Musical Inspirations to Generate Forms

By Abbie Gentry

Le Corbusier’s Phillips Pavilion for the 1958 World’s Fair in Brussels originally intrigued me because it reminded me briefly of a project that I designed in the fall of my sophomore year studio. The two designs, though very different in form, were similar in that both of the designs’ concepts were conceived through the inspiration of music. Upon further inspection, my interest in Le Corbusier’s temporary structure only increased. 

For my “Door, Window, Stair” project, I closely followed “The Cello Song” by Jon Schmidt and Steven Sharpe Nelson to generate the form of my building. The song, composed at first with a single cello, gathers momentum as seven more cellos eventually join. As I listened to the song and considered how the tempo, magnitude, and power of the song gracefully ascend during the song’s progression, I envisioned the hands of an orchestrator. This gesture inspired my initial concept of a spiraling staircase to exemplify this gently swooping inclination. The song in its entirety is very peaceful and soothing. The design for the structure follows this sense of being immersed and surrounded by beauty, elation, and awe. The song begins slowly and quietly. This is portrayed by a smaller space with muted lighting. Platforms exist where the song smoothes out into a melodic, peaceful sequences. The series of platforms grow increasingly larger in size to symbolize the addition of instruments throughout the song. Similarly, the louder and more emotional the song, the less contained the space. The beat of the song (1-123) is continuous throughout the song and is represented by the stairs (a longer tread followed by three shorter treads). Even when the song is less forceful, the beat is still present, albeit subdued, and its presence is represented as the structure and support beams beneath the floors. Although there is an inspiring build up, there is a lack of a powerful finale. Because of this, the stairs continue to climb into the sky without a ceiling of limit to symbolize this unattainable climax. 

(Study Model and Final Model of "Door, Window, Stair" Project)

Although my project was perhaps much more metaphorical than Le Corbusier’s project was, his was no less interesting. The purpose of the pavilion was to “display electronic technology in as many forms as possible, serving arts, culture, and the overall betterment of humankind.” Le Corbusier is quoted to have said, “I will not make a pavilion for you but an Electronic Poem and a vessel containing the poem; light, color image, rhythm and sound joined together in an organic synthesis.” However, rather than basing his design off a song, he instead was the one who gave inspiration for a song to compliment his pavilion, which composed by Edgard Varese. Le Corbusier was in charge of designing the interior of the pavilion and left the exterior to fellow architect and music theorist, Iannis Xenakis. Le Corbusier “gave minimal input into the details of how the interior of the pavilion would work, instead giving only a vague concept of what the experience should accomplish. The basic guidelines given to both Xenakis and Varese were that the interior was to be shaped in a manner similar to the stomach of a cow, with the form coming from a basic mathematical algorithm” (Lopez). He used musical proportions and mathematics to generate the form, which resulted in a very organic interior that was juxtaposed against the rigid exterior. He designed the pavilion in such a way that people would hear the song, which then leads them into the “stomach” in order to observe a film while continuing to be engaged by the music, and then be “digested” and led out.

I find the notion of combining architecture with music, film, or any other kind of art to be the quite fascinating. To be able to create a physical representation of something so abstract and conceptual as music adds a whole new dimension and meaning to architecture. And that is just what architecture is all about – exploring new boundaries and testing the limits of our knowledge and skills.

(Initial Concepts and Photograph of Phillips Pavilion)

Works Cited:

Lopez, Oscar. “AD Classics: Expo ’58 + Phillips Pavilion/ Le Corbusier and Iannis Xenakis.” ArchDaily. 25 October 2011. 19 November 2012. Web. < http://www.archdaily.com/157658/ad-classics-expo-58-philips-pavilion-le-corbusier-and-iannis-xenakis/>

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