THE MUSIC OF DESIGN
Courtyard of Greenman Elementary School, Aurora, Illinois, by Anthony Poon (w/ A4E, photo by Mark Ballogg)
I believe that both music and architecture are languages. Through music and architecture, I can speak to an audience.
When I play the piano, whether it is a classic or my own composition, I tell a story. This narrative, my point of view, is also why I create architecture. In both music and architecture, I can tell a story to a single person, or to an audience of 10,000. I have created both musical and architectural experiences of sensation, character and emotion—over a passage of time—whether playing a short piece of Chopin’s for a friend, or creating a university library in which students begin the work of realizing their dreams.
Performing any work of music requires interpretation, and so it is for architecture. A civic center, a hospital, or a garden may be fully constructed as a physical environment, seemingly complete, but as a work of art, it can be visited, read and interpreted over and over again, in many different ways. Architecture is open ended, even incomplete.
A museum offers a different experience, as the empty vessel of a building is filled each time with the latest installation from a new artist. One room of a house might have begun as a family room, and later converted to a gym or office. Even if a person visits the same church every Sunday for decades, and the church itself has not physically changed, she or he may find new significance with each visit.
With music and all forms of architecture, a visitor is given the privilege to engage the work, and possibly declare it something quite different from the author’s intentions—here, the composer or the architect being the author. William Day, writer of jazz and art, stated: “Whatever is expressed in art leaves something unexpressed, and it is that which charms the imagination.”
Leon Battista Alberti, an architect of the Renaissance, offered this: “Characteristics that please the eye, also please the ear.”
There are further similarities between my two fields of interest, of passion.
Both have structure. For architecture, it is gravity and the engineering feats of columns and walls holding up a roof. For music, it is a measure of time per bar. Within this, there is duration of beats that must mathematically equal the measure, i.e. one measure must have four quarter beats, or two half beats.
Both music and architecture have enhancements to the structure, whether it is arches and windows, or melody and rhythm.
Both music and architecture have further embellishments, whether it is tile, wood and stone, or harmonies and chords.
Both music and architecture have pattern and repetition, such as a sequence of roof trusses and floor pattern, or a repeating lyrical motif.
As a young child, I banged on the piano until music came out of my hands. I also banged on wood blocks until architecture came out of my hands. I have enjoyed my journeys as both a musician and an architect. I enjoy that both have rules, such as the science of gravity in architecture and the science of sound waves in music. I like to embrace the rules, create within the rules, and then break them.