Alaa Algargoosh is a 2021 Mary Fair Croushore Graduate Fellow and a PhD candidate in architecture who studies architectural acoustics. She is fascinated by the relationship between shapes and sounds in architecture and is continuously seeking inspiration from day-to-day experiences, from the simple to the extraordinary, to enhance human wellbeing. She enjoys playing the piano and wondering about the way sound is created and reflected.       

Her work was supported by several grants, including the Michigan-Mellon, the Dow sustainability fellowship, ArtsEngine, and others. Her projects were presented in national and international exhibitions and led her to be named one of the Innovators Under 35 by MIT Technology Review. 

Alaa Algargoosh was interviewed by Nathan Liebetreu, a marketing and media intern at the Institute for the Humanities.


N.L.: Good afternoon Alaa thank you so much for doing this interview. To start us off, what are you reading this week? 

A.A.: I have been recently reading Musical Illusions and Phantom Words: How Music and Speech Unlock Mysteries of the Brain by Diana Deutsch.

This fascinating book explains some mysteries about sounds and hearing. Similar to how our perception can lead to visual illusions, it can also result in auditory illusions. We hear sounds in a way that does not match their physical properties and how they are presented. For example, repeating a phrase several times can trick our brain into hearing it as a song instead of regular speech, as Deutsch described. She explains that although speech and vocal music share some characteristics, we can think about vocal music as speech with emotions.

Identifying the sound features that produce the emotional effect is particularly interesting since my research deals with the emotional impact of sounds altered by the acoustic reflections in spaces in which they are performed. So, I am aiming to understand what are the characteristics of sounds that can enhance the emotional impact and explore how the acoustics of worship spaces can alter vocal recitation and chanting in a way that supports the spiritual emotions.  

N.L.: I loved researching the above book you mentioned and I wonder if there is a common theme in your book selections. Do you gravitate to any book genre and if so what? And why?

A.A.: I enjoy reading science books. They inspire me to observe the world, ask questions, and find answers through my research.

N.L.: What author or book has impacted you personally or professionally that you would like to share or recommend? Why?

A.A.: Spaces Speak, Are You Listening? Experiencing Aural Architecture by Barry Blesser and Linda-Ruth Salter. This book transforms the way we think about spaces when introducing auditory awareness, bringing the attention of architects to the acoustic effects of the beautiful buildings they design. It talks about the evolution of the field of architectural acoustics, showing examples that span from ancient structures to the cutting-edge technologies of virtual reality. It also explains how aural architecture is more than just measuring the sound in space by describing some of the other fields from which it emerges (e.g., psychoacoustics, archeoacoustics).    

N.L.: Can you touch a bit on the project you are working on and why it is a matter of interest to you? Is there a theme in your professional or personal life that compels you to seek out certain kinds of books, authors, entertainment, or passion?  

A.A.: I am passionate about the integration of science and art. Art has always been a source of inspiration in a way that sparks my curiosity to learn.

As an architecture student, I was studying the history of architecture at the same time that I was studying the physics of buildings’ structure. I was fascinated by learning about the influence of art movements and the cultural aspects that shaped architecture side by side with the physics principles behind the structural elements that shaped the buildings’ forms. This made me believe that the integration between art and science is an essential key to innovation and advancing knowledge, and since then, I have been continuously seeking to learn about projects that involve such integration.

My current work involves studying the ways in which acoustic environments impact our experiences. This led me to read books in physics, music, psychology, in addition to architecture.  

N.L.: Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. Your thoughtful responses are greatly appreciated! As my departing and last question to end this interview, I wanted to ask a question we end our fellow interviews by. If you were stranded on a deserted island, what would be the one book you would want to have with you and why?

A.A.: The Sound Book: The Science of the Sonic Wonders of the World by Trevor Cox.  Reading this book is an adventure that takes you on a trip through space and time. Cox’s descriptions of his experiences in places with unique acoustics allow for understanding complex scientific acoustic phenomena in an appealing way that makes you immersed in a different world. This book is a pleasure to read and I highly recommend it.