Every architect certainly heard a well known quote attributed to Johann Wolfgang Goethe or Friedrich Schiller: "I call architecture frozen music." The quote was very popular around the turn of the 19th century. Together with the discovery of crystallization it lead many romantic thinkers and architects towards the idea of a hidden force behind every shape and form. The inspiration got even more intense with late modernism or the avantgarde. Let´s name Rudolf Steiner with his project of Antroposofia and a new art form eurythmia. Then Vasilij Kandinskij and his search for relationships between music and painting. Where do shapes come from? Then John Cage inverted the process to give music a shape and after that Corbusier´s companion Iannis Xenakis was finally able to transcribe between music and architecture back and forth to come up with unique design approaches. So does the quote still apply?
I dare to differ. As the phase of everything accelerates to meet the needs of today´s society and its interconnectedness, Zygmund Bauman talks about a liquid modernity. The information revolution made us perceive space and even time in a totally different way and architecture will have to comply, very soon. Thanks to today’s technology we can make a move towards an architecture which actually IS music, or is designed and composed as music and therefore has a real relationship with it. A few facts stay the same: Architecture is physical, haptic, embracing and sheltering. But so can be music, loud, tangible, overwhelming and soothing.
Both, the architecture and music is created using complex instructions. Drawings and notation can be therefore understood as an author´s expression of the ideal state of the composition. And if we go one step deeper, both the blueprint and the sheet of music are usually transcribed into digital domain using numbers in precise relationships - well, data. NURBS geometry is described by a huge set of equations and a few control points and musical notation in MIDI is a few numbers which map to individual notes and a vast set of changes of different parameters which are tracked every milisecond. It all comes to binary zeros and ones in the end, but at the level of numbers and their interpretations and relationships an architect who is also a musician can get really close to hidden forces behind shapes.
In Architecture, we talk about structure. About its dimensions and its hierarchy. Musical rhythm, has the same qualities! The most important downbeats could be represented by the loadbearing structure, then the upbeats are a lighter level of the construction. In architecture, rhythm means repetition of an element, but what else do we hear now?
Harmony in architecture means pleasing ratios between all elements of the whole and the whole itself. After all, that is also true for relationships of individual notes in chords and a harmonic progression in music. Buildings need to be anchored in ground, harmonic progressions need root notes to give chords of the progression meaning a reference point. Harmony in music is the bearer of emotional basis, or the environment, in which melodies take place. In architecture we design spaces, again environments for actions and activities to take place in.
In music a melody can be perceived through a vector pointing up or down at every moment, isn’t this present in all the sublime spaces? Melody in music finalizes the emotional charge, it tells a story. When walking through a piece of architecture, isn’t there the same storytelling and scenography with all the openings and trajectories and corners?