On a hike through one of the sprawling forests in Estonia, a country more than half covered in trees, you might stumble on three giant megaphones in the middle of the woods. They amplify every forest sound in the forest–singing birds, wind in branches, rain.
“The megaphones take the hiker by a surprise. It’s a shift in scale, an unexpected, absurdly large object in the tranquil deep woods,” says Aet Ader, an architect at the firm b210, who guided a team of architecture students from the Estonian Academy of Arts in building the installation. “It’s an extremely symbolic reference to the sense of hearing and to the process of listening.”
Each megaphone, made from long-lasting local larch wood, is designed to reflect sound waves and is placed at the ideal angle from the others to maximize sound. “At the center of the installation, sound feeds from all three directions should create a unique merged surround sound effect,” says Hannes Praks, head of the academy’s interior architecture department.
The megaphones can also serve as mini-stages. Here’s a glimpse of the installation’s opening, before the megaphones were revealed. Musicians hidden inside are playing Estonian music:
It’s designed as a place to relax and escape. “You can sit down comfortably in each of the megaphones–the sides of the megaphone offer support for your back at the right angle and frame the sky on one side and moss and blueberries on the other,” says Ader. “The installation shakes the perspective. It seems to me that in the world that’s spinning faster and faster, the secret really lies in simple methods such as focusing–erasing the background noise and the unnecessary, framing it out.”
The students were inspired to create the megaphones after a couple of the university’s somewhat unorthodox immersive trips–five days in a remote ranger hut in the middle of January in the deep woods, followed by a trip to London for a weekend with no money and no phones.
“We sincerely believe that these experimental and, in part, surely extreme measures pave the road to fabulous solutions,” says Praks.
At the time, they were working on a design for a “forest library,” something proposed by the Estonian writer Valdur Mikita. At first, the concept was a literal library with books–but then one of the students was struck with inspiration. Why not listen to the book of nature?
“In the end, even the tutors of the group understood that building a library without heating and any security in Estonian climate would be a bit of a stupid idea,” says Praks. “Birgit’s intelligent solution–to replace the literal reading in the forests with reading the audioscape of the forest–saved the whole project.”
The installation is on display–if you can find it–in the Pähni Nature Centre near the Latvian border.