Music and architecture: not so different after all…

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Despite intending to study architecture at university, my first article on this website was a music review. However, such is the interdisciplinary nature of architecture that I will attempt to formulate a treatise on the exemplars architects and architecture can draw from music.

Music, according to Nietzsche, is the ultimate art form, the primary expression of the essence of everything. Although Nietzsche made this assertation before people started listening to Coldplay and voted for the Nazis (you’d have to hope he had no influence at least on the former). All other artforms are merely tiered derivatives. In this way, architecture is born from music.

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Andrea Palladio – the alternate Italian architect acclaimed with the eventual revival of classical architecture (at least indirectly in this country) – was influenced by the proportions that resonate beautifully in music. Palladio therefore liked to have simple ratios in his dimensions, so that a room might be as high as it was wide and be twice as long as the width (a double cube). This results in simple massing and harmonic proportions taking prevalence. One need only look as far as Inigo Jones’s (an English apostle of Palladio’s) Whitehall Banqueting House to see these construction principles in action.

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Architecture also relates to music in its perception. It is rare with music to find a piece that sounds best at its first hearing. One needs to familiarise oneself with the music’s sound world in order to have a sense for the possible sound sequences, then one can listen, content with one’s immediate responses to the music. For example, once can be prepared to listen to a Mozart piece by knowing other compositions by Mozart. However, familiarity with the polished elegance of Mozart’s work (akin to classical architecture) wouldn’t prepare one to enjoy one’s first hearing of a piece by Bartok for instance.

The point being that it is only when one is familiar with Mozart’s soundworld that the music comes to have the power to move. The same extends to architecture. With architecture there are buildings that follow recognisable patterns – the most pervasive across Western civilisation being varieties of classical architecture.

A major part of our culture is that which we have deliberately set out to acquire, in one way or another. It is clear that we can deliberately educate our tastes. It is less clear why we would choose to do so, as at the outset, the effort outweighs the immediate pleasures. We must therefore have a conviction that something good will come of the effort that we put into these things whether it be architecture, music or something alltogether entirely different.

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