When Robert Louis Stevenson wrote his poem for children, "I like noise..." he was thinking of the commonplace sounds of life before the Tannoy, Walkman and compressor-driven building site. A night spent under canvas in a rainforest is noisy, but gloriously so. The sound of monkeys howling and strange insects bleeping and buzzing is positively life-enhancing. So, too, is the howl of a wolf in the Canadian wilderness. The sound of a dog barking in the distance. A steam train passing in the night. A fast-flowing stream. Water pipes gurgling somewhere in the depths of an old house. A Sally Army band on a cold winter's day. Children playing in schoolyards. We all have our favourites.
There is noise and noise. Today, however, where Architecture was once a haven from noise - one got through the door and escaped the sound of the street outside - modern buildings, and modernised buildings, are increasingly a source of noise. Offices are filled with "white noise", by the relentless hum of electronic gadgetry, the insistent shrill of modern phones, by announcements by speaking computer over loudspeakers.
Large shops are little better, and even places of worship are festooned with loudspeakers and echo to the sound of that adult dummy, the mobile phone.
Some clever entrepreneur should set up a chain of silent rooms around our cities where people can go in their lunch hours for a bit of peace and quiet. For today, the office is noisy and the train home is noisy: people really do raise their voices considerably when addressing mobile phones, while if you give a "senior conductor" a microphone, he really will feel it his duty to talk non-stop about hot bacon rolls, refreshment trolleys, arcane ticketing systems, "station stops", "customers" and to repeat the tongue-twisting names of newly privatised railway "operators".
Home is noisier than ever it has been: washing machines, telly, boilers, computer games, kitchen gadgets that screech and ping ... and that's before the bass control on the stereo next door is turned up full. Presumably most people find these things comforting, otherwise surely they would not put up with them.
For that tiny and shrinking minority who like peace and quiet - and noise where noise is enjoyable (wolves howling, rivers dancing, trains passing in the night etc.) - Architecture is no longer a refuge. Most modern buildings are net generators of noise. Curiously, many architects, when pressed to identify their favourite buildings, tend to single out ancient temples or medieval monasteries, traditional Japanese houses or, say, Le Corbusier's peerless pilgrimage chapel at Ronchamp (all of which exudes quietude) and then return to the drawing board or humming computer and set to work on buildings stuffed full of noisy and noisome equipment and gagdetry.
I know I am taking out of turn, because most people love noise and clearly can never get enough of it. Perhaps people need to shout into mobile phones or microphones in public as if to say "Here I am, look at me!" like a ballet-obsessed toddler showing off her first tutu.
This is a plea for the quiet building. Do you agree, or am I just being a sensitive flower?n
'Noise?' opens at the Science Museum, Exhibition Road, London SW7 on 24 AprilReuse content