Resonant dissonance  |  Music and architecture in the works of Daniel Libeskind, Peter Zumthor and Henri Lefebvre

MA Dissertation  |  The University of Edinburgh  |  2009

Since antiquity, music and architecture have been regarded by many as closely linked, since they have both been seen as ‘liberal’ or ‘abstract’ arts. However, there remains the general conception of architecture as a spatial art, and music as an art of time. Despite this, architecture has strong temporal elements; the weathering of buildings over time, rhythms of the use of a building. Similarly, music is also a spatial art; one only needs to think of the sight of an orchestra performing on a stage to realise the importance of visual perception in music. However, neither art form seems to truly appropriate the other medium. A dialogue between the two arts (and indeed others) could open up new possibilities for each one.

In the last few years, two architects in particular have continued to investigate architecture through music and music through architecture; Peter Zumthor and Daniel Libeskind. At first glance, their work seems to be dissonant with one another. However, there are strong resonances in their ideas about music and architecture. These resonances are in some cases manifested in different ways, but come from the same conceptual basis, and in other cases have different origins, but produce very similar outcomes.

The Chamberworks suite of drawings provides a key into the musical ideas of Libeskind, creating his own set of preludes and fugues which lay out a musical and architectural language for his buildings. They introduce concepts of the synchronic and diachronic and his specific attitude towards the tonality of space which comes from an spatialised understanding of harmony on a keyboard.

Libeskind expanded his idea of spatial tonality with the City Edge and Musicon projects, but there are issues of the translation, importantly with respect to the position of the body, which comes partly from the scale shift involved. A musical tonality can be used as a metaphor for the atmosphere of a space as conceived by Peter Zumthor, although he does not expressly explain them in this way. A combination of Libeskind’s approach to structuring spaces through tonality and Zumthor’s atmospheres could become a powerful way of working with spatial tonality if the issues of each system can be resolved.

The resonances and vibrations of space concern both architects, in particular in the metaphysical ideas about the essential qualities of a space and memories. These acoustic qualities are used by both as a strong part of their design strategies and are important aspects in the atmospheres in their finished buildings.

An aspect currently underused by both Zumthor and Libeskind, rhythm should become more prominent in a wider musical approach to design. Its importance in architecture is paralleled in music, as melody and harmony could not exist without rhythm. The techniques of rhythmanalysis as introduced by Henri Lefebvre are a strong starting point for an architect, which would put the rhythms of every day life at the centre of a design. The ethical function of rhythm in architecture is important, since the social rhythms that affect and are affected by architects are crucial to the functioning of society – an ethical aim for an architect would be to create spaces which encourage a state of social eurhythmia.

The examples of musical approaches to architecture show that a musical approach can be applied to all types of building, even those not explicitly for music. This is because ideas of melody, harmony and rhythm are universal concepts which can be applied to all aspects of design. A musical approach would lead to an increased number of possibilities for the architect, and help in the creation of Lefebvre’s ideal of a differential space.