’Parametricism’ film by Patrik Schumacher and Rosey Chan

'Music is liquid architecture; architecture is frozen music,' reads Goethe's famous quote, and the recent collaboration between Patrik Schumacher and Rosey Chan (he the architect, author and director of Zaha Hadid Architects; she the pianist, composer and curator) provides some fascinating proof. Their new film offers a spectacular audio-visual presentation of Schumacher's study into parametricism - the avant-garde architectural style that he has identified, which is rooted in highly advanced parametric design systems. Originally produced for the Elvis Zapp Urban Film Festival at the Maysles Institute in Harlem, New York, the abstract animation is perfectly matched by Chan's music, especially composed for the project.

W*:  How did the collaboration come about?
Rosey Chan: After a series of dialogues about music, architecture and film, Patrik presented me with the film, which was due to be screened in Harlem. I had only two days to create something, but I connected to it very quickly.
Patrik Schumacher: We'd been exchanging ideas about the social purpose of music and its most potent application as film music - particularly in the abstract art films of Walter Ruttmann and Oskar Fischinger from the 1920s and 1930s, where music plays a crucial part. Ruttmann's collaboration with the composer Max Butting for his 1921 'Lichtspiel Opus 1' was an inspiration for our collaboration. So when I received the unexpected invitation to contribute to the EZUFF last July, we jumped on the opportunity.

Could you describe the project in a few words?
PS: The idea is to present the fundamental new elements and dynamic design processes of contemporary parametricism.

How long did the process take, from development through the final execution?
PS: This all had to happen within a few days. But for me this is the attempt to condense 15 years of collective design research into a paradigmatic sequence of animations, something I had been doing in my recent lectures on parametricism. What is new is the introduction of music instead of my explanatory voice-over. The music turns a lecture into a film and thus totally transforms the mood and mode of engagement from intellect to intuition.

The piece consists of four parts: line, plane, volume and urbanism. How do these sections differ, from both a music and design point of view?
RC: I took my inspiration entirely from the visuals in each section. The film has very strong rhythmic elements, which created a structure for me to work within.
PS: The sequence is reminiscent of Wassily Kandinsky's 'point and line to plane'. The film shows how parametricism radically reconstitutes the elements of geometry and architecture, a dynamic system that generates complex, variegated forms resulting from the interplay of forces. The medium of film - dramatised via music - is thus the most congenial medium to present the essential thrust of the new epochal style. The last sequence, entitled 'Urbanism', hints at how these new abstract principles might be applied in redesigning the built environment.

Parametricism has its roots in advanced parametric design systems. Does the music follow a comparable path in terms of its composition?
PS: The digital design tools of parametricism that we started to introduce into architecture in the 1990s have their origins in film and animation. It's true that parametricism is being spurred by these new computational methodologies and possibilities. However, the ambitions towards complexity, dynamism and fluidity that motivated our investment in new tools and skills existed prior to them and so are independent of them. Parametricism is a matter of aesthetic value that can also be explored by analogue means. So when Rosey was opting for the piano rather than the computer, I was very curious.

How was the music composed? What instruments are used?
RC: I wanted to use the piano in an experimental way, creating percussive effects that later could be used as a sound palette in the final mix. About half way through, I was looking around for something rather weighted to place inside the piano, on the strings - heavy enough to sit firmly and dampen the strings. I grabbed Patrik's 774-page book 'The Autopoiesis of 
Architecture', something I'd attempted, and failed, to read over the summer. So I was pleased to tell Patrik that his book was very useful.

In what way do you feel that music complements architecture and vice versa?
RC: Both music and architecture relate to form, tradition and also the fight against these elements - there is much tension to play with.
PS: Architecture has long since been called frozen music. The obvious link is the Pythagorean theory of harmonic 'musical' proportions that ruled all classical architecture. For me, in relation to contemporary architecture, the relationship lies in the parallel pursuit of making a complex, layered order perceptually palpable and cognitively tractable. I think the challenge for both architect and composer is to articulate a complex network of relations, whether it's a network of interrelated spaces or a network of sounds. In film, both visual and audible orders engage in a synergetic amplification that allows audiences to gain an intuitive grasp of a complex social world.

Ellie Stathaki is the Architecture & Environment Director at Wallpaper*. She trained as an architect at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece and studied architectural history at the Bartlett in London. Now an established journalist, she has been a member of the Wallpaper* team since 2006, visiting buildings across the globe and interviewing leading architects such as Tadao Ando and Rem Koolhaas. Ellie has also taken part in judging panels, moderated events, curated shows and contributed in books, such as The Contemporary House (Thames & Hudson, 2018), Glenn Sestig Architecture Diary (2020) and House London (2022).