Samuel Shing Yat Tam, a classically trained pianist and cellist, designed ‘an unconventional music complex in a soon-to-be renewed industrial outskirts’. Paraphasing Bernard Tschumi, events or activities are what truly define a building, rather than the eye-catching form or fixed function that characterizes present-day concert halls.
Can you (briefly) explain your choice of subject?
As a classically trained pianist and cellist, I decided to pursue my graduation thesis under the public building group, which happened to focus on music during the year of my enrollment. I was keen to explore how these two disciplines would interact and discover in what ways my knowledge as a part-time musician could provide insights into the design of a cultural venue dedicated to musical performances.
Initially, I had some doubts about the site prescribed by the studio brief. I did not understand why we were restricted to a particular area. However, I soon realized that architects often work with constraints and that these limitations can present unique opportunities for creative problem-solving. In retrospect, the unique site context has driven the conceptual development and added different layers to my design. Despite my initial hesitation, I have fallen in love with the site, and I am glad to have proposed a spatial intervention that takes full advantage of its potential.
What or who are your sources of inspiration and can you briefly explain this?
Bernard Tschumi is a significant source of inspiration for my project. His notational approach to design has influenced the way I conceptualize the spatial organization and atmospheres of my music complex. I drew from his Manhattan Transcripts, in which the built environment was expressed as an urban narrative through the movement of a person. Even though these theoretical propositions were completed in the early 1980s, I considered them timeless in their relevance to architecture. I sought to reinvent the canonical work by incorporating an audio dimension into the vignette sequence, treating it as a tool to enhance the sensory experience of my architectural promenade. Additionally, Tschumi reminded me that events or activities are what truly define a building, rather than the eye-catching form or fixed function that characterizes present-day concert halls.
State and (briefly) describe the key moment in your graduation project.
The pivotal moment in the project came when I followed my tutors’ advice to attach an artificial landscape to the building masses. The undulating surface was originally intended to serve a functional purpose by concealing the car parks and loading areas underneath. However, as the design progressed, it became clear that it had significant conceptual value as well. The landscape creates a dynamic entrance experience to the upper-level public spaces, acting as a centrifugal device and drawing the internal happenings of the concert volumes outward. This design move also facilitates a dialogue between the music complex and the remaining green spaces of the industrial district. Ultimately, the incorporation of the artificial landscape transforms the music complex into a public park reserved not only for concertgoers but also local residents. The architectural proposal hinges on this additional element, without which the design would not have been as powerful.
Can you (briefly) explain what design(ing) means to you?
As an architect, I firmly believe that we are not artists who can do whatever he or she likes. Unlike fine art, architectural design has significant socio-environmental, political and economic impacts, particularly when a building is meant to serve the general public. This is why, despite being a classical music enthusiast, I did not opt for a grand proscenium to house a prestigious orchestra in my music complex. Instead, I forced myself to react to the needs of the site by offering more intimate spaces that cater to amateur musicians and popular musical genres. Besides, I regard designing as the translation of abstract theories into a concrete physical reality that can be perceived and felt even by those without architectural training. In my experience, we tend to come up with profound notions and complex objectives during the research phase, which can be difficult to ground. Meanwhile, the intent of an architect is futile if nobody can comprehend it from the final spatial outcome. For this reason, I have always tried to ensure that my design choices are a continuation of my research and that they are relevant to a greater audience. Ultimately, a good design is one that connects with people and offers society long-lasting benefits.
What hope / do you want to achieve as a designer in the near and / or the distant future?
Right now, my greatest desire is to see my first project come to fruition as soon as possible. I look forward to being part of the entire design process, from conceptualization to construction. While I may have been taught to become a radical visionary during my school years and a mere visualizer for interesting ideas, I understand that being a paper architect can only go so far. The world needs less theorists, but more pragmatic persons who can bring their skills to the table and create usable spaces that will stand the test of time.
The project positions music making as a public event and how one can engage architecture with performing arts as an important part of civic life and urban milieu. A perceptual approach has been proposed to challenge the static image of present-day concert halls and the negative stereotype of Binckhorst, a former industrial suburb of The Hague.
Goethe once argued architecture is frozen music. The same can also be said for concert halls, presenting themselves as an old school, monolithic, institutionalized black box. How far can we “defrost” the architectural type, which is not as fluid as the music performances it houses? Likewise, Binckhort’s industrial settlement has made up the condition of horizontal lobotomy, which describes the all but disconnection between the inner workings of the buildings and the contextual surrounding by facades devoid of public manifestation. What can be done to reverse the monotonous impression of the built environment? Can a music venue benefit the site from an urbanistic or infrastructural point of view?
Inspired by empiricist theories, the project acknowledges the role of sensation in shaping our spatial experiences and freeing architecture from its physical reading. It works with one’s movement in space to bring about variations in the perception of both architecture and the urban setting. It also reacts to the two historic heritage together with their greenscapes, which are currently subsumed under the homogeneous industrial fabrics of Binckhorst. This drives the development of a series of processional sequences or programmatic splices stretching across two perpendicular axes in close proximity to a major trunk road. They serve to foster a explorative journey at the centre of Binckhorst along which residents, concertgoers, student and performing artists are exposed to different site-specific visual and auditory moments. They are expected to embark on a multi-sensorial adventure which radiates from a bustling pedestrian arcade to serene composition rooms, mysterious passageways, festive auditorium, intimate salon and playful roadside plazas.
Apart from the lines of movement ramifying across the building ground and corporealizing the architectural form, a multi-purpose artificial landscape is introduced to encourage an outward diffusion of internal events from the deconstructed concert hall volumes, blurring the boundaries between the exterior and the interior. It also augments and initiates a dialogue of the aforementioned green elements of Binckhorst. Most thematic segments are defined primarily by their skin of dyed extruded metal pipes, which not only bring about the dynamic atmospheric changes, but also improve the thermal and acoustical performance of the music venue without fully sacrificing its desired openness. Ultimately, the proposal is meant to transcend its primary function as a niche event space and become a public node bridging the existing urban islands. In face of future residential development, it strives to add a tinge of color to the uniform streetscape and improves the accessibility of pedestrians in the area.