Department of Cultural Affairs NYCulture City of New York Department of Cultural Affairs NYCulture City of New York

Percent for Art

   Bill and Mary Buchen

Sound Playground, Steel, bronze, concrete, 1992

    See Also: Sound Carnival

Sound Playground

Completion Date:



Steel, bronze, concrete




P.S. 23


Washington Avenue/East 182nd Street, Bronx


Perkins & Will

Sponsor Agency:

Board of Education

Design Agency:

School Construction Authority

The New York Times reported, "The five sections of the Sound Playground designed by the Manhattan artists Bill and Mary Buchen add art, music, and architecture to the courtyard of P.S. 23 in the Belmont section of the Bronx." The artists designed the landscaping, seating, and textured paving to create a space where children explore acoustic and visual phenomen. The bronze tables and seats are actually hollow drums for communal music making. Parabolic Bench invites children up an inclined walkway that leads between two large stainless steel dishes, and as children clap their hands or sing, sound waves bounce between the two dishes until they are cut by a wave of the hand. At the 17' tall sculpture, Big Eyes/Big Ears, children peer into a rotating periscope which shows them a view of the world six feet above their heads, while simultaneously transmitting sounds from a higher level down to their own ears. Echo Chamber invites children to speak into an acoustic sculpture and listen to their voices reverberate through a buried storm drain, forty feet wide, designed to collect rainwater. Across the top of the chainlink fence, small wind bells chime, and the large bells of the carillon on the roof can be programmed to play songs composed by the students and teachers. Sound Playground encourages children to interact with unique sculptures which invite investigation and learning.

About the Artist...
Since 1972, Bill Buchen and Mary Buchen have collaborated in the creation of works dealing with the synergy of the sonic and visual arts. Their pursuit has led them to travel throughout the world researching sonic phenomena and making field recordings. In 1996 they completed a second permanent public art work for the New York City schools called Sound Carnival. In addition to numerous shows and exihibitions across the country, their work can be seen at Socrates Sculpture Park in Queens.

Artist Quote...
This was our first opportunity for free reign in designing all aspects of a playspace thanks to an early start with architects and commissioning agencies. We could tap into their plans for a carillon tower and an underground water tank besides designing the paving, seating, and fence. Our collaboration extended through the realm of contractors, fabricators, teachers, engineers, mudmen, and all the many people that counseled and crafted and played it into being... -- Buchen and Buchen, 1997