There's Somebody at the Door: a sonic history of domestic thresholds and identities through the design and material culture of the doorbell, 1950-2023
This project investigates the role of designed sound in domestic space, focusing on the history of the doorbell in Western Europe from 1950 to the present day.
Domestic doorbells are ubiquitous, yet invisible – and in a way muted – objects of everyday life. Their design is absorbed into the architectural fabric of the building (are doorbells objects, architectural fittings, or both?), their sound muffled by their function (do we even remember what our own doorbell sounds like?). Most of the time, they remain silent and unnoticed, embedded in the undifferentiated, soft rhythm of domesticity. Until someone is at the door and they pierce our day, demanding from us immediate and direct attention. The ambiguity and complexity of doorbells are also found in the contrast between their ordinariness with the poetic and philosophical meanings of thresholds. They also embody the electrification of modern domestic life, overlapping the increasing beeps and vrooms of other domestic objects. And they have lined up at different times assuming a multitude of shapes, materials, designs, sizes, melodies, chimes, buzzes, rings, and ding-dongs until the dull white and grey intercom invaded our walls.
Focusing on the history of the doorbell in Western Europe from 1950 to the present day, this project investigates the role of sonic objects in domestic spaces. It explores the design, production, and consumption of the doorbell through case studies provided by V. & E. Friedland Ltd., a successful multinational doorbell company founded by migrants living in Britain in the 1930s.
Doorbells have been slipping through the disciplinary fabric of history and sound studies. Ultimately, this project will be capable of revealing the value of history of design as the perfect disciplinary field to combine a multi-sensorial approach to material culture, mobilising the sonic not only as a fresh lens and methodological tool but also as an equally valid primary source which can and should be intertwined with the doorbell’s materiality.
Looking at everyday life through the history of the doorbell, this research will unlock the door to wider stories about the changing experiences of domestic life in Western Europe since the 1950s and about identity formation and space negotiation at the threshold of the home.
More about Joana
Joana Albernaz Delgado is a MA graduate from the V&A/RCA History of Design Programme.
A former urban planning lawyer turned design historian, Joana is interested in stories of connection between different scales of design, from the city to the architecture and the object.
During the MA, Joana used interdisciplinary approaches to challenge dominant historical narratives about 20th century design. Her first essay explored how the understanding of Modernism evolved, often unexpectedly, by investigating the historiography of the 1920s cantilevered chair, a strong modernist symbol that has grounded many historical investigations in different times. Joana’s second essay challenged the identification of Robin Day’s famous CS17 Pye television receiver as a modern design epitome, concluding that it balanced between furniture and technology and struggled with modernity and tradition in 1950s postwar Britain. Her final MA project, the dissertation, investigated the history of museum seating in the V&A’s Raphael’s Cartoons Galleries between 1865 and 2021. Regardless of their underestimated status, museum seats unveil, illuminate or contradict paradigms of their contexts and embody historical changes in their own materiality, location and use.
Joana also used her time at the MA to experiment with other ways of exploring design history. In February 2021, she participated in the online symposium ‘In Dialogue with History’, held with the RCA’s Ceramics & Glass Programme, and joined the publication that followed the symposium. Joana also organised and led 'Cloud-Talk', an interdisciplinary event for the AcrossRCA week, with Sculpture MA graduate Camilla Laing-Tate. Between August and September 2021, she contributed to the exhibition ‘Shaping Space – Architectural Models Revealed’, a collaboration between the V&A and the Building Centre. Following this contribution, Joana wrote two blogposts for the V&A blog about the Forth Bridge’s human model. More recently, in May 2022, Joana participated in the organisation of the V&A/RCA History of Design MA Annual Symposium, in which she also was a speaker and a panellist.
Joana writes for Observador, a major Portuguese newspaper, giving a voice to underrated objects of the everyday life and to the stories they hide. She wants to introduce history of design to a wider audience and to raise awareness about the role of the material world that surrounds us.
History of Design MA, Victoria and Albert Museum/Royal College of Art, 2022
Law Degree, University of Lisbon, 2004
Clive Wainwright Memorial prize for academic excellence, V&A/RCA History of Design MA, 2020-2021
Distinction, MA Dissertation, V&A/RCA History of Design MA, 2021
Design Writing Prize 2022, Design History Society
AHRC LAHP studentship, 2023/2024 cohort
1| 'Shaping Space - Architectural Models Revealed', exhibition curated by the Building Centre exhibitions team in partnership with Dr Simona Valeriani of V&A's Research Institute, Building Centre, London, August September 2021 (collaboration in exhibition curation)
2| WAVES, video and sound installation, group work from Out in the OPEN research group, Earthwise, PhD cohort at the Royal College of Arts’ School of Arts and Humanities Beaconsfield Gallery, London, 22 June – 1 July 2023
3| Sound Thieves: Four Urban Miniatures, sound piece, RCA PhD Research Biennale 2023, June 2023
1| 'Building bridges: models creating confidence in engineering innovation', blogpost for the V&A blog, October 2021
2| 'Building bridges: models embodying technology transfer between West and East', blogpost for the V&A blog, February 2022
3| 'In Dialogue with History', History of Design and Ceramics&Glass zine, a follow-up publication of the 'In Dialogue with History' symposium, collective publication (main publication team: Annie Lye, Luís Vicente, Celine Nguyen Li Xuan, Noa Chernichovsky, Caz Hildebrand, and Rosie Stonham; collaborators: Joana Albernaz Delgado, Margot Drayson and Eline Vanderbosh), June 2021
4| 'This moment is being recorded', V&A/RCA History of Design MA Annual Symposium Publication, 2022
5| Earthwise publication, collective work from Out in the OPEN research group, publication from Earthwise exhibition, June/July 2023
6| Series of ten essays on invisible objects of the everyday life for Observador, 2022-2023:
6.1| O copo de galão, um mistério do design (The galão glass, a design mystery), May 2022
6.2| Madame Monobloc (Madame Monobloc), June 2022
6.3| Ode a um elástico (Ode to a rubber band), July 2022
6.4| O lado abrasivo (The abrasive side), August 2022
6.5| Sua Alteza, a Grã-Duquesa Bolacha Maria (Her Royal Highness the Grand Duchess Marie Biscuit), September 2022
6.6| Tigelas Maravilhosas, Mulheres Maravilha (Wonder Bowls, Wonder Women), November 2022
6.7| Uma escova de dentes de sonho (A dream toothbrush), December 2022
6.8| O infinito numa palhinha (The infinity in a straw), January 2023
6.9| Segurar as pontas, ou a história da mola da roupa em quatro andamentos (Holding on, or the history of the clothes peg in four movements), March 2023
6.10| E o Óscar vai para... o saco de plástico (And the Oscar goes to... the plastic bag), May 2023
7| Interseccionismo à italiana: a arte no design e o design da arte ("Interseccionismo", Italian style: art in design and the design of art), article for Observador, June 2022
1| Cloud-talk, online conference and workshop led by RCA History of Design MA graduate Joana Albernaz Delgado and RCA Sculpture MA graduate Camilla Laing-Tate, AcrossRCA week, February 2021
2| 'This moment is being recorded', V&A/RCA History of Design MA Annual Symposium, 24 May 2022
3| Paper titled “Designing Transience: A Dérive on Pencils”, Design History Society Annual Conference, ‘Design and Transience’, Izmir Institute of Technology, Izmir, Turkey, 2022
4| Paper titled "‘Full Musical Honours’: the 1950s Friedland Westminster Door Chime, symposium on 'Designing the Domestic: Innovation in the Home', Design History Society, 2023