Investigating the Position of Harmony in Architecture

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Investigating the Position of Harmony in Architecture

In this essay the choice of the subject is driven from the choice of readings and is also diverted on the own observations of the city and will aim to look at the different perspectives of a sense and meaning of harmony and at the same time exploring more from architecture and indentifying the harmonies. Composition and balance of parts together defines of what harmony is aiming to find it via reading and observation recording as well as by questioning and searching for answers.

According to the ancient teaching and understanding; music and architecture are based on equal measures and on order of structures that could be expressed in the form of numerated relationships and which can be found in their exemplification in the theory of music and its harmony to the theory of architecture and its proportions.

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“As architects, we want more than that; we don’t just want a combination of forms that works and stands up; we want it to be beautiful”[1]

In one way it is a definition of the field, combination of forms that work and stand is a lot to take on, how to achieve of what we want? Even by looking at the whole context; the city for example in order to see it, must be torn into parts and analysed piece by piece. Like giving yet again but from an end to beginning, of how things come to a part. Bit by bit which also requires time which would make an answer to both harmony and of what we want? Proportion lies and makes the very key in understanding of harmony according to Davies teachings.

And it was “Pythagoras who first discovered the connection between geometry and music,”[2]many fields are based or are using music principles, comparison and all, in different and many ways. Music in architecture has been mainly compared in terms of proportions (size that is visible or not) forms as basic as a rectangle, and its lengths.

To search harmony in architecture in terms of the proportions, what in fact is very easy to do and is even easier to spot. By looking and comparing and maybe not only the sizes, what impresses most is the fact of how buildings differ in terms of its time and even though work so right in making up as a whole, on one road, in the city and in a row. That inclines that it is the harmony and it is the first thing noticeable about the whole, the proportions however were about right, which was my response of first thoughts from my observations of a chosen spot of the City, which was in between the peace and quiet and the sough of loud traffic so unpleasant that some may argue as nothing special but famous location. Most people prefer the more “open” side of the road which is wider and next to river, (still bothers me, what price would have one of most central lands, and the river of crystal clean water) full of direct sunlight during most of the day. The other side was reminding a wall of a number of buildings one situated right in forward with and alongside others few meters back. Contrasting the whole; of a modern architecture with classic styles surrounding the part of the horizon including the proud dome of St Paul’s Cathedral. Somehow it is almost always working together so perfectly truly through that harmony of precision and right proportions. Although other buildings are working or working just fine, the shape of a 21st Century “tower” in that horizon was just ugly and white framing all around it, the choice of colour was too bold.

At the crossing four ways which one is leading through the bridge and its opposite towards the deep of city, at that corner huge building decorated at different levels. It is connecting the angle of two sides of the roads like two wings with the entrance in the middle of building and middle of the angle. The sunlight is underlining the colour of a brick block covering bright almost golden sand that eyes just rest on. Next to it dark red brick, tall and not wide building joined with a gap with modern unfinished office spaces, the brick works perfectly with its dark sanded walls with massive glass windows in two equal rows and four columns, and height almost the same.

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“Musical harmony was just one manifestation of a greater, cosmic harmony?”[3]

With this sentence the “cosmic” might mean that it is something that discovery promises something definitively new but in a good, right and powerful way. That it could be a lead towards achieving of what “we want?” But what cosmic harmony actually is?

For example in the platonic dialogue “Timaeus”, which deals with the creation of the world, soul and the cosmic order and in terms of a harmony of the celestial spheres, the Pythagorean relationships of the whole to its parts is explained as the number of harmonies manifest themselves as both in the constitution of the entire cosmos as well as in the structure of the soul.

“We perceive front and back in a different way from right and left. The concept of above and below stands out, since it is conditioned by the upright posture of the human being.”[4]

To know some of proportion quote from the natural coordinate sub section effectively inclines from where to start and seek for the proportions that aim towards harmony and order. In fact most architectural projects relay on human figure as one of the “standard” and “main” measure that is repeated over and over again, repeating same pattern as one is having the same in common with each other, creating a visible harmony and of more “walls” as what is noticeable at the very first things that run through your head, spontaneously just as the music sometimes does.

Going back to Pythagorean conception of a harmony that was based on the numeric aesthetics; there is also a more special relationship in terms of above and an example gives the Florentine cathedral and Santa Maria del Fiore and Guillaume Dufay’s motet from 1436 where the numeric structure of the motet and the proportional dimensions of the cathedral.

As Paul Valery states in Eupalinos ou l’architecte, in this context; “music and architecture differ from the rest of arts in their capacity to surround man entirely”[5]. In fact both arts deal with space, but with mathematical proportions in the first place and space secondly.

Iannis Xenakis used geometry to set theory in his modernist buildings and music however, his identification that music and architecture were both manifestations of mathematics, provoked him to see the geometric notation. Xenakis began by considering the internal acoustics, and realised that the most select design would be based on hyperbolic parabolises. In both the pavilion and the musical composition, he was “interested in the question of whether it was possible to get from one point to another without breaking the continuity”, as he has described. Furthermore, at first sight Xenakis adopted a pragmatic attitude towards space as he has stated:

“Space first and foremost has the task of allowing sound to be heard properly. If for instance, we seat four, five, six musicians performing a chamber piece close to one another the sound coming from one point is too thick the instruments can’t be differentiated from one another. [...] The sound will be much purer if we seat the musicians well apart.”[6]

This may stand as a conclusion driven from the fact that in arts, one benefits from another, just as it was reaching as far as ancient Greece as the designer were able to create perfect acoustics, making it able to hear throughout the spaces of theatre. Similarly in the nowadays home, because of the ability to construct or choose a quality of good sound proofing, the silence can be enjoyed. It is also somehow of what architecture leaves for music and its lovers.

Conclusion:

It is clear that there are differences between the arts, no doubt about that but there are also many analogies between them which in this case I found interesting, and maybe for the music less apparent but in theory based on mathematical principles, for the visual aids in understanding, paintings might be used, but would the use of sound appear better for a precision. I would like to end with a quote of well known philosopher Goethe, which now does not sound as abstract as it may appear at first:

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[1] Davies Colin. Thinking about Architecture, An introduction to Architectural Theory, Laurence King Publishing, 2011, page 49

[2] Davies Colin. Thinking about Architecture, An introduction to Architectural Theory, Laurence King Publishing, 2011, page 49

[3] Davies Colin. Thinking about Architecture, An introduction to Architectural Theory, Laurence King Publishing, 2011, page 49

[4] 3.1 Vertical axis and horizontal plane: upright man, page 43,

[5] Koestler, Arthur. The Act of Creation, New York, Macmillian, 1964,

[6] Xenakis Iannis, In Varga, Interview with Andreas Balint, 1997,