Music, Food, and Architecture

To engage the general public in architecture, I shall draw comparisons to daily art forms usually overlooked by the populace. Comparisons to architecture are seen in the most mundane subjects, but the parallels are enlightening to new ways of thinking. Everyday interactions with art to be examined are food and music, along with residential architecture. We as Americans, plow over these art forms while ignoring the wonderful background.

In the following discussion, I shall show the comparisons and contrasts to these subjects by illuminating the traditions of music, food, and architecture and showing how these art forms were built-up, respected, and then deconstructed, for the sake of speed and modernism. How can we combine tradition and modern ways to respect our past? Looking for a similar style of melding the nostalgia for simpler times and the modern lifestyle for the architecture of modest farmhouses, I equate punk blues music as part of the do it yourself ethos and respect for great American artists of the past. The other connection is a chance hearing on public radio, a story of highly regarded Parisian chefs leaving the overly traditional restaurants for more intimate, family oriented bistros with less overhead and more enjoyable work environments. I shall examine the garage band blues movement from Detroit, the French bistronomie Paris, and a study of utilitarian farmhouses in Southeastern Pennsylvania.

Having had a rabid interest in music since high school, I have tried to equate music to architecture more than once. The oft used phrase that "architecture is like frozen music," works for some levels of some music and architecture, but I feel this handcuffs description and alienates casual onlookers. Architecture and music styles change independent of each other and most importantly faster and slower than each other. Yes, rhythm, volume, and detail can be seen in each, but that is the end of similarities. The cycles of style in music can be every ten to fifteen years, while architecture can be forty or more years for a dominant style, seen in American perpendicular, Post-Modern, and the traditional Greek and Roman styles. I found the Detroit garage blues of the White Stripes. This band had created a new, full sound from the simple elements of guitar, drums, and voice and begun to turn the music world on its ear. The tradition of American blues with garage band and modern technology in the studio created a blended sound of an updated past, yet undoubtedly modern. Connected to the music of the White Stripes is the adherence to a simplistic color scheme that does not overwhelm the music. The monochromatic scheme aligns with the instrumentation of the band. Traditional forms of sound, familiar instruments, and a subdued dressing of color allow the modern portion of the music, topical lyrics, expanding guitar roles and sounds to push this music format to the forefront of contemporary American music. A student of American folk, country, and popular music, Jack White has connected the dots to draw his music future. Similarly, the modern farmhouse uses traditional forms, familiar details, and a simple color scheme to allow the modern portion of architecture to function with how we live in a less formal manner than even fifty years ago. This is the topical portion of architecture that has been forgotten by architects, that we can still use the great traditions of our past language, but incorporate the modern way in which we live to the houses that are built for today.

Driving to work after thinking of the music and architecture parallels for months, I happened upon a radio piece about Parisian chefs working in the Michelin System 3 star, ornate, formal restaurants that rejected the system and began their own more intimate restaurants. The movement is called bistronomie. Identifying with this movement, I investigated the traditions of French food and the disillusionment and defection of the highly rated chefs to smaller more pedestrian establishments, while still serving the traditional French fare. Not being able to experience the shift away from the Parisian dining experience first hand, we can see related items in this discussion. A less ornate, less formal, and more utilitarian movement was born.

The American palate however, has been decimated by fast food. The divergent paths of the French and American dining experience can be linked to this architectural model. The slap-dash production housing development, sprawling across treeless acres of former farms is just as unpleasant architecturally as a chain restaurant combo meal, wrapped in a non-biodegradable wrapper. I yearn to link the bistronomie trend in French cuisine to that of American contemporary architecture. These more preciously designed houses are where we live to connect our experiences without formal boundaries.

After driving by two dozen or so farmhouses on the way to work, I noticed that the same principles could be applied to residential architecture. Ranking, or the bay system, of farmhouses comes in 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, or 7 wide, in a very regular, manufactured/machined style. Simple entry details, porches & eave/cornice details augment the simple box architecture. These traditional elements are the similar ingredients that garage/punk blues and bistronomie employ. The deviation for these new urbane Pennsylvania farmhouses is in the lack of formalized spaces on the interior plan. These ultra-modern, up-to-date, utilitarian, urbane Pennsylvania farmhouses, or UPHouses, are the result of boiling down similar elements that have been selected in other art forms.

Again, after the explosion of the sizes of U.S. homes during the past forty years, and the economy crashing in 2008, smaller, more intimate housing seems to be the right direction. During this growth of housing, we as a society have become increasingly informal, but the housing has become more formal, aping European and high American traditions. A pared down architecture lacking the formality of the past, but including the forms and details of American/Southeastern Pennsylvania Farmhouses can be the same path that both music and food has taken discussed earlier in this article. Let us connect with what we like about American architecture and find a new way to design using those elements.

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