Synesthesia in Architecture

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Animation, Colour, Students

Synesthesia in Architecture

Olivia Lu Hill, Tony Gonalez and Po-Jen Huang


This project is based around developing a language and method of translation between music and architecture. The connection between music and architecture has had a long history within the discipline of architecture. Often the translation and connection between architecture and music has been opaque and varied. Our project has developed around creating a more transparent and systematic approach toward the analysis and translation of music into architecture.

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In the creation of the language we borrowed elements and abstracted plan diagrams from Durand’s “Comparisons of Buildings from every Genre, Ancient and Modern”. The architectural elements were tied to specific sound frequencies, and the abstracted plans to musical tempos.  In the process of translation from Architecture to Music, we took the overall tempo/beats per minute (BPM) for each song, we associated each tempo with an abstracted plan diagram, this became the overarching structure of the composition. The sound frequencies for each beat were analyzed. The audible sound frequencies for human hearing are 20-20,000 Hz, we broke down this range into six families of architectural elements with eighteen elements each. These elements include basic architectural typologies such as dome, arch, column, stairs, toilet etc. The elements are then scaled depending on the amplitude of the individual sound frequency.  The elements” from one family are placed into a square grid at designated x, y, z coordinates. Each of the six “families” are put together in a pyramidal arrangement. The method of translation and arranging elements are consistently deployed across all songs.  The six families of elements together form a sample. These samples are placed depending on the overall bpm on a Durand abstracted plan diagram. The images attached are visual translations of David Bowie’s Changes (yellow and green) and Vivaldi’s Winter (peach and teal).

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The project has shown various patterns in the sound analysis through visualization such as large repetition of common specific sound frequencies which resulted in common repeated architectural elements. The end result of the translation were a multitude of collaged elements in a manner which does not follow traditional methods of form or function, and instead embody many of the similar aesthetics to “Capri”.  Additionally, through viewing the translation of the element clusters individually on video, the pulsating of form brings new dynamism and temporality to architectural forms.



Who influences you graphically?

Our ambition in the project was to produce a coherent landscape of architectural elements. That being the case, we looked to influential post-modernist architects like Graves, Moore, and Rossi with particular interest. Rossi’s drawings, for example, deploy monochrome coloration to give coherence to arrays of different parts. Our work operates on a similar principle: monochrome treatments give an otherwise unknowable landscape coherence and legibility. Simultaneously, we were looking to add a whimsical accessibility to the images, which brought us to looking at a more playful color palette.

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How important is the video compared to the images? If the video was developed further how could the project be only translated through this without the images?

The main difference between the video and image is the understanding of the overall context and composition. The difference can be further explained as being similar to understanding a song by looking at its sound frequency samples at each beat- sound without reference to what comes before and after or overall structure, versus looking at the entirety of the musical composition in sheet music. The video and the images operate in similar ways, with the key difference being their relation to time. Both the images and the video represent a the translation of sound waves as architectural forms, but, for example, in the video, time passes regularly and the forms unfold in the same position, and the relationship between the architecture and the sounds of the music can be read clearly. Where in the images, time is unfolded along the x and y axes of across the ground plane at different coordinates to register when they took place. The sampled compositions are then placed along the larger x and y plane in the JNL Durand plan corresponding to their tempo. If the entirety of the project were to be offloaded to the realm of video, the video would need to develop some new relationship to time and memory, such that the spaces could be inhabited so that the overall composition could be understood.

What dictated the choice of colour palette? How do the colours inform the way we read the image?

The color palette was developed as a way to carry certain ineffable affect qualities of the music into the affect quality of the architecture. Warm colors are used to relate to warm sounds, cool colors to cool sounds. In this way, color serves to inform readings of the images by carrying forward qualities of the musical source material which could not be measured by our software protocol.

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What defined the use of colour vs monochromatic palette for different images?

Color is used in the perspectives to help differentiate qualities from different songs. The set of images with peach-colored architecture, for example, are views of an architectural composition of Vivaldi’s “Winter”, from The Four Seasons, where the yellow and green are used for David Bowie’s “Changes”. We used white with shadow and line for the “traditional” architectural views such as plan and elevation in both songs. The grey monochromatic drawings are to distinguish images created explain the process and informational diagrams.

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