Balance & Harmony in Buildings

— Suzy Wittman

This week, students of Architecture in our Shelter Cluster read a chapter from Why Architecture Matters by Paul Goldberger entitled “Architecture as Object.”  In this piece, Goldberger provides case studies of structures that are — and are not — successful as visual objects with respect to concepts of proportion, form, repetition, and overall visual balance and harmony.

We are drawn, Goldberger claims, to simple shapes, repetition, and a set of proportions not unlike those of the human body.  Goldberger also compares architectural balance and harmony with those qualities in a piece of music.  He writes, “Visual balance is not so definable and measurable as musical harmony, but the sense of discord in its absence is every bit as marked.  Elements must relate comfortably; they must appear to be cooperating, to be part of a larger order, in the composing of a façade in architecture as much as in the making of a musical sequence.”

With this in mind, students were asked to bring in a musical selection that they think epitomizes the concept of balance — balance between light and dark, heavy and soft, fullness and void, etc.  We listened to each selection in class, and students recorded shapes, patterns, and other drawings in response to what they heard.  The challenge was to translate the audio language into a visual one without relying on representational images we know and associate with the lyrics or the band.  Each student now has a collection of visual “data” generated by classmates in response to the piece they selected.

Next week, students will begin constructing their final project for the course: a model of a building informed by the language of their particular musical selection.  Musical harmony is being translated to visual balance, and we are very excited to see what students come up with!  What music would you select given this assignment, and what kind of structure do you think it would stimulate you to envision?  The conclusion of this project is sure to be a lively endeavor!

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