This is the fourth in a series of guest posts written by some of my favorite bloggers. To understand what this is about, you can read this post: http://bit.ly/90Sss3

This one in particular was written by the cool and super fun Bob Borson. He is a Dallas Architect, who loves modernism, writer of  life of an architect – He`s AIA, Leed AP, NCARB certified, & reigning AIA Young Architect of the Year (2009). Bob may also be found on Twitter @bobborson .

Harmony it’s nice to say because it has a hard consonant sound at the beginning and a soft vowel sound at the end. That resonates with me because the word sounds like what it means – a pleasing arrangement of parts. That could mean building massing, the colors in a painting, a combination of notes within a chord, etc. Harmony is a word I rarely use but if I slow down enough to think about it, it might actually be the most appropriate word that describes my life.

I am an architect – but more specifically I am a designer and a communicator. I rely on my ability to find harmony and balance in the relationship of things, whether it is the shape of buildings, the open space around those buildings, material choices, patterns, etc. and on and on. I literally deal with harmony all day, every day. When I sat down to write this post, I sat here looking at the blank screen and started to process my thoughts, think about how much I should write, how the text would sit on the page, what images would I use, how those images could pause the story, interrupt the block of text, etc. and on and on. After a while, I started to think about harmony in a different way, one that doesn’t have anything to do with what I do as an architect. This brings me back to my childhood and to musical things.

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Music has been a significant contributor in my life – particularly during my formative years. My mother was a music teacher, sang in a group that recorded some very famous and well known songs, and we had musical instruments literally in every room of our house. At one point, we had the following:

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Upright Piano
Baby Grand Piano
Three-Tiered Organ
French Horn
Oboe
Clarinet
Bass Clarinet
Tenor Saxophone
Baritone Saxophone
Marimba
Loads of percussive instruments

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My mother had perfect pitch at one point in her life and her overwhelming musical abilities were delivered into her three children. I was able to play every one of those instruments except for the french horn and the oboe, although I was never very good at the piano. I am surprised looking over that list as I typed it that it included so many instruments … and I hated playing them. HATED THEM. I am a little ashamed to admit that now but at the time, it wasn’t very cool to be in band and I did not want to be labeled by the other kids. So at one point, I told my mom – the music teacher – that I did not want to be in the band anymore. This declaration stung her and she responded by saying I could never go into a room that had a musical instrument in it if I did decide to quit.     What?!     Sounds harsh and she denied saying it when I brought it up years later but I think I understand the message she was trying to make. It wasn’t music or band that I hated, it was the stigma that came along with being in the high school band that I hated. So what does this have to do with harmony? I’m getting there, just setting the table a bit.

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I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t listening to music. I grew up listening to jazz standards recorded from the 1930’s through the 1960’s. It was complicated music – not easily processed, didn’t have a “hook” that was easily reproduced. Have you ever tried to whistle Miles Davis, Charlie Parker or John Coltrane? It’s impossible. Listening to that type of music, and playing music for as long as I had, taught me how to critically listen to music – a combination of notes. I would break apart the different instruments and focus on the line the bass was playing, mentally recreate a drum beat, how the different musical instruments had their own special parts. Then I would reassemble them all in my mind, putting them back together one at a time and see how they complimented one another… how they fit, matched, or contrasted with other specific parts. The parallels between music and architecture isn’t lost on me. There is very little difference between the two:

massing = music
open space = sound or no sound
materials = instruments
patterns = rhythms

Being able to assemble parts musically and architecturally is a process and harmony is the artistic interpretation of that process – clearly there is good harmony and bad harmony. It is interesting to note that I knew I wanted to be an architect when I was 5 or 6 years old, about the same time I started playing on the instruments laying about the house. Did I know how large a role the concept of harmony would play in my life? No, but maybe my mother did. She always wanted me to become a musician but I think she was proud that I became an architect.

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Bob Borson

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