Musi-tecture: Architecture Informed by Music

The thesis attempts to investigate correlations between architecture and music, and explore a design approach in which architecture is largely inspired and informed by music. What I seek in the thesis is purely an inspirational relationship between the two disciplines, but not the technical concerns, such as acoustical effects of musical performance in theaters. My interest lies in the underlying influence and connection that makes it possible for music to stimulate architectural strategy, for example, how a melody might inform a spatial organization. Ultimately, this inter-disciplinary approach wishes to push the limits of creativity and bring some innovative perspectives towards the creation of spaces.



Through the architecture history, there has been continuous efforts put into using music as inspiration for design, both in the discipline and practice. Among all the architects that have sought the cross-influence between music and architecture, Iannis Xenakis and Daniel Libeskind are probably the ones who have pushed this practice to the furthest. Xenakis, who was a composer and an architect working in Le Corbusier’s studio, designed the undulating glass surface for Sainte Marie de La Tourette, which displayed rhythmic variations to achieve an enriched environmental appearance (Fig. 1). Libeskind, who had a professional music background,  designed the Jewish Museum, the plan of which was organized in intriguing de-constructivist shapes. The tension of spaces in this building was considered as having an “architectural sound”, which demonstrated a strong characteristic of musicality embedded in the design (Fig. 2). Besides the engagement of musicality in real projects, there have been academic studies on the topic of correlations between music and architecture. In the 1990s, the College of Arts and Architecture at Montana State University had a joint course offered to both architecture and music major students. The outcome was for architecture students to design a building inspired by a specific piece of music, while for music students to compose a short melody based on their experiences of a certain architectural space.

Looking though the attempts mentioned above to use music as an inspirational source to architecture design, I think the engagement with music is still in a limited scale, only on the facade or the profile of the plan. And in those cases, the musicality seems to be an outcome of spatial design rather than the strategic guide for the project. Besides, I have looked up several student projects about music and architecture. It is frustrating to see the design projects turn out to be little more than undulating curvatures and dynamic turning nodes. M y thesis attempts to push the connections between music and architecture a bit forward, and engage with music not only for certain elements, but in a holistic picture. I believe the correlations can be explored in a more systematic and objective way, and hopefully I can use these underlying similarities as a method to inform the design.

Fig. 1 Sainte Marie de La Tourette

Fig. 1 Sainte Marie de La Tourette

Fig. 2 The Jewish Museum in Berlin

Fig. 2 The Jewish Museum in Berlin



I would like to develop my thesis in three steps.

  1. Terminology study

When I realize that there are some terms used both in music and architecture, I find it a great opportunity to uncover deeper connections and shared clues between the two disciplines by comparing the meanings of the terms. Such terms include cluster, contour, structure, texture, movement, measure, and etc. At this beginning stage of the thesis, I want to identify as many terminology correlations as possible, to construct a pool of languages and materials that I can refer to later on. The study will be in both linguistic and graphic manner. I will try to achieve a clear understanding and rough sensibility in the corresponding relationship between music and architecture, for example, what a specific musical movement can inform a certain moment of space.

  1. Small-scale exercises and explorations

Based on the correlations analyzed in the first stage, I would like to take several measures of a musical score and create a sequence of spaces inspired by the music. The music should be useful and informative, but at the same time it should remain transparent and unidentifiable from the spatial outcome. Because it is not the form that I try to imitate directly, but the underlying structure that I want to extract from the score and utilize in the creation of space. These spatial explorations can be pure exercises in which I try to find a method, or even better, they can also become prototypes that I will incorporate into final design.

  1. Final design

The final design is to take a specific score, to deconstruct it, to reveal its underlying structure and order, and to design a piece of architecture following the same structure. I imagine it is a single building which contains richness of moments of different qualities, inspired by different fragments of the score. But these moments altogether compose a unified and monolithic building, just as a series of musical measures composing a score. Since the whole design is driven by the score to be chosen, issues like the site and program should also be determined by the score. The architecture will become a physical embodiment of the music.







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