David Byrne, Daniel Libeskind, and the Audio Perception of Space


[image via Creative Time]

David Byrne’s Playing The Building will come to a close this weekend. The art installation—a repeat performance of a 2005 installation in Stockholm—transforms an abandoned Manhattan warehouse into a fully playable, fully immersive musical instrument. Byrne describes the resulting cacophony as “authorless” but “strongly directed” music, with sounds created by air hoses snaking through rusty plumbing pipes to blow out tones that evoke broken flutes or lonesome bagpipes, while motors vibrate against structural steel to create ominous disharmonic rumblings that can be felt as much as heard and solenoids peck at old columns and like industrial, robotic woodpeckers. This diverse orchestra of architecture is all controlled via a simple vintage pump organ — an organ that quite literally gives a voice to the space.

Music and architecture have been conceptually linked since Goethe famously uttered, “I call architecture frozen music.” Architects have long struggled with integrating the two ideas — sometimes successfully, often not. David Byrne’s installation introduces we get an entirely new, quite literal, integration of the two. In contrast with Playing The Building, music has a much more subtle influence on a small part of a new San Francisco museum.

[The Yud Space in the San Francisco CJM]

Within the new Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco, there’s a room known as the Yud space. It’s a large performance space—faceted in a way that unmistakably marks the building as a Daniel Libeskind design—that’s planned to accomodate everything from string quartets to avant-garde music recordings. Currently, a John Zorn piece interpreting various letters of the Hebrew alphabet is reverberating through the fractured room. Some interpreations included minimal beats or soothing strings while others sound like a Jimmy Hendrix – John Cage duet dubbed over a Sonic Youth B-side. I loved it. Each “movement” felt as if it was actually enhanced by the space. Finally! A Libeskind design that complements the exhibited work! However, it was impossible not to notice that the 60-something-year-old couple who were also in the room during my visit clearly didn’t share my enthusiasm. They left quickly, making their opinions known with a few disparaging comments concerning both the Yud and the music. It occurred to me then that Libeskind has possibly created a room where, depending on the temperament of the visitor, one’s appreciation of the space might very well rely on the piece of music experienced while standing within it. Would that same 60-something-year-old couple have a similar reaction if they were listening to a string quartet perform Schubert’s “Rosamunde?”

In Playing The Building, music is a representation of the space, while in the Yud, the space becomes— at least potentially—a representation of the music. Through Byrne’s project, we come to understand the building in a new way, through a new interpretation of our sense of sound as it applies to space and architecture. But it’s an understanding that is unlikely to change one’s opinion of the Manhattan warehouse. But in an arguably more controversial space, like Libeskind’s museum, it seems like audio output has the power to actually shape one’s perception of the space. An impressive feat for an architect whose work is often written-off as heavy-handed and repetitive.

&#183 Playing the Building [Creative Time]
&#183 David Byrne’s New Band, With Architectural Solos [New York Times]
&#183 Home is Where The Harp Is [Life Without Buildings]


The Berlin / New York Dialogues

(Still recovering somewhat from the trip. Things were so busy before I left a couple weeks ago and I neglected to get this posted…)Life Without Buildings’ New York correspondent and all-around bon vivant, Jac Currie attended the Berlin / New York dialogues last week at the New York Center for Architecture.The 10-week long exhibition aims to compare and contrast the architecture, culture, and lifestyle of the two ciites. It is presented as part of the Center for Architecture’s “Global City Dialogues” series.

