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  • Writer's pictureFeby Susan Philip

Architecture is Frozen Music

Updated: Mar 10, 2022

An 18th-century writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe stated, “Music is liquid architecture and Architecture is frozen music”. Goethe's statement is probably in reflection with the Baroque architecture style of those times - The graceful contours, the twisting elements and the dramatic spatial sequences all mimicking the harmony, rhythm and texture in music.

But this statement holds true in many different contexts. One of which is that, just like music, architecture has the capability to invoke emotions in its audience. This blog lists examples of such places that hold this power.

As human beings, we tend to attach emotions and sentimental value to inanimate objects and spaces. Humans can empathise with inanimate rooms when they interiorly establish an embodied simulation of certain architectural features. For example, a gravestone relates to death a pool or a jacuzzi is related to luxury and leisure. Other than such features, the history behind the place also adds volume and variety to the emotions felt by the spectators.

Auschwitz is one such place that is hard to visit without being overwhelmed by feeling sombre. The site of Auschwitz-Birkenau today is all at once an emblem of evil and terror, a site of historical remembrance and a vast cemetery.

As the Jews pay tribute to their ancestors, whose ashes and bones are now part of the stone and sand of the place, they feel emotions of sadness, compassion, anger and even pride to be a race that survived such horrors.

For the others that visit and walk through the paths fringed with barbed wire fences, it's hard to escape the sense of being trapped.

The blackened walls of the gas chambers seem to echo phantom screams of its victims and instil shock, fear and nausea in the tourists who are fortunate enough to walk back out alive through doors that many didn't.

The stone walls chipped with bullet holes,

the squalid barracks,

the lakes that swallowed the ash of the dead,

stone chimneys standing in solitude amongst the rubbles,

all create a symphony of sadness.

Church on Water-

A visit to the Church on Water- designed by Tadao Ando, situated in Japan is yet another subliminal experience.

The entrance to the church is under a glass and steel cube at the northernmost end which houses four large concrete crosses that pique interest among its pilgrims.

The path leads up and around these crosses, and then down the connecting dark spiral stairway into the larger cube of the chapel below. By making the entry route intentionally circuitous, a sense of ritual and purification results, creating a religious experience.

Upon entering the chapel, visitors are struck with the view of a lone steel cross standing amidst a pond, surrounded by trees and the hillside. The other three walls are made of concrete, which frames the cross placed in the middle of the pond.

Like one dances to the tunes of the pied piper, these walls have the power to transfix their visitors.

In winter as the pond stills as ice and the snow blankets the hill, one can't help but feel at peace,at the sight before them.

Sagrada Familia -

In the heart of Barcelona, stands a towering marvel that looks like a sandcastle sculpted by the ocean itself.

If you ever visit Spain, a Gaudi tour is a must. The Sagrada Familia is a large unfinished Roman Catholic basilica designed by the famous Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi.

The basilica speaks to the soul of its pilgrims, its extraordinary form raising emotions to the highest pitch.

Gaudi was a student of botany, zoology and theology. He saw beauty in the veins of leaves, the canopy of trees, the pattern of honeycombs and the texture of fruits. He incorporated these features into his decorative elements, as well as into the mathematics he used to create his architectural forms.

The exterior Nativity Facade is decorated with ornate sculptures filled with an overabundance of detail, depicting different stories from the bible.

The eastern side is etched with flowers and plant details which when curtained by the morning rays brings it's visitors in tune with nature, calming as you enter the cathedral.

Once inside, the vastness of the interior is showered with rainbow colors reflected from the stained glass windows embeded on the walls. The blues and greens from the cooling morning light in the east and the red and oranges from the setting sun of the west altogether gives an unforgettable welcome.

The massive tree-like columns carry the weight of the entire structure in its canopy, manifesting Gaudi’s affinity with nature. With multiple cavities and recessions at different intervals, he created sound passages that carry the voice of the choir, making the church itself act as a musical instrument.

The complete sensory experience with colours, textures, light and music has made both believers and sceptics shed tears alike.

The view of Barcelona from the towers of the church, makes one feel like a character from Gaudi's fairytale castle.

The emblems of doves, crosses and fruits, the colours dancing to the tunes of the time, the angelic hymns echoing through the passages leave a piece of heaven on earth.

You don't need to go all the way to Poland, Japan or Spain to feel the magic of architecture. It's right there in your neighbourhood - between the walls of the school you went to, or your favourite bookstore around the corner or even on the corner booth seat of the cafe where you hung out with your friends.

Just like the nostalgia that hits you when you play an old playlist, you feel attached to the buildings and streets around you over time. Architecture is more than a clever arrangement of bricks. It solidifies the intangible emotions and memories of people through time.

Like a sirens call, each perceives and receives it differently.

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