Design Studio Epsilon: Final Design Project

Through this project, I designed a music therapy centre combined with the community music centre.

Meaning of the title

The title ‘Tempo Rubato’ means ‘play freely’ in the musical term. Through research, I found that music therapy embraces the interaction with sounds and the use of music as a means of communication. Music can be a common language for people of all ages and backgrounds, and music therapy lets patients be themselves.

Site contexts

I started the design process with understanding the site contexts. There are numerous social housing estates around the site which may indicate great needs of a space for community engagement and inclusivity. This led me to design the building for the community members who have interests in music as well as for patients with physical and/or mental difficulties. The site is facing two roads with heavy traffic which may cause noise issues and the concern over the degree of privacy. Furthermore, there is a 1m drop from one end of the site to the tip of the site, so it was essential to address the existing topographic condition.

Concept

My concept was to explore the relationship between music and architecture. I approached this concept by logically dissecting music into key elements and then translating them into an architectural language.

Logics – translating music into architecture

I defined music consisting of rhythm, melody, tempo/time and chords, and matched them with architectural gestures; composition as rhythm, transition (flow) as melody, modularity as tempo, and verticality as chords. To begin with, I decided to come up with a typology of the music therapy/music practice room, which is to be arranged in a composition that plays with the flow of space vertically and horizontally.

Phenomenology – acoustic experience

I was also interested in the phenomenology of the space, especially the acoustic experience within space. I investigated how the form of space influences the experience of sound. I found that the reverberation time and the directions from which sound reaches a person are the keys to creating a sense of being surrounded by sounds. To achieve it, I concluded that having non-parallel surfaces within a room was the way to go.

Defining a module of the music therapy/music practice rooms

I explored the theory of sounds and music to find out the way to determine the room typology:

  1. Sound waves of particular tones are mathematically represented as sine curves with various amplitudes, and the curve changes as multiple tones are played together. I added sine curves of different notes together to produce a set of curves to play.
  2. The amplitudes of the sound waves have interval ratios based on the sound frequency. For example, if the tone of C has an amplitude of 1, the note of E has an amplitude of 1.26*. This informed the variations to the ceiling heights of the music rooms.
  3. In order to create rooms with non-parallel surfaces, I decided to create a continuous parametric surface that transitions from a generated curve (sound wave) to a straight line, indicating the sounds dispersing into the air resulting in the silence. This surface functions as a wall and ceiling, blurring the threshold between them. Since it is parametric form, the sounds bounce off in different directions, filling the entire room with resonance.
  4. The idea of verticality is expressed by stacking the music rooms with varying ceiling heights, implying the ‘chords’ consisting of different tones.

*rounding to 2nd decimal, according to the ratio to fundamental equal temperament

Materiality

After defining the overall form of the room type, I considered the materiality. The music rooms are carved out of the concrete mass and lined with CNC milled wooden blocks, timber waffle structure or flexible veneer panels, offering varying material densities and sound absorption rates. The external wall is the transparent brick wall that lets light in while blurring the view while maintaining a level of privacy and reduced noise level. The floor finish may be timber flooring or carpet, offering different sound qualities and affordances for activities undertaken (e.g. carpet encourages people to sit down more than timber floor).

Overall form

The overall form of the building is defined by the combination of concrete volumes, transparent glass brick skin and the triangulated glass roof. The idea of the triangulated glass roof came from the typology of the greenhouse (such as Thomas Heatherwick’s Bombay Sapphire) as there are vegetations on the ground floor. The solid, rectilinear external form facing heavy traffic is contrasted against the curvature of the glass roof skin, expressing a more welcoming atmosphere inside the building.

Ground floor

The ground floor has public areas such as a waiting space/open internal garden, cafe, music shop and a performance stage. There are staff office space, GP consultation rooms, a safe waiting room (when patients need quieter space) and music equipment storage space for fulfilling the pragmatic needs. The waiting space is functioning as an atrium that lets natural light to the ground floor. The ramps were utilised to match the floor levels to the surrounding ground levels.

Upper floors

The upper floors include staff lounge space, an open concert/workshop space, ensemble/band rehearsal zone (a large rehearsal space, a kitchenette and small sectional rehearsal spaces), open semi-outdoor music rooms, break-out spaces and numerous music rooms. There is no single slab per floor (ie. floor having mezzanines and ramps) to create a sense of movement and flow.

Rooftop / basement

The rooftop space consists of vegetation, sitting spaces and a concert stage. This space is accessible by stairs (north side) and by the lift (east side). On the basement, there is a recording studio and the walkway connected to the underground parking / outdoor performance stage.

Outdoor performance stage

On the south side of the site, there is the outdoor performance stage sunken into the ground. There is a stepped seating area for both visitors and the nearby residents to come and relax. The backside of the stepped roof over the performance stage also functions as a vegetated area, allowing people to climb up and explore as they wish.

The design was heavily informed by the concept of the relationship between music and architecture. The outcome reveals the warm, welcoming atmosphere that makes both music therapy patients and local community members come to explore the joy of music.

Lastly, I would like to thank my tutor Hella Wigge for the support and guidance throughout the semester. Without her feedback and encouragements, I wouldn’t have been able to reach the outcome that I envisaged.

A huge thanks to my friends in the studio and beyond, who helped me get through another busy semester. I was inspired by their designs and passions I saw in and outside of the studio.

For the research, the music therapy specialists at the University of Melbourne (Faculty of Fine Arts and Music) kindly assisted me with filling in surveys that informed the criteria for the spatial and pragmatic needs of the music therapy sessions. Thank you.

I also want to thank my mentors, especially Katsuto-san, Kevin and Adrian for valuable feedback from their objective perspectives.

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