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Art & Culture, Parks & Outdoor, Sculptures

Listening Vessels | Houston Discovery Green Park

Posted: February 15, 2017 at 12:07 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

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The Listening Vessels found in downtown Houston’s Discovery Green Park are amazing!  The two concave interiors of these stone sculptures are situated 70 feet apart and face one another.  A person can sit in each one of these sculptures and whisper to one another and be clearly heard.

The concave interiors concentrate sound waves which is the basic reason why this works.

Listening Vessels at Discovery Green | Artist and Donor Information

Maconda Brown O’Connor was a well known Houston philanthropist who left a major imprint upon our fine city with her good works and deeds.

This gives some perspective as to how far apart people are when sitting in each sculpture. That is my husband and I took the photo while sitting in the other Listening Vessel at Discovery Green Park.

To learn more about Maconda Brown O’Connor and see the bronze relief heart shaped sculpture created as a tribute to her, click here.  That sculpture is located not far from the Listening Vessels.  Anyone visiting the south side of Discovery Green Park can easily view both sculptures.

Doug Hollis is a well known American artist (born 1948) in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  He earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Michigan.

Mr. Hollis got to know Frank Oppenheimer who was an educator as well as a physicist.  Oppenheimer founded the Exploratorium in San Francisco.  It is now located at Pier 15 at the Embarcadero.

At the interactive Exploratorium museum, visitors enjoy all types of experiences having to do with art, science and human perception.  One such experience has been described as being able to dance in the middle of a tornado!  That sounds truly amazing!  If my husband and I ever make another trip to San Francisco, I would definitely like to spend part of a day at the Exploratorium.

What does all this have to do with these Listening Vessels in Discovery Green Park?  I will tell you.  Stay tuned for a bit of a history lesson as well!

Listening Vessels at Discovery Green Park

After becoming an artist-in-residence at the Exploratorium and getting to know Frank Oppenheimer, Doug Hollis became fascinated with sound sculpture.

Isn’t it interesting how our life paths can change just by our associations with the people around us!

There are now many works of art by Doug Hollis in various parts of our country.  Some of his sound sculptures are permanent and others have been temporary pieces of public art.  Water and wind have been the sources of sound in some of his creations.

The Listening Vessels created by Doug Hollis in the Wortham Foundation Gardens in Discovery Green Park are made of Alabama limestone.

Listening Vessels at Discovery Green Park

Limestone is an interesting singular subject.  According to Wikipedia, “About 10% of sedimentary rocks are limestones.” Sedimentary rock has been compressed over numerous centuries and originated from shelled sea creatures.  Oceans once covered much of the land we see today including even that of mountaintops!

Most caves and reefs contain limestone.  Limestone is often used in architecture, art and more utilitarian purposes.  Did you know that the Great Pyramid of Giza is covered with limestone?

While much limestone comes from Alabama, the largest limestone quarry is in Michigan.  The states of Wisconsin and Indiana account for the vast majority of limestone…almost 90%…of the production in the United States.

This story gets even more interesting!  It goes back to World War I.

Long before the invention of radar some important research was done by Dr. William Sansome Tucker.

Back in those days it was more difficult to pinpoint enemy guns and aircraft.  The gauging of sounds made by gunfire or an approaching aircraft was one method which was dubbed “sound ranging.”

Denge acoustic mirrors – Paul Russon [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

The use of microphones combined with mathematics under Dr. Tucker’s direction lead to easier methods of identifying enemy forces as they approached.

Eventually his early warning devices with regard to the noise discharged guns made lead to the invention of parabolic acoustic mirrors made out of concrete.  Those “listening ears” were created primarily to identify incoming enemy aircraft.

Some of those old concrete acoustic mirrors are still standing along England’s coastline as well as one in Malta.

An example of them in Denge are in the photo to the right.

As airplanes became faster the acoustic mirrors became less effective.   Often by the time the airplane sounds were detected, they were already overhead.  The concrete sound mirrors became instantly obsolete with the invention of radar in 1932.

Similar acoustic “whisper dishes” such as we experienced at the Houston Museum of Natural Science at Sugar Land are also found in other science museums.  They all are similar in nature to these in Discovery Green Park.  They can be made from other materials however and may not function as sculptural pieces of art.

The focusing of sound is certainly an interesting subject.  Don’t you feel smarter today after reading this?  I’ll be looking forward to your comments.

Shown below is a video of people enjoying various aspects of our wonderful downtown park called Discovery Green.  It does not feature everything in the park but for people living outside of Houston it gives an overall impression.

Location of Discovery Green Park where the Listening Vessels can be found: 1500 McKinney St., Houston, Texas 77010.










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