Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Music in Everyday Architecture

"I call architecture frozen music." It's easy to catch a buzz of inspiration from Goethe's famous phrase, then move along through the day. If I stop for a moment and take his observation to heart, I see the buildings and city around me as a world of suspended rhythms, melodies and harmonies. Like bells ready to intoned or guitars ready to strummed, the walls and windows I pass are ready to be seen in ways that resonate their silence into sound. The shapes of roofs and pillars are primed to be encountered in ways that reveal their rhythmic structure. When you add in shifting sunlight and shadows, patterns of color, textures of stone, wood and other materials, the symphony is staggering.

From this perspective, designing architecture is akin to composing a song or a sonata. In fact, this was the organizing principle of architecture for centuries. "...the numbers by which the agreement of sounds affects our ears with delight, are the same which please our eyes and our minds...We shall therefore borrow all our rules for harmonic relations from the musicians to whom this kind of number is extremely well known, and from those particular things wherein Nature shows herself most excellent and complete," wrote the Renaissance architect, Alberti.

With this in mind, look around the room you are in. Take in the forms, colors, textures and qualities of light. Imagine them as sounds and rhythms and see what you discover. The next time to set the table for a meal, imagine you are arranging the notes and beats of a song. See how it changes your experience of the objects. Maybe the music frozen in the design of each thing will melt and into a more connected and fluid experience of place.

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