Art surrounds us; it lies in every aspect of our lives, whether hidden or apparent. Art expresses itself through different media, and there is seldom a fine line between them. Art forms, in their translation from one medium to another, often combine; so much so at times that we have to take a second look over a muse to understand that it is not a product of a single art form but a combination, an inspiration, a cross breed of multiple disciplines. The same is the case with the art of architecture too. It draws inspiration, shows effects, and strengthens itself through music. In this short essay, a few ways that music has had an impact on architecture will be explored.

1. Inspiration

Music has been an inspiration for artists of all fields, and architecture is no different. Architects draw inspiration from music for their buildings, be it conceptually or literally. Let’s understand it through these examples:

The Jewish Museum, by Daniel Libeskind

The architect for this world-famous project had his ideas inspired by composer Arnold Schönberg’s unfinished opera Moses and Aaron. Not only this, the architect uses sound to invoke different emotions in the visitor to make them feel emotions of discomfort, as this museum is a direct tribute to the victims of the Holocaust. 

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The voids of the Jewish Museum_©Denis Esakov

The Harp-Nieuw Viennep Bridge, Santiago Calatrava 

The bridge takes the literal form of a harp, and while serving connectivity, it also functions as a signature structure for the town of Hoofddorp in the Netherlands.

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The Harp_©Santiago Calatrava

2. Expression

While some buildings draw inspiration from music, others express music through them. The singing ringing tree in Burnley, UK, and the Sea Organ in Zadar, Croatia, are pioneer examples. The singing ringing tree, a sculptural project made of iron pipes designed by architects Anna Lui and Mike Tonkin, interacts with the wind to produce melodies. The Sea Organ, designed by Nikola Bašić, is a series of steps along a promenade, which, when interacting with the ocean waves, create sounds in harmonies.

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The singing ringing tree_©Travel. earth
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The sea organ playing with waves_©Publicspace. org

3. Geometry

If we go back to the past and analyze ancient structures, we also see the impact of music there. The ancient theatre of Epidaurus in the Greek city Epidaurus was built in the 4th century BC by the architect Polyklietos the Younger. The radially arranged steps of this open-air theatre, seating around 15000 spectators, have a geometry that muffles low-pitched sounds such as whispering or winds but amplifies the high-pitched sounds like that of music being performed on the stage. It is debatable if the Greeks made this structure deliberately or if it was a happy accident, but whatever the case, this characteristic of amplifying music led the theatre of Epidaurus to become a prototype for the geometry of other Greek and Roman theatres to come. 

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Radial geometry of the theater of the Epidaurus_© Carole Raddato

4. Beliefs  

Music has been a part of different beliefs through its various channels, like chanting or singing. It has been observed through some research that some ancient religious sites were built in a manner that they amplified sounds of specific frequencies, such as that chanting or musical instruments, to put people in a more spiritual state of mind. Consider the pyramid of Chichen Itza. It is so designed that a clap at the ground near the face of the pyramid diffracts in a manner to imitate the sound of the Quetzal, a bright green feathered bird sacred to the Mayan civilization. It is interesting how the music of a bird’s chirp, played with a clap of a hand, in the right set of architecture can affect the beliefs of the spectator. 

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Pyramid of Chichen Itza has interesting reverbation effects to sound_© Daniel Schwenn

5. Effectiveness

Good architecture aims to have a positive effect on its user. To do so, the architect makes use of various factors such as colours, light, ventilation, etc. Music is one such factor that connects the built architecture to the user via more than just the sense of vision. Just like the red colour in food outlets makes the visitor hungry enough to order more, the right choice of music in commercial space has an impact on the mood of visitors too. Retail outlets, cafes, and restaurants can set their vibe through music and provide comfort in places architecture can’t reach. Having stated this, one can infer that good music enhances the effectiveness of architecture. 

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Just like the color palette, music too sets the vibe of a place_© Seeun Park

6. Spatial Guide 

Music can help the user to navigate through spaces. Calming music played in the hotel lobbies gives the user a sense of public space. Today, even window displays of different retail spaces are making use of music to attract the passerby into the store. In a large public square, music coming from a specific direction becomes a sensory landmark for the first-time visitor. One can easily say that music helps architecture by letting the user distinguish between spaces and choose his path.  

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Music as part of public spaces as seen at the musical fountain, Dubai_© Blog.raynatours.com

Conclusion

In conclusion, music is naturally a part of the architecture, but it takes a thorough observation to break down and analyze the effects it produces. Whether it be inspiring the form of a building or modifying the geometry of space for intriguing acoustic effects, music will always have some impact on architecture. It is no coincidence that both these art forms play with factors like rhythm, proportion, texture, scales, and harmonies. Their connection is deeper than what appears on the surface, as architecture is indeed frozen music.  

Reference list

  1. www.youtube.com. (n.d.). 5 Ancient Structures with Amazing Acoustics. [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4n7MR4N1tK0 [Accessed 4 Sep. 2022].
  2. Abraham, J. (2015). 9 Iconic Buildings Inspired By Music. Available at: https://www.onlinepianist.com/op-blog/9-iconic-buildings-inspired-by-music/ [Accessed 4 Sep. 2022].
  3. calatrava.com. (n.d.). Bridges over the Hoofdvaart / Dedemsvaart (Gallery) – Santiago Calatrava – Architects & Engineers. [online] Available at: https://calatrava.com/projects/bridges-over-the-hoofdvaart-dedemsvaart.html?view_mode=gallery&image=1 [Accessed 4 Sep. 2022].
  4. Jewish Museum Berlin. (2019). The Libeskind Building. [online] Available at: https://www.jmberlin.de/en/libeskind-building.
Author

Anqa is a practicing architect, working in the field of hospitality, residential and commercial spaces with Renesa Architecture Studio in Delhi. Hailing from Srinagar, Kashmir, her interest in architecture discourse arises from observing the culture of different cities and how architecture reacts to that. Her interests lie in theories and effects that architecture produces ranging from interior scale to urban scale

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