Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Architecture and the Art of the Fugue

1. Contrepunctus XIV.
A fugue is a complex, multi-layered musical form. Typically, multiple melodies are introduced which are progressively overlaid and interlocked. This is similar to counterpoint, but a fugue is a more sophisticated convergence of musical themes.  Merriam Webster defines a fugue as a "musical composition characterized by systematic imitation of one or more themes in counterpoint."
2. Johann Sebastian Bach.
Great architecture can often be appreciated by thinking of it as analogous to a fugue. Interwoven in the fabric of architecture can be multiple layers of interest. Materials or spaces or structural forms (sometimes all three) can play in counterpoint. Architecture is most satisfying when it richly challenges our senses. Creating an architectural fugue is one way to accomplish this. This is not to say that great architecture is a puzzle to decipher. Like classical music, it is most enjoyable when its complexity is revealed logically and simply. We need not analyze it to appreciate it. Johann Sebastian Bach wrote numerous fugues and is the best-known exponent of the form. Bach's fugues roll over the listener like bubbles in a jacuzzi. You don't have to think about the multiple layers of complexity in his fugues to enjoy them. You just have to let them envelope you. So it is with great architecture.  Let the unfolding of space envelope you in its own particular themes. Enjoy the richness of materials as they interplay with each other.  Let time carry you through multiple layers of space in architecture in the same way a Bach fugue allows you to simultaneously experience multiple lines of musical notes.  
Above is a fragment of musical notation from a Bach fugue. If you are an accomplished musician you might be able to hear this music in your head, but most of us must wait for it to be expressed in sound. Architecture is a spatial experience. The flat pictures on this screen only hint at the depth of riches available in the actual experience of architecture. These pictures are like musical notation. The real thing is a higher level of experience. 
3. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Japanese Pavilion.
Designed by Bruce Goff, this building intertwines numerous themes,
including rooftop "horizon finders", rhythmic translucent screens, stone
towers, undulating roofs, and spiraling floors. 
4. Detail, LACMA Japanese Pavilion.

5. Cathedrale di San Lorenzo a Genoa. An interior
fugue of columns, arches, frescoes, clerestories, culminating 
with a symphony of form and light around the alter.
6. House by Michael Knorr Architect. A fugue of interlocking
forms and voids.
7. Thorncrown Chapel by Faye Jones. A beautifully simple weaving
of multiple themes in wood, glass, and decorative light fixtures. 
8. Monreale Cathedral, Monreale, Sicily, Italy. A complex
fugue where colors and materials work with shapes
and spaces to create a unified whole. 
9. Unbuilt project for a German national cathedral by Prussian
architect Karl Friederich Schinkel. This drawing clearly shows
vertical themes (spires, dome, steeple) working with horizontal
themes (foundation, bands of windows, sill coursing)
to shape a three-dimensional, fugue-like architecture. 

10. Walkway at University of Melbourne by Walter Burley Griffin. Simple
and direct, rich counterpoint is layered with battered walls, columns turned
at forty-five degrees, rythmic fenestration, and a folded ceiling plane.

11. German Warehouse by Frank Lloyd Wright, Richland Center, Wisconsin.
A deceptively simple building with contrapunctal themes almost too numerous
to itemize. (It is possible to identify at least eleven.)

12. Photochrome print of Milan Cathedral. Spires, windows, arches,
finials, stone coursing, planar layering... it's all here in a wonderful
Gothic/renaissance fugue. 
1. Bach
2. Unknown
3. Joe Mabel
4. Chad K.
5. W. Domenichini
6. Virtuance
7. Bobak Ha"Eri
8. M. Osmenda
9. Schinkel
10. Pfctdayelise
11. Lowell Bolleau
12. Detroit Publishing Co.