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Architecture hits the right note

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Recently I watched a friend compose music. He worked and reworked the piece through his piano keyboard, constantly committing the emerging melody into record and amended record upon his scoresheet.

Intrigued, I asked about the process - did he conceptualise the tune as sounds in his imagination, or as notes on an imaginary scoresheet? He countered by enquiring whether an architect conceives, organises and refines his building in the imagination before committing its image to paper? We of course know that the design process involves the analysis of opportunities, objectives, problems and constraints, followed by stages of synthesis and creativity through which the product of the imagination is gently nurtured, teased, and finally distilled into reality. Gestation complete, the essential concept delivered, an extended process of refinement follows.

Apparently the architect's use of paper to test half-formed ideas (marked, overlaid, explored again then changed once more) equates to my friend's use of his piano, not the scoresheet. For him, sounds established in his inner consciousness are drawn forward and committed to real but momentary existence as his fingers flit across the keyboard. In this process scoresheets clearly mean less to composers than sketchpads do to architects. They are not used to prompt, stimulate or provoke the creative process: they merely provide a coded representation of the composition during its evolution and at its conclusion. Yet scoresheets often reveal, through the patterns created by the visual representation of the music, real evidence of the character of a piece. The symmetry, sub-symmetries and rhythms that are audible can also be seen. Indeed, the score to Beethoven's 5th Symphony clearly reveals its particular energy and vigour. Is it possible that this composer, who was stone deaf at the time, relied only on his imagination and not on the stimulation offered by the notes on his part-completed scores, during his subsequent creation of the extraordinary and wondrous 9th Symphony?

Music is of course a temporary phenomenon, depending on the even passage of time to distinguish its notes during performance, while architecture exists in material form. But, as von Schelling said, architecture is 'music in space, as it were a frozen music'. Critics of music talk of light and colour while those of architecture refer to rhythm and symmetry. Both art forms reveal much of their time and place - an extreme example being Mars . . . Could Holst have scored that relentless mechanical hammering before the industrial revolution? Surely not.

And finally, both architecture and music test the men and machines that create them. Musical instruments have been systematically developed to meet the demands of composers. Beethoven's Opus 106 required a six-and- a-half-octave instrument able to withstand over 20,000 notes. Ever more powerful and sophisticated pianos were consequently wrecked until the one-piece iron frame was invented. Only then could this dynamic work be properly celebrated. And so it will always be with architecture: as energetic minds create new and hitherto unimagined possibilities, we will continue to need the patience, support, and even courage of those who will finance and construct such work.

So, with all the well intentioned caution of the new arb, and the unyielding demands of professionalism, we should never forget that architecture, beyond mere building, is a creative and demanding discipline which, like music, should seek to move ever forward.

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