When Claude Debussy said “music is the arithmetic of sounds as optics is the geometry of light,” he probably never thought that architecture could be the basis of music. At this year’s Illinois Institute of Technology College of Architecture’s Open House, architecture will give rise to music when, for the first time, Mies van der Rohe’s Crown Hall will be strung and played like a gigantic instrument.
Each year, the College of Architecture reinvents Crown Hall for its Open House. One year, Kentucky Blue Grass covered part of the floor, another year student art was hung on monolithic glass walls. This year’s May 11 Open House will concentrate on the immaterial qualities of the famous building.
“Investigating Crown Hall in terms of its physical qualities – the glass, the steel, etc. – has always led to material-conscience Open Houses,” says Mark Schendel, chairman of the 2001 Open House Committee. “This year we wanted to look into it’s immaterial qualities and so we decided to focus on its relationship to light and sound.”
To discover the sound of Crown Hall, the College of Architecture looked to the Chicago-based group of musicians, dancers and artists calls the MASS Ensemble. In the weeks before the Open House, the Mass Ensemble will string Crown Hall with 24,000 linear feet of polished brass wire that will create the “Crown instrument.” When played, the wire strings will cause compression waves to resonate throughout the structure and Mies’ masterwork will speak for the first time
“We were intrigued by the Ensemble’s ambition to ‘play’ architecture,” says Schendel. “We were immediately convinced that Crown Hall could become a musical instrument and that MASS Ensemble could harness the unique acoustical signature of the building.”
MASS Ensemble is internationally known for large-scale architectural performance installations where buildings are transformed into gigantic stringed instruments. They have “played” The Field Museum in Chicago, the Prudential Building in Boston, the CNN Building in Atlanta and the World Trade Center in New York City.
“Working in Mies van der Rohe’s Crown Hall along with architecture students from IIT’s College of Architecture, allows us to bring the concept of architectural instrumentation to a new level,” says Bill Close, co-artistic director of MASS Ensemble. “The idea of relating architecture to music as a philosophy is being greatly enriched by this special project.”
Open House is a month-long annual event designed to showcase student and faculty research and act as a reunion for College of Architecture alumni. This year’s open house will feature thousands of student drawings and models suspended in midair by brass wires attached to the ceiling. Student work created digitally will be projected on sheets of optical light film (OLF), a 3M product.
The film has other interesting optical qualities. When standing directly in front of the film, it acts as a mirror, reflecting the viewer. When the viewer walks by the film and looks into it at an angle, the projected student work can be seen.
“Crown Hall, being the monument that it is, has been scrutinized and analyzed in every way —it’s material, it’s proportions, it’s relation to the modernist movement, it’s transparency — but it has never been acoustically or harmonically analyzed,” says Schendel.
Mies van der Rohe built Crown Hall in 1956. At the time, he was the Dean of IIT’s College of Architecture. Rohe is responsible for designing the Main Campus which has # original Rohe buildings. Crown Hall is slated to be added to the National Registry of National Architectural Landmarks in May 2001.
The opening performance by the MASS Ensemble in Crown Hall will be on May 11 at 7:00 p.m. and is free and open to the public. Performances will continue throughout the month and will be held on May 17-19 and May 24-26 at 8:00 p.m. Tickets are $10 and $15. Call (312) 243-2366 or visit http://www.earthharp.com. Crown Hall is located at 3360 S. State Street.