Inherent Dualites

The project begins with an exploration into the compositional methodologies of the Hungarian composer Bela Bartok.  We were asked to develop an architectural language through an analysis of one of his works that would be deployed in creating the Bela Bartok Center for Sound and Music in Budapest Hungary.  As an architect and a life-long musician, I was excited at this opportunity to fuse the two related arts into one project.  The composition that we chose is Bartok’s ‘Allegro Barbaro’ for the piano.  An earlier work, it signifies a break-through in the composer’s life as one of his first largely published pieces.  The piece was chosen by us for its seeming simplicity that masks layers of emotional complexity, and through analysis, it proved a rich source of inspiration for the architecture being formed. 


Because the piece is a short piano solo only 3 minutes in length, we were able to use the entire score in our project.  The music is embedded with implied pairings that attracted us because of their ability to offer a balance through comparison and contrast.  Upon hearing the composition, it is evident that there are two forces at work within it.  An accompanying, steady rhythm that continuously rolls out low tones and a powerful, dynamic lead built on top.  In addition, there is the coupling of one instrument with one musician.  Each alone stand incomplete, but together, the musical rhythms and melodies are freed to exist in real time.  Both have within them further bifurcations.  The musician uses two hands, the right and left, to play a two color interface, black and white.  These attributes in the music led us to a conceptual comparison that guided the translation from music into architecture:  Sound is to music as light is to architecture.




By comparing sound and light, we were able to make the move from the audible tones of a musical score to the visual forms of an architectural project.  Both sound and light travel through matter in waves and have many similar characteristics.  It is common knowledge that light travels at far greater speeds than sound, however light can travel in a vacuum while sound needs matter such as air or water in which to travel.  Sound waves can be compressed such as in the ‘Doppler effect’, and light can be reflected or refracted such as through a prism.  Though the scientific explorations of the two suggest an undying research, for the purpose of this project, we are interested in the parameters that are audible and visible to the human subject and limit our analogies to music and architecture.  Sound is the essential medium for the experience of music, just as architecture is experienced through light touching the surface of its material forms and transferring that image through the lenses of our eyes into our minds.


The analysis of ‘Allegro Barbaro’ led us to explore the ‘Fibonacci sequence’ of numbers that Bartok is known for implementing as a compositional technique.  That is, a sequence in which each number is the sum of the two numbers preceding it; 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13…etc.  By using time as a constant, introduced as measures centuries ago to keep musicians playing together, we discovered that Bartok indeed uses Fibonacci numbers as a technique.  For example, he often makes changes in melodic sequences after 5, 8 or 13 measures, shifts in volumetric concentration, or moves between foreground and background also often occur during a measure that falls into the Fibonacci sequence.  He uses the technique often; however he is not restricted to only this rule, when the music requires it he implements other techniques such as chromatic scaling, according to his compositional will.  The use of the Fibonacci numbering sequence is especially interesting to us because each number is the ratio of 1.618 of the previous number.  This number is also known as the golden ratio and directly relates this music to a historical architectural trajectory spanning back to Ancient Greece.



To visualize the audible tones, we mapped the entire score onto a grid that was divided over time.  Vertically are the 88 notes of the piano’s keyboard with the high note at the top, and horizontally from left to right are the 225 measures, or units of time.  This charting of the musical score allowed an interesting pattern to emerge with unexpected results and the music to be read in a new way.


This graph was used to create two systems for the architecture.  The linear mapping of the music over time was trimmed where there were no notes charted to reveal an edge condition that at times appear very much as the individual keys of the piano.  This modified graph was then divided into 9 equal sections of 25 measures and stacked into 3 square panels of 3 sections each that fit into the given constraints of the project.  These panels were thickened into structural bearing walls representing a literal reading of the original musical score.  They were painted black on one side and white on the other to represent the instrument, and each note became a small square opening in the wall.  The panels were then offset parallel to each other with the first and third panels forming a square in plan, and the second between them was set off-center to the ratio of 1.618. 


As the map was stacked into the 3 panels, larger openings became apparent as a result of trimming the edge.  These larger openings were traced, and the outlines connected from panel to panel by lofting the spans between.  A second system of angular forms emerged through this algorithm.  Where the first system is a literal production of the musical score, the second system represents the space around and between the music.  It is where the emotional content of the musician’s performance exists.  These lofted forms later become the programmed functional spaces of the building.  The second system is composed of flexible and light, angular forms that are translucent to spread the light, in contrast to the first which has a rigid and heavy, orthogonal and perforated structure used to mask the light.  These two architectural systems dictate the language for the project while reflecting the balanced dualities inherent in the music.




Once the language was written, site influences and programmatic inputs were introduced.  The city of Budapest has a long, sad history of war and communist occupation coupled with a rich and enlightened tradition of music.  It was once two cities divided by the river Danube, Buda on the west side and Pest on the east.  In 1871 the dual cities were merged to form one capital city of Hungary.  The project site occupies a 21m x 28.5m empty plot existing as a scar from bombings that is enclosed on 3 sides, surrounded by a dense urban fabric of pre-war 5 and 6 story buildings on a narrow 11m wide street.


The recommended program for the project includes a 300 seat concert hall, a 150 seat experimental theatre, a sound library, music store, café, offices and 5 residences for researching musicians.  In addition, we proposed music studios with practice facilities and recording equipment to continually enhance the music archive of the center.  In order to fit the new constraints of the site, we reconfigured the 3 panels, by dividing the score into 11 equal sections, and stacking them 3, 4 and 4.  The second and third panels remain load-bearing structural walls, but the first panel facing the street is cantilevered 5 meters in the air and extends 2 meters over the public sidewalk.  This move allows the project to be read from the city as two contrasting systems that mask and spread the light. 


Below the cantilever, adjacent to the sidewalk, a pool separates the building from the city symbolic of the Danube that previously divided Buda and Pest.  This pool not only serves as a threshold one must cross between the city and the building, but as a light-spreading lens.  The small perforations of notes on the wall of the second panel bring refracted natural light into the subterranean experimental theater, and to spread artificial light from the experimental theater performances to the street and into the city.


The curvilinear forms of the experimental theater seating follow the same logic as the light-spreading lofted forms of the second linguistic system holding the building’s program above.  However, the translucent loft forms above span through thin air.  As the building sets into the site and carves into the earth, the lofted spans negotiate through the ground.  Just as sound waves have different attributes when traveling through air as opposed to earth, so does the appearance of the lofted system.  Furthermore, the panels meet the earth and contain the dividing pool of water, drying up the river to exposing a fluid landscape for the experimental performances.


Natural light is captured through the translucent roof forms and spread throughout the building.  Artificial light supplements natural light causing the forms to glow.  Illuminated color is used as an emotional trigger, relating to performances and reflecting the sound that occupies the building’s open atmosphere.  This colored light is seen throughout the project as the music is heard, and spills out onto the public street affecting the city.  The project is conceived as a small piece of enlightenment set within a dark and dense urban condition.  Just as music was present as a bright spot throughout Budapest’s dark history, the Bartok Center for Music is meant to be a glowing, light spreading beacon in the city, contrasting the existing situation and bringing a special quality to the culture of the community through light and sound, architecture and music.