Sounds Like a City

by Michael R. Allen

Think about this on your way home from work, or on your weekend walk to the neighbor’s house: If your block were a song, how would it sound? What does the setback of each house sound like? How about the distance between houses? Vacant lots?

Building heights, styles, forms, fenestration and materials all create metaphoric rhythms and harmonies in the essays of architectural critics. Try to make the metaphors into true translation of architecture into music. If you live in an older part of a city, you will likely find discordant notes, varied rhythms and strange tempos. These may become in your mind a coherent composition, or they may seem like an improvised structure created by a free jazz ensemble. No matter how few houses remain on a block, some song emerges. Even the bad new buildings can be “played” in the mind.

Start to imagine blocks as songs, neighborhoods as operas, the city as the whole range of possible musical expressions. While this may seem far-fetched, I refuse to believe that such information is not embedded in the great architecture of my block, my neighborhood and my city.