of this monograph-cum-(auto)biography on Janney. The remainder of the book presents performance projects, architectural projects, and sonic reflections. This last part gives the greatest glimpse into Janney's thinking, inspirations, and experiences that have led to his creations.
Through these sonic reflections, text and images carry equal weight, giving the reader an alternative view on things as diverse as psychoanalysis, drumming, improvisation, sound as a color, and teaching. Certain threads appear: eastern philosophy, jazz music, nature's cycles, technology. Ultimately Janney's creations seem to be about immersing ourselves in our environments with all our senses, especially hearing. He pushes that immersion upon us by creating places that require interaction. (He even rewards persistence with special games, one between the covers of this book.)

Unfortunately, a book can only convey so much about works not only geared to hearing but presence and movement in space. What we're left with are words and images, the former giving us glimpses into Janney's mind and past, the latter showing that his formal talents aren't as strong as his intellectual and conceptual talents. Naturally after reading this book one wants to experience his projects in person, run around the Sonic Forest, try to solve the riddle that lights up the whole parking garage facade, ride the moving walkway at Miami International Airport and see what sounds accompany the rainbow of colors. Well, at least the reader is left with a riddle to a place on "the web where there is more."