Singing in Peggie's Bell

Drive up Brodhead and it’s there, tucked in the sacred grove next to Alumni Memorial Building. Peggie’s Bell is the latest design/build project developed by Anthony Viscardi.Funded by the Hammerschlag Design Series (HDS), Peggie’s Bell is an acoustic space built by students from the department of art, architecture and design and the PC Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Sciences under the direction of Viscardi and Richard Kroeker, HDS visiting professor from Canada’s Dalhousie University.

“The Bell is a commemoration of Lehigh’s sesquicentennial and was envisioned as a participatory space,” says Viscardi, professor of architecture in the department of art, architecture and design. 

When they proposed the project, Kroeker and Viscardi noted that Lehigh “is a place for contemplation of nature and creation of culture.” The Bell would serve as a special acoustic environment for the use of singers, singing groups and people looking for a space for contemplation, conversation or just playing with sound. 

The group designed and built the space incorporating a ceramic tile vaulting technique (based on the Guastavino Tile Arch System patented in the United States in 1885) to create a shell that can be used by the public for group events, informal gatherings or individual reflection, inviting people to pause in the beauty of the campus grove.

“Lehigh promotes a park setting, with many paths connecting the various departments and their buildings,” says Kroeker. “There are also sculptural works placed along many of these paths.” 

Both professors concur that these interstitial spaces not only provide a means for getting from one department to another, but also occasion for social interaction and reflection between the institutionally defined tasks of course outlines and examinations.

The Bell is named after Peggie Sisson, a recently deceased Canadian dance teacher and close friend of Kroeker’s, whose love of music and dance provided the inspiration for the structure.

“We were thinking of those acoustic sweet spots that you find in the tiled subways of many big cities where musicians congregate to make music. Peggie’s Bell is an acoustic sweet spot for making beautiful sounds,” says Viscardi.

To test the performance of these acoustic qualities, Viscardi invited Lehigh faculty to come and experiment with the Bell. To test the acoustics, he invited David MacBeth of the nearby Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Arts to bring his award-winning choral group to perform inside the shell. 

“They truly made our architecture sing and made our Bell ring,” says Viscardi. “It was a very moving experience for me, as well as for all the attending students, to stand in the middle of the Bell as the choral group’s voices ricocheted off each and every tile. I hope that the Bell continues to engage people from South Side Bethlehem in a way that it enables Lehigh University’s relationship with the community at large to blossom.”