Centering a Town: 21st. Effort/Acceleration

Art, and above all, music has a fundamental function, which is to catalyze the sublimation that it can bring about through all means of expression.


I often listen to Xenakis’s music for percussion when I design and build. Its staccato insistence and limited tonal range are appropriate for construction, which develops by extended repetition without the contrasts of tonal color or the arc of drama. Yet it has its own surprises. The music is a distraction, a diversion from silence, where I can’t think what to do next, but also a call for patterns and yet at the same time a break away from standard patterning. It encourages me to open up, think of other things, to think beyond set ways of thinking, beyond what I think I know.


The percussive variations approach randomness without falling into chaos or noise, which themselves have their own possibilities. If nothing else, it pushes me to keep going without worrying about what I’m doing or where I’m headed. Listening provides a way to persist when there seems no direct course, nothing at all to do. I would like activities in the building to follow a similar course.

And a building can suggest sound, even music, even thought.

Xenakis designed the windows for Le Corbusier’s Tourette monastery, based on theories of mathematics and avant-garde music.

In order to avoid a monotonous repetition of standard elements in the immense façade of the building, Le Corbusier asked Xenakis to develop a principle for windows that he had caught sight of during the Chandigarh construction. . . . The resulting window configurations are very vivid. Xenakis developed the dimensions of the glass panels according to the blue and red series of the Modulor. Thanks to the resulting effect of dilatation and contraction, the façade seems to become a dynamic membrane. The principle finds its most virtuoso application in the Tourette monastery, a project that Xenakis worked on as of 1954, with the western façade conceived as a great architectural counterpoint.

From the Xenakis site, along with the drawing.

Photograph by Fernando Schapo, from dezeen.

Rear view. By comparison, my design for this effort is quite simple and orderly. I am limited by scale and the size of the plastic pieces I have to work with. They are too thick to create anything more subtle. There can be virtue in this limitation, however, because it encourages simplicity.

The general principle is acceleration: the rhythm intensifies as one approaches the front corner, emphasizing the essential point of the site and building, the front corner on the plaza. All kinds of associations come to mind—accumulation, progress, concentration, focus. Or not. It is only one suggestion, and as much the building promotes movement away from these, challenges to such notions. As I said before, nothing is ever settled.

I have to work with units of two for the windows—one unit windows would have given me more options and a more irregular scheme. At the rear, the pattern is 4-4-4 and 6-6.

Side view, where the pattern is 6-6, 4-4, 2-2-2-2-2-2, with the piers diminishing from 4 to 3 to 2 to 1. The one unit piers are independent and detached and slightly overlap top and bottom. Each section, in fact, outlines the different rooms, four larger on the corners and a smaller at the 4-4 section in the middle of the side. Of the ten total classrooms, second through third floor, there are five different designs, providing a slightly different experience to break the monotony of the routine of instruction. The fourth floor rooms are taller, with an angled window pane at the top to admit greater light. The right corner has a large communal area, two stories high, which will be occupied by stairs and partial levels.

There are several different design blocks incorporated, the acceleration of the classroom piers, the thick grid of the open area, bottom right, and the mass of brick and W shaped structure at the rear, anchoring the building. The grid of the smaller windows unifies two thirds of this face and contrasts with the large windows of the communal area. There is a metaphor in that.

The acceleration intensifies at the front corner. As with any building, corners present a problem. I tried over a dozen options, running into construction problems with each one. I finally decided to close the corner off but kept at the top floors reference to the one-unit column. A building should have closure at the corner, and this solution gives a secondary anchor.

Front view, main entry, with the pattern 2-2-2-2-2-2 and 4-4-4 for the rooms.

Background and Previous Designs

Other designs for this project, along with background material and more photographs of site, can be found here and at these posts.


Leave a Reply