Material + Force = Form

Elena Baranes (website)
Yale School of Architecture
1103a: Advanced Design Studio: Patkau
Brief: Brief: Material + Force = Form: Musical Instrument Museum for Yale  
Faculty: John Patkau (website), Timothy Newton


What is it like to be in a room with an instrument? How can a person understand something visually that is meant to be heard? While one instrument may be best understood in a shower of direct sunlight, another may ask simply to peer out around a dark corner into a massive empty space. I began my project by addressing these questions, conceiving of the museum’s form from the instrument out. I used the properties of the individual instruments in the collection—how they are played, constructed, and their role in an orchestra in order to extract a method of communicating the experience of each instrument’s performance using light, shadow, and the relationship of the viewer to the instrument. I maintained the instrumental categories established by Yale’s current collection—percussion, keyboard, wind, and strings—in order to create highly-controlled spaces of exemplary display, through which a person might gain a sensibility about the rhythm, vibration, performance, and sound of each instrument. As the exhibition diagram below shows, open storage surrounds these exemplary displays of each instrument type. This method of open storage showcases the breadth of the museum’s collection, additionally allowing for the communication of contextual and historical information, as well as overlap between instrument types.

In order to accommodate potential future shifts in musical typology and exhibition strategy, this method of display requires a completely open floor plan that allows for change within an existing shell. This necessity dictated the building’s material and structural system, which achieve the spans necessary, while still maintaining the clarity and minimal nature of the museum’s diagram. The size and positioning of each box, or lantern, is modulated both by the square footage necessary to display the associated instrument type and by the surrounding site conditions. The building’s massing and siting respond to two dominant open space strategies on Yale’s campus—first, that of large public lawns, continuing the cross-campus axis across the street and providing a ceremonial termination point at the museum’s front door; and second, that of internal courtyards, breaking down into smaller open spaces that run between the museum’s masses.

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