The German philosopher Freidrich von Schelling said, “Architecture is music in space as if it were frozen music” while Plato stated, “Rhythm and harmony find their way into the inward places of the soul.” Even without knowing it as a young boy I was fascinated by rhythm used in the design of buildings. For me it is the breath of life for most constructions. Here is a photo of my grade school by modern architect Ed Barnes as featured in Life magazine in 1965. The repetitive massing and lines distinguishing functional volumes, as well as, flooding the spaces with indirect natural light. Other childhood examples included the church by Eliel Saarinen across from our central library and the telephone switching station one block from that.
As human beings we are naturally drawn to experiencing things that are done in a rhythm such as music, dance, poetry; where time and movements are coordinated. Rhythm, or repetition, through design can be generated by a harmonious sequence of structural components, a pattern of masses alternating with voids, a sequence of light alternating with shades or shadows, and alternating colors or textures. Like in music rhythm in design naturally evokes emotion without cognitive awareness. Order and flow create harmony.
Locally, we have many classic examples. Take a look at our art deco buildings. It is easy to see the breakdown of rhythmical patterns limited to building fenestrations both horizontally and vertically.
Moving to more modern examples I draw from my hikes around UNCA starting with the university’s original building Phillips Hall. Constructed in 1961 and designed by SIX Associates the building layers rhythms experientially as you walk up the stairs and into the interior via its structural columns, window walls, railing and even light placement. There I’m reminded of the Bauhaus interpretation of building as machine.
One of my favorite contemporary buildings in Asheville is Overlook Hall. Completed in 2012 the facade of this residence hall portrays a more poetic pattern or rhythm that suggests that each individual student has their own unique placement or viewpoint within the mass fabric of being a student on campus. They are both unique and the same at once.
A more sophisticated residential example is Carlton Architecture’s Slickrock House in the Mountain Air community shown below. There are many complimentary patterns and rhythms working together: standardized structural supports, a roofline emphasizing various volumes of space and light, window mullions and surface patterns. Much like an artist, musician or poet — a designer has to work back and forth balancing the realities of materials and elements with a more intuitive sense of balance and flow until a natural harmony is achieved.
Late architect Michael Graves said, “I see architecture not as Gropius did, as a moral venture, as truth, but as invention, in the same way that poetry or music or painting is invention.” So, the next time you think of a building as static and all engineering based you might want to take a deeper look. Perhaps you might even hear it.
Want to see more modern examples of rhythm in architecture? Yep — we have a Pinterest page for that, too. Have the best Sunday ever. I know we will if you stop and see us at the Flea for Y’all today. Bring an umbrella. Cheers!