Architecture is frozen music. Music is thawed architecture. Architects have always referred to buildings in terms borrowed from the musical vocabulary, while musicians have studied the architecture and structure of compositions. Connections and analogies can be made rather convincingly between individual buildings and musical scores, or between entire movements and styles in architectural and musical history.
On a subjective level, the Experience Music Project by Frank Gehry in Seattle seems to evoke the spirit of Jimi Hendrix, its initial inspiration, and rock music in general. Numerous structures exist where a musical connection can be made instinctively, or where an attempt has been made to link the two through design. In each case, an intuitive understanding of the creative substance of both disciplines is necessary to grasp the emotional potential of the music or the building.
Buildings intended for the express purpose of accommodating music and voice, such as concert halls, express a clear relationship between the musical performance and the architectural environment on a very practical and programmatic level. These structures have a sharp focus on acoustic parameters. They include buildings from opera halls to movie theaters, concert arenas to dance halls, jazz clubs to bandstands.
Other building types not so widely accessible to the general public are the workplaces and creative environments for a relatively small group of people who produce contemporary music albums, movies, and television shows. These studios, like public performance spaces, demand solutions that truly bridge architecture, art, and technology. They occupy a particular niche of architectural design.
These projects, where physical spaces and their uses are keenly interrelated, make a difference beyond their pure technical functionality. Not merely enclosures, they engage the ephemeral media on a fundamental level and start acting themselves like instruments, shaping the results through their presence. Just as the choice of instruments determines the sound of a song, the spaces inhabited while making the music influence the final, creative result.
At the same time, the basic tenets of architectural design apply to these structures, regardless of whether the focus is on external stimuli, such as music or films. Clarity of space and structure, the guiding of natural light, and coherence between the building’s substance and appearance always remain important.
One must be immersed in culture, art, and technology in order to build facilities for the production of sound and pictures. Movies, television, radio, music, computer and video games, as well as Internet content, are an important and pervasive part of contemporary culture and their ephemeral nature must inform the physical existence of the building’s structure. More than two millennia ago, Marcus Vitruvius Pollio, himself a designer of theaters and acoustic devices, held that architects should be broadly educated in history, philosophy, medicine, law, astronomy, and music. He believed the architect must extract from this learning what is required for each project.
Vitruvius’ message holds true today: while it is impossible to know everything within any one discipline – never mind, within all of them – architecture has to be rooted in its cultural environment, and its creators have to be aware of their broader context.
The overarching discipline for all projects is that of architecture as a general practice. Simply fulfilling the basic technical functions of a project will result in mundane solutions, while the inclusion of more elusive and less utilitarian aspects is a prerequisite to higher architectural quality. The creation of a livable, exciting, and outstanding physical environment remains at the core of each project, and is inherently an architectural responsibility.
Dealing with technologically advanced projects also demands attention to issues of sustainability, since contemporary media requires large amounts of energy and resources. We should make more use of the sophisticated technologies now available to maximize energy efficiency in buildings that are themselves highly technological. For example, solar power shows promise in these energy-intensive projects.
Today, the gap between the traditional presentation of art and digital media is narrowing. Art is constantly appropriating new technologies for originally unintended purposes. In the process, public institutions and buildings dedicated to art are transforming themselves, becoming more interactive and multimedia oriented.
The planning of media facilities creates an interesting paradox: On one hand, increasingly complex and specialized requirements demand intimate familiarity with the programs and processes common in the user’s industries. On the other hand, the ability to understand the larger picture beyond the narrow confines of specific problems has always been the most valuable service architects can provide.
We propose an holistic solution, where the disciplines of design and engineering benefit from knowing something about one another and from sharing insights and providing inspiration – on the order of what scientist and thinker Edward O. Wilson calls ‘consilience,’ or the unity of knowledge. Ultimately, specialization will likely fail without comprehensive cultural understanding.
THIS ARTICLE IS A MODIFIED VERSION OF THE INTRODUCTION TO SOUNDSPACE: ARCHITECTURE FOR SOUND AND VISION (2003 BIRKHAUSER) BY PETER GRUENEISEN, CO-FOUNDER AND PRINCIPAL OF STUDIO BAU:TON (WWW.BAUTON.COM) AND RECENT FOUNDER OF NONZERO\ARCHITECTURE, BOTH IN LOS ANGELES. THE VOLUME SURVEYS THE WORK OF STUDIO BAU:TON AND ITS AFFILIATES OVER 15 YEARS. IT INCLUDES ESSAYS BY ARTISTS, ARCHITECTS, AND ENGINEERS ON TOPICS RANGING FROM ACOUSTICS TO ERGONOMICS, EDUCATION, AND ULTIMATELY TO PHILOSOPHY AND ART.