Finding Harmony: composition and construction

There are those of us that favour the analytical side of our brain, and those of us that favour the creative side. I have always favoured the creative side. I began learning the piano at a young age, and have continued my music studies right up to today, across several different instruments. I believe my background in music had a big impact on my decision to study architecture. Over the course of studying both architecture and music, I have come to see distinct similarities between the two, particularly in the way we form initial ideas for projects and how the two appear on the page; the drawings and the score.

Chamber Works, Daniel Libeskind

Daniel Libeskind, who I dare say need no introduction, was a virtuoso accordion player in his youth before becoming an architect. His work is informed by a deep commitment to and knowledge of music. When speaking about his thoughts on relationship between music and architecture, Libeskind said “To play an instrument, to read music, to perform music, requires enormous discipline. This is one of the connecting links between music and architecture, because both are extremely rigorous engagements. You cannot play music approximately; if you really want to play a melody, you have to hit every note correctly, and every tempo and every harmony has to be there in order to be audible.” [1] The same can be said for architecture; you cannot design approximately, you have to be precise. In 1983, Libeskind created a series of 28 prints titled ‘Chamber Works’. The prints are designed to be viewed linearly, unfolding just like a musical composition. Libeskind called this work “my first rigorous attempts to connect music and architecture…Architecture is based on drawings. A drawing is a score, a code, a language that is communicated to performers who then have leeway to interpret that.” [2] This work has been compared to the work of post-war avant-garde composer John Cage, who was known for his non-standard compositions. 


Concert for Piano and Orchestra, John Cage

Both music and architecture are incredibly exact disciplines; both are documented in a certain way, whether it be a score in music or architectural drawings. Similarities already existed in the traditional notation of music and traditional architecture; there was a certain linearity that existed in both. In the same way architecture has grown and changed in the modern era, so too has music and the way it can be represented on the page. “The image of music was no longer locked to a conventional five line stave, it could look like…anything. So, by the end of World War II, the idea that music could look like architecture was taking hold.”[3] Iannis Xenakis, a Greek composer and architect, found the parallels between musical representation and built structure fascinating. Xenakis used the physical characteristics of an orchestral work titled ‘Metastaseis’ he had written as the design inspiration for the ‘Philips Pavilions’ at the Brussels World Fair in 1958. “Edgard Varèse, one of the great experimental composers of the early avant-garde, was commissioned to create a site specific work for the Pavilion, the result being ‘Poème Électronique’, one of the strangest and most inventive works of the 20th Century.” [4] 

Philips Pavilion and Metastaseis Composition, Iannis Xenakis

Poéme Èlectronique, Edgard Varése

Libeskind said something resonated deeply with me, as I believe the same could be true for myself; he said “I don’t think I would be doing architecture if I hadn’t been a musician first. You have to be able to create a series of drawings just like a musical score, you have to orchestrate it, you have to be able to communicate it, to conduct it. Even though I gave up performing music, I never gave up music at all because as an architect you have to first of all listen to a place, you have to listen to the sound of a place, you have to get into the vibrations of the world, of the unique moment. I don’t think I’ve given up music, I’ve just changed the instrument!”[5]


[1] Libeskind, Daniel. “Daniel Libeskind: The Links between Music and Architecture.” The Independent. July 28, 2002. Accessed May 01, 2018.

[2] Libeskind, Daniel. “Daniel Libeskind Chamber Works: Architectural Meditations on Themes from Heraclitus 1983.” Willem De Kooning. Woman I. 1950–52 | MoMA. Accessed May 04, 2018.

[3] Shireffs, Michael. “Searching for Harmony in Architecture.” Radio National. September 25, 2013. Accessed April 14, 2018.

[4] Ibid. 

[5] “Daniel Libeskind.” Interview by Sven Schumann and Johannes Bonke. The Talks. March 7, 2014. Accessed May 1, 2018.


1. Philips Pavilion. In Musicologie. July 2007. Accessed May 4, 2018.


Xenakis, Iannis. “Metastaseis” Digital image. Research Gate. September 2016. Accessed May 04, 2018.

2. Libeskind, Daniel. “Chamber Works.” Digital image. Studio Libeskind. Accessed May 4, 2018.

3. Cage, John. “Concert for Piano and Orchestra. Solo for Piano.” Digital image. Fondazione Bonotto. Accessed May 4, 2018.

4. Xenakis, Iannis. “Philips Pavilion/Metastaseis B.” Digital image. Research Gate. September 2016. Accessed May 04, 2018.

5. Varèse, Edgard. “The Score of Poéme Électronique (1958).” Digital image. Edgard Varèse. Accessed May 4, 2018.

Caitlin Brice

Caitlin is currently a Master of Architecture student at The University of Western Australia.