Joana Albernaz Delgado (RCA) - 2023-24 Students

There's Somebody at the Door: a sonic history of domestic thresholds and identities through the design and material culture of the doorbell, 1950-2023

This project investigates the role of designed sound in domestic space, focusing on the history of the doorbell in Western Europe from 1950 to the present day. Domestic doorbells are ubiquitous, yet invisible – and in a way muted – objects of everyday life. Their design is absorbed into the architectural fabric of the building (are doorbells objects, architectural fittings, or both?), their sound muffled by their function (do we even remember what our own doorbell sounds like?). Most of the time, they remain silent and unnoticed, embedded in the undifferentiated, soft rhythm of domesticity. Until someone is at the door and they pierce our day, demanding from us immediate and direct attention. The ambiguity and complexity of doorbells are also found in the contrast between their ordinariness with the poetic and philosophical meanings of thresholds. They also embody the electrification of modern domestic life, overlapping the increasing beeps and vrooms of other domestic objects. And they have lined up at different times assuming a multitude of shapes, materials, designs, sizes, melodies, chimes, buzzes, rings, and ding-dongs until the dull white and grey intercom invaded our walls. Doorbells have been slipping through the disciplinary fabric of history and sound studies. Ultimately, this project will be capable of revealing the value of history of design as the perfect disciplinary field to combine a multi-sensorial approach to material culture, mobilising the sonic not only as a fresh lens and methodological tool but also as an equally valid primary source which can and should be intertwined with the doorbell’s materiality. Looking at everyday life through the history of the doorbell, this research will open the door to wider stories about the changing experiences of domestic life in Western Europe since the 1950s and about identity formation and space negotiation at the threshold of the home.

Primary supervisor: Dr Louise Purbrick

Secondary supervisor: Dr Josephine Kane

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