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architectural space / Musical approaches to space

The proportions of a space One often-cited similarity between musical composition and spatial design is the application of the rules of proportions. Harmonic relationships and orders play an important role in both disciplines. Pythagoras and later Plato already developed the idea that the beauty of both music and architecture comes from their use of correct proportions. In the 1951 lecture by Dom Hans van der Laan, entitled Muziek en Architectuur (Music and Architecture), he suggests that a thorough knowledge of music offers great advantages to the architect. Van der Laan seeks the ultimate dimensional system. 1 In the lecture, he compares a number of pitch systems and describes how they deal with the perpetual area of tension between structure (harmony) and the atmosphere (melody) of a piece of music. Van der Laan compares this area of tension to a theme from architecture: the construction (tectonics) of a building, the relationship between structure (construction) and its appearance (image). ‘ The widening and narrowing of end- or mid-spans, the addition of friezes and cornices, the installation of capitals and podiums are all procedures that create differences through the addition of elements, that bring the building and its parts to light.’ Dom Hans van der Laan invites a design attitude where the tensions between construction and image be accepted and used in the expression of the building. Van der Laan’s inspiration for his own system of dimensions is derived from pitch systems and harmonic approaches in music. He goes further in translating them into architecture than simply using the rules of proportions. His principles represent an attitude towards building itself, one that suggests that the appearance of a building springs from the structure, the construction and the detail.

1 Van der Laan, Dom H. Muziek en Architectuur, lecture on September 15-16, 1951 in ‘s-Hertogenbosch.


For the 1958 World Expo pavilion in Paris, Iannis Xenakis used a mathematical formula that he had deployed earlier in composing the piece Metastasis. He projected this formula both on time and space; not only in music, but also in architecture. ‘ The mathematical proportions are translated into music and architecture. Not in a scientific way, but in an intuitive way. Xenakis used the mathematics as a generator of creativity,’ as architecture historian Sven Sterken describes it. 2 Xenakis also worked on the façades of the La Tourette monastery, in which he explored rhythmic patterns. Here his inspiration was the numerical proportions he had used in the orchestral work Le Sacrifice. In a first design he tried to give the façade a rhythm using a direct translation of the rhythm of the musical piece. But this concept led to a boring and predictable division of windows. Fed by his intuition, he translated the rhythm on a more abstract level. He replaced rhythm with density. In the façade, this led to window mullions that are at times closer and other times further from one another. From that moment, the design question was no longer about the individual distance of each mullion from the next, but much more about zones of greater or lesser density. This allowed Xenakis to give himself the poetic freedom to play with the rhythm.

2 Sterken, S. The thoughts of Xenakis and the relation between his music and architecture, lecture May 27, 2010 at the Amsterdam Academy of Architecture Amsterdam.

Music Space Architecture  
Music Space Architecture