This past weekend we attended the local symphony. It was a great experience. (scroll to the end, play the music, scroll back and read on please). But as I got lost in the music, I couldn’t help but think about architecture during the music. I know you’re thinking “what in the world is he doing thinking about architecture during a symphonic performance?” All I can say is let me direct you to the subtitle of my blog. Anyway, during this beautiful performance I was reminded of the age old illustration of the architect as the conductor of the design process where many “instruments” and people come together to create a work of architecture. You may not agree with the illustration or you may start to share where it breaks down. I get it. However humor me as I revisit this simple analogy as I realized the most important part.

As I watched I thought about the myriad of musicians and instruments involved in this event. They had their own part and despite amazing skill, they probably had a varied amount of experience. In our performance there was even a guest conductor. He was very experienced and I assume a master of the music played that night. Even though I am likening him to the architect in my metaphor, I don’t necessarily elevate his position in importance over any of the other musicians apart from someone needing to be the leader. Another observation was that everyone was following the same music that had already been written and placed before them. There was no improvisation, no one requesting a change based on their own preferences or personal benefit. Just play the music is all they were asked to do and play it as well as you possibly can. I know, I know, this is oversimplifying the design and construction process.

So what was the point of the night? You’re making funny facial expressions aren’t you? Well, it may be obvious, but the reason was us the audience. The audience silently sat there for 90 minutes in the dark (with an intermission), watching, listening and hopefully enjoying the work of several dozen musicians all coming together for a singular cause, led by one conductor. What was the cause? It was to make beautiful music for the audience to enjoy. The point is not to focus on who played the violin or who played the oboe. The audience is why they played. The public is our audience. They are why we play in this symphony called architecture.

Do I believe the architect is best at being the conductor? Didn’t I answer that? Has the architect lost that role today? In many or most cases, I would say yes. Do today’s complex projects and complex contexts require a different conductor? Well, we may just have to agree to disagree on that one, but I think it’s a great discussion. I know we’re still making music today, but are we making beautiful music? Ask the conductor, or better yet, ask the audience.

What do you think about during the symphony?


4 thoughts on “symphony

  1. Ted Rusnak says:

    Your analogy is spot on. For myself it took attending a rehearsal to have the parallels you alluded to stand out. Quite illuminating.

    Were there a weakness in your/our analogy it would be that a conductor has, presumably, the finest musicians to direct, for every performance, with only the music changing.

    Architects can sometimes feel like we’re herding cats, some with hearing loss. And never the same ones for every “performance”.

    “a different conductor”? Perhaps. But when we assume the baton and tap we should have the attention of all involved. Those who have gone before us seem to forgotten that our obligation is to present to a client a great performance and have abdicated some of the authority, and responsiblility.
    The highest level of performance is obtained by the strongest leader/conductor/Architect.
    Thank you as always. t

  2. Your blog is always so wonderful.

    I think the architect is the best qualified entity to be the “conductor.” In many cases the architect has lost that role. I think that it’s not too late to get it back. We need to work on it, though.

    I think that today’s more complicated buildings do not require a different leader. Architects just need to get better at doing the job we’ve always done.

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