Architecture vs. Music

Back when I was a student at Cal Poly Pomona, I had an architectural instructor named Steven Bocher. As a “Greek,” he believed in cafes in front of every project. He also regarded the shared music as an integral piece of the architecture, likened to the “spirit” of the space. Music and architecture do share similar patterns: Standard ABCBA patterns in architectural elevations are similar to musical scales, for instance.

 I’ve been thinking about Steven Bocher because I’ve just finished reading the autobiography of Rolling Stones’ lead guitarist Keith Richards. The way he talks about music sounds vaguely familiar to me. He talks about instances “where the sounds just melt into one another,” and how “you’re looking for its power and force, without volume.” Richards describes music as “an obsession” and “an inner power, a way to bring people together… making one sound.” He talks about “each touching of the bases, creating a thread that runs through all of us.” Wow! This is the feel of great architecture. (Richards might even have been a great architect if he could the deal with the requirements of clients and governments, but he’s strictly an “out of the box” man, as many great figures are.)

 As for me, I am a space designer. I feel the space. I always have. In my architectural studies I was taught to have a parti--one strong theme that runs through the individual design—but that is hard for me because I like when many ideas are tied together. In that way, Richards’ approach to his art speaks to me. Consider these musings: “Getting down to the bare bones of a riff – find the first few chords and the rest will fall into place of its own volition – you can figure out the other things like the bridging in the middle later – the immediacy in retrospect made it even more interesting – a little sparkle of an idea – it will be a beautiful thing.” This is how I feel when I begin to design buildings and spaces, gradually filling in the details and specifications.

 “Great songs write themselves, you’re just the conveyor,” says Richards. “You’re just being led by your nose or ears – the skill is not to interfere with it too much.” The same could be said for great architecture. How else did Frank Lloyd Write design Falling Water in 30 minutes? Richards says you can tell how much calculation has gone into a song, and how much has come from the heart.

 I work with a healer named Vivian Jaye. Knowing that I’m a Type A personality, she advises me to expand my horizons and collaborate with others on bigger design issues. Richards notes at the end of his book, “What you really want is for music to love you. It takes a certain amount of respect for the process. You’re not writing it, it’s writing you.” What a great analysis of the custom design process. Ultimately, the site, client and design parameters decide what can and should be done, and allows the design to falls into place. This is always how the best-designed projects come about.

 In the words of Steven Bocher: “All architectural should SING to you!”