Peggie’s Bell, an acoustic shell located on the Sacred Grove lawn next to the Alumni Memorial Building, was inaugurated Oct. 21 in a ceremony held by Anthony Viscardi, the faculty adviser to the bell project.
Viscardi said the bell was created to serve as an acoustic environment for the use of singing groups and individuals looking for space to sing, relax and converse.
The choral arts department from the Lehigh Valley Charter School performed in the shell during the inauguration ceremony.
“This is an important moment for me and the school,” Viscardi said. He said he believes this is one of the most sacred art projects at Lehigh.
Viscardi worked as an architect in his own firm for about 15 years before becoming a professor in the art, architecture and design department at Lehigh. He has completed about five projects on Lehigh’s campus, but this was the first time in many years he was an architect outside of the classroom.
Peggie’s Bell was designed as a gift for Lehigh’s sesquicentennial by Viscardi and Richard Kroeker, a professor of architecture at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada.
The name of the structure is inspired by Kroeker’s mother-in-law, who loved collecting bells. She passed away during the structure’s construction.
Viscardi said the idea for the project came from other acoustic shells, bells and the human ear.
“We were very conscious of making a space that was for silence or sound,” Viscardi said. “We knew it had to be a curve or a dome, but we wanted it to be something new.”
He said the construction took longer than expected.
“It was a labor of love but it also took a lot of blood, sweat and tears,” Viscardi said.
The Rafael Guastavino technique was incorporated in the bell’s design. Guastavino was a Spanish architect who patented the Catalan tile building system in the U.S. in 1885.
Viscardi said Peggie’s Bell is unique in North America and is the first of its kind.
He said the project began with sketches and drawings. The first step in the building process was placing a metal frame into the hard ground. Wooden frames were brought down from Mountaintop on a flatbed tow truck and were used to place reinforcing bars across from one side of the bell to the other. With the reinforcing bars in place, the wood frames were taken down and the tile placing began.
“It was an amazing process,” Viscardi said. “It made architecture magical, because it seemed you were defying gravity.”
Viscardi’s class and students enrolled in a class taught by Nik Nikolov, an assistant professor of architectural design and technology, helped construct Peggie’s Bell. Viscardi said students were involved from the beginning and dedicated their class time to the completion of the project. They helped with digging the holes for the foundation, building the wood frames, laying the rebar and placing the tiles.
Jennifer Liu, ‘17, worked on the project as a member of Nikolov’s class.
“It’s a little bit unreal (to be finished),” Liu said. “It feels like you’ve left your mark on Lehigh’s campus.”
Liu said she has seen classes take place inside the bell. Viscardi said Peggie’s Bell offers students a form of experiential learning that cannot be provided by learning in the classroom.
Viscardi told a story of an engineering student who uses the bell to sing when he feels stressed. He said he wants the bell to be a place of peace and relaxation for students.
“As the semester goes on, when you work together, or build together, you grow a bond that you just don’t get in teaching,” Viscardi said. “This is the beauty of creative collaboration.”
Liu does not feel the bell is finished because she has not visited it with the students who worked alongside her, as many of them graduated last year.
“I want the students, not the administration to take control of the bell,” Viscardi said. “It doesn’t belong to one person, it belongs to everybody.”