Music for architectures
Stefano Casciani Can you describe the evolution of your architectural work for music?
Renzo Piano There are many affinities between architecture and music. It’s not like what they always say – that music is the most rarefied and immaterial of the arts, and architecture is the most material. In fact, they are two extremes that end up touching each other. You think that music is immaterial, but it’s not true.Music is made of vibrating chords, of reverberating sound boxes; it is the very essence of materiality.
You have a longstanding interest in the poetry of sound, then?
When I was 16, my real ambition was to be a musician. I failed because I was not good enough, but it taught me a lot. As soon as you try playing the trumpet, saxophone, violin or any other instrument, you realize that music is material. Music is vibrating matter. It has structure, too, a primary, secondary and tertiary structure. It has warp, woof and fabric; it has colour and grain – everything that architecture has. Most of all, it has the same need for certainties and mathematical precision. Architecture and music move on an almost geometric terrain; they feed on mathematical or scientific certainties – then of course they both enjoy ignoring them. Both have the same desire for order and for disorder.
Have your projects been focused more on order or disorder?
I have always loved music and, for some reason that escapes me, I have always had friends who are musicians. I don’t see this constant reference to instruments and sound boxes a metaphor; it is real. I have been living inside these instruments for 25 years; we learned then, as you do when you are young, that music is sound, and it is true. Order always prevails, as it should, save for the fact that it was systematically disregarded whenever possible. It may not even really be a disregard, but more a filling of the voids, filling in those shadowy areas left by any rational process.
In this sense, there was a major step up in scale with the auditorium in
Yes, because here we are in the dimension of urban planning.
Let’s go back to the project: how important are acoustics in a project like this?
The best acoustics experts are the musicians themselves. When you work with acoustics, you realize that as long as you speak of reverberation times, sound intensity and clarity of sound, they are all measurable factors.
You take the instruments and measure them; you make analogical models, and then you also make scale models. When you enter into the far more profoundly musical side of it – the colour of sound, its warmth and its temperature, then you are entering the world of the debatable. You start working on the sequences; you start deciding to increase the weight of all those suspended panels – which you must have seen in
Is modern construction technology suited to these needs of musical interpretation?
When speaking of live music, of natural, not amplified sound, then we have to say that the laws of physics are still those of the speed of sound and the distances covered. We are governed by very precise physical laws, and because of this there is no way you can create a rectangular, shoebox structure when you have 3,000 listeners, because the last listener would inevitably have echoes that disturb the clarity of the sound.
I have often used wood, but not always. In
The difference with amplified acoustics is that, when you reach certain levels, all performers have their own instrumentation. Even the amplification system becomes part of the instrumentation; it becomes an instrument. In certain pieces of modern music, the amplification is not there to correct the bad acoustics in the hall; it is there because it is part of the instrumentation. There is a piece by Pierre Boulez called Répond that consists in instruments speaking at one another’s extreme, creating echoes between them. So when recording, returning and playing on the echoes, the amplification comes into play not as a corrective of music but as a creative instrument. You are no longer working with the live sound but with the interpretation the performer wants to give to the composition. In
Was the decision to divide the three theatres taken for practical, psychological or more esoteric reasons?
It comes from a long way back and was already part of a plan that we later altered, adding the auditorium of the 3,000-seat hall on the outside and many rehearsal rooms… the dimension of the building, you could say. The stringed-instrument reasoning is always there: it is not a metaphor; it is true. These halls are large musical instruments, but instead of producing sound, they capture it and return it enriched. Going back to the step up in scale you mentioned earlier, but also the step up in quality: the great hall in
How does the project relate to the fact that even in the old Flaminio district people can now consider themselves in the city centre of a rapidly expanding
I thought it was clever to place the theatre in this area because in sustainable city growth, which people are trying to gain experience in today, this growth – which I would call implosive, in which the city tends to complete itself rather than expand – fills the black holes.
Now I am looking forward to the planting of five or six hundred trees, as planned, because the site is not complete and this is a very important element. When seen as a whole, the flora of the nearby Villa Glori comes down the slope and invades this whole area, completing the ‘archaeological/architectural park’
Was there something about the natural morphology of the site that prompted your choice for the external form of the halls?
I say again, what there was – and it was strong – was the idea of a musical instrument. Those spaces were basically designed from the inside.
The other rational, traditional path of modern architecture?
Life is complex. With great pains you eventually discover everything architecture represents, and of course, at that stage, and at a certain age, you cannot be so foolish as to start fantasizing about sound. Instead you follow sound scientifically and only scientifically. Wood sprang to mind when I reached the roof, the external shell, because it has the right frequency. I fought for a year with the officials because they said it could not be done. There is a wooden structure and the timber is laid at an angle; it is curved because that is normal, because it works better. And for the ‘skin’ of the roof surface, in particular, it was equally normal to use lead, for at least a couple of reasons. The first is a ‘Roman’, semantic one. Lead is the right material for domes; even Michelangelo’s dome is lead. It is the material used for
Of course, the interior must also be insulated against the noise of a helicopter or truck going by. Clearly, lead had this dual valence – one of acoustic protection and the other semantic. This was the process; you go from the inside out, or from the outside in, at least ten, a hundred times. The formal logic was never biomorphic – it just came. All that was always imagined (and cannot be seen yet) totally immersed in vegetation.
What happens next?
It will not be easy to leave the project. I was still wandering around the site on the day before the inauguration and I felt like Quasimodo looking for a corner inside Notre Dame to sleep. In a few months, the work will finally be completed and the future will be very much in the hands of this contraption’s multifaceted ability to adapt to music and to pieces of music.
Will the managers be capable of using this ‘contraption’ well?
Luciano Berio is certainly one of the few people in the world capable of having an overall vision of music. He has culture and a history as a composer and musician. He has stepped into the memory of music and searched in folk music. Music, however, must be music. Rubbish is rubbish, and the true difference is not between ‘high’ and ‘low’ music. Luciano has this great ability to grasp the variations, the complexity of music, but he is obviously and firmly entrenched in its defence.
Won’t some of the non-musical uses proposed for the auditorium prove to be too much of a disturbance? I found myself in a frozen-food sales convention on one tour.
We shall see. There was an excessive proliferation of initiatives in the run up to the full opening. Now the creative management is on site, and the real programme has begun. We shall watch carefully; if chaos erupts, we shall set ourselves alight in the square. They even held the premiere of Gangs of New York there and Martin Scorsese was delighted. What matters is the music, and it will matter!
Entrevista aparecida en el número de la Revista Domus de abril de 2003. Las fotografías fueron tomadas de la web, de google earth y del mismo número de la revista, tomadas por el fotógrafo Richard Bryant/Arcaid.