STEAM-e-ZINE Spring 2013

As Technology Changes So Does Our Soundscape

BCA Center DrawingBells were once necessary to summon the public all at once, all together, all in one place. Their sounds are deeply woven into the cultural fabric and unique soundscapes of cities and towns worldwide. Civic bells are constant; they mark time through personal stories and shared histories that unite a public’s past and present. Despite extraordinary and rapid advances in communication technology, do we perhaps still have a basic desire to hear bells ring into the future?

Once an essential communication technology for the City of Burlington, is the firehouse bell just a decoration or does an inspired contemporary purpose await its ring?

You decide!


We can look at the Firehouse Bell and appreciate its beauty, recognize its open belfry as iconic to Burlington’s cityscape, dig deeper and understand the art and science of its making. Yet we can only imagine the sound of its ring.

The bell was first hoisted into its belfry in 1889 and the City of Burlington sounded 20 fire alarms that year. The bell was of an essential City communication technology that included a fire alarm telegraph system and neighborhood fire alarm boxes. This building was home to The Ethans – the all-volunteer Ethan Allen Engine Company No. 4.

In 2012 the Burlington Fire Department responded to 7186 calls. Current technologies like Wireless Enhanced 911, GPS and sirens make up a system suited to manage a much larger population. Emergency communication is a function of our personal smartphones and cell phones that we carry with us everywhere.

Bells were once necessary to summon the public all at once, all together, all in one place. Their sounds are deeply woven into the cultural fabric and unique soundscapes of cities and towns worldwide. Civic bells are constant; they mark time through personal stories and shared histories that unite a public’s past and present. Despite extraordinary and rapid advances in communication technology, do we perhaps still have a basic desire to hear bells ring into the future?

In the 21st Century the Firehouse Bell – now perhaps more appropriately called the BCA Center Bell - sits atop a lively cultural and community center. Considering this evolution, what might be an inspired contemporary purpose for the bell to ring again? You are invited to imagine its potential in 2013 and beyond. Relieved from its emergency duties a renewed purpose for the bell's ring is free to find inspiration in the inefficiencies of its poetic overtones and tendency to bend with the wind.


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The drawing at the top of this article is a composite of an original drawing by John Anderson Studio (building) and Engineering Ventures (bell).

Learn more about the art, science, history and culture of this bell in this inaugural issue of STEAM-e-ZINE!

Thank you to the following organizations - you helped us uncover the art, science and technology of the Firehouse Bell!

Alliance Française (French text provided by Alliance Française of the Lake Champlain Region)

Bailey-Howe Library Special Collections

Burlington City Arts

Burlington Fire Department

Charlotte Town Clerk's Office

Engineering Ventures

Ethan Allen Club

Fletcher Free Library Reference Department

John Anderson Studio

Meneely Bell Online Museum

Shelburne Museum

VCAM

Thank you to the sponsors of the exhibition User Required: Rolf Keilman and Stevie Spencer, the Metz Family, Patrick S. Robins and Lisa Schamberg, David Stiller (through the Vermont Community Foundation), TruexCullins Architecture and Interior Design