 The tour began in a busy Center for Architecture. It was two hours before the VIP reception, and people were still getting ready – running around with mounted photos and stretched canvas. A twenty-foot, spiraling installation by Brooklyn designers, Made, bridged two of the floors, and the staircase walls were printed with various urban statistics – density of people, amount of public space by area, number of dogs, length of bike trails, how many cinemas in each city:“Two of the world’s most dynamic urban centers, Berlin and New York City, are making radical transformations in their streets and neighborhoods,” says Rick Bell, Director of AIA New York. “The purpose of Berlin / New York Dialogues is to discover the similarities and differences in what drives our architecture and urban design.”The primary themes of the exhibition include artist as a pioneer/culture as a catalyst, community-based activism, greening of open-space, and social engineering/government based interventions. To make the exhibition accessible to the general public, displays consisted of layers of information portrayed through various easy-to-understand media – charts, photos, text, and illustrations. Facts and testimonials about successful art school programs, snapshots of public art projects, photos of a development sites, and floor to ceiling landscapes printed on stretched canvas tracked urban development throughout the two cultural capitals over the last couple decades.While the overall exhibition, designed by New York design firm Project Projects came across as well researched and smartly displayed, the actual density of information and tightness of space made it difficult to a take in. Having lived in both cities, I could really appreciate the variety of information and comprehensive presentation. It was interesting to see squatters, warehouse clubs, and illegal urban farmers given as much credit as politicians, large-scale developments and social programs.My favorite features of the show were the agencies that went beyond architecture in attempting to affect their surroundings. Berlin-based design groups, Platoon and Deadline Architects. With public art, innovative media, and networking, Platoon’s projects use cultural activities to change lives in Berlin. Deadline Architects are perhaps best known for their project, Bender Berlin. Their first building, it was entirely self-financed by the architects, who raised the money over a period of three years. Now complete, it houses their office, apartment, art gallery, and 14 rentable mini-lofts. (ed. note: more on these offices soonish!)Despite all the careful comparisons and meticulously presented facts, I felt there was something missing, some strong, intangible difference between the two cities. Maybe it’s the uniquely American pursuit of wealth, fame, and “the Dream.” Or perhaps it’s New York’s status as hub of industry, media, and real estate versus Berlin’s economically bankrupt reality. It’s hard to say really, but perhaps Anders Lepik phrased the question best in his introductory speech: “What is the reason that NY dreams of Berlin, and Berlin dreams of NY?”And then there was the reception. It started quietly enough with just a few VIPs, a DJ bleeping and blooping his way through Minimal Techno records, and, of course, German beer. I took the opportunity to catch up with former schoolmate– and current Berlin / New York Dialogues researcher, Anthony Acciavatti. (ed note: what’s up Anthony!) Soon though, the place began to fill up with a serious crowd. A lot of black jackets, tall people, hip glasses, and hipper haircuts. The music kept getting better, a serious Techno set by Berlin pop act 2raumwohnung, and people were seriously getting their dance on. It really did feel like a party in Berlin, and New York loved it.Stay longer next time, Berlin.Berlin – New York Dialogues: Building in Context runs through 26 January at the Center for Architecture. Jac Currie is an artist and designer based in New York City and New Orleans. He is the founder of Defend New Orleans and Jaguar Jaguar.


Photo Shoots and New Museums

I love/hate photos of Herog and/or de Meuron. They’re always dramatic and self-imporant, and just seem to be saying “oooh… we’re just so Swiss.” The photo at left was taken from with the perfectly succint caption, “Jacques Herzog poses for a photo.” And boy does he! That guy has more poses than the Kama Sutra. Every time I see these staged photos of him – or any architect, really – I find it a little silly, but also incredibly…well, encouraging, sort of. I’m given hope that I won’t always remain a faceless, unappreciated, civil servant. God willing, I might someday pose for my own ego boosting glamor shot. Who am I kidding? I’ve already been practicing. The best part of all this? The whole phenomena is by no means a response to our current celebrity (and design) obsessed culture. Like all things in architecture, there’s precedent, dammit! (this example is the worst. Gwathmey! I still think that pic’s photoshopped! Get your Mr. – Burns-looking ass up to the top floor next time! you make the scultpure for living look more like the sculpture for dying.)

I hate that building…but I’m rambling and I really did intend to post a news bit here. In yet another successful bid for an American Museum, H&dM have been chosen to design the Parrish Art Museum in Southampton, New York. Although it seems that people disagree, I found their near-complete de Young Museum to be a thoughtful intervention into Golden Gate Park. Hopefully, the new Parrish Museum will show the same unique sensitivity. I couldn’t find images of the proposal, seeing how is a completely useless website and Herzog & de Meuron don’t have one, (although I suspect that Pierre secretly wants one), but Museum Director Trudy Kramer had this to say about the selection:

“During our search for an architect to design the new Parrish, we saw the work of more than 60 talented regional, national, and international architects and designers. Ultimately, it was the combination of innovation and tradition, of bold and subtle, that we saw in the work of Herzog & de Meuron, and the fact that each project was unique and attuned to the client’s needs, that was so powerful. Additionally, the firm’s sensitivity to site, including not only landscape but also light—one of the great qualities of eastern Long Island that has inspired generations of artists—promises to make the design for the new Parrish truly outstanding.”

Here’s to poses yet undiscovered! cheers.


A Swimming Hole on the Hudson

In Beacon, New York, environmental activist and folksinger Pete Seeger and Manhattan architect Meta Brunzema are pooling their efforts (pun fully intended) to construct a “river pool.” The river pool is by no means a new concept, as you can see in the above picture. They were all the rage from the 1880’s to the 1920’s, when Manhattanites could be found frolickng in the rivers all around their tiny island…untill pollution grew to unsafe levels.

As seen in Metropolis Magazine, Brunzema’s scheme consists of a 66-foot-diameter pool with a steel-cable netting floor and sides composed of vertical bars held in place with a steel ring at the bottom. It’s light-weight and collapsible for storage during winter months. After the Beacon Hudson passed an intensive testing of water-quality, Brunzema is beginning to construct her prototype.

Prohibiting any unforeseen problems, it looks like Beacon will have its first river pool next summer. I don’t know how much worse the pollution is in the water around Manhattan, but with all the new river-front proposals beginning to appear, could this be far off?