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The Instrument of Architects

It’s 9 o’clock on a Saturday evening, and I’m sitting there, in a “New York state of mind”.  If you’ve figured out the references, then you’re a Billy Joel fan like me.  He’s an incredibly gifted entertainer, and he does it all while anchored to a bench banging away on ivory keys.  But what you can’t see while listening to any of his songs or attending the shows, is how effortlessly his hands sweep across the keys to produce the awesome sounds you hear.  He can do this because of the dexterity and muscle memory in his fingers and hands.  He’s knows the 88 keys so well that it’s second nature.  Similarly, architects rely on their own form of dexterity.

As a musician reading sheet music, you rely on your hand’s dexterity to learn the song.  Play it enough times, and the brain commits it to memory and almost seems to store that memory in your hand.  As you know the song well enough, you can begin to explore other notes in the same key.  As a result, you can play for hours, expressing whatever comes to mind – improving sound and melody every time you hit a wrong note.  This type of playing is referred to as improvisation, and as architects we’re “playing improv” all the time.  As an architect, think about the last brainstorming session you had, cranking out layer after layer of sketch, sweeping your hand in all directions across the page to produce an idea, and creating new or improved ideas from previous sketches.  After 5 years of school (and then some) you’re so finely “tuned” to the mental sequences of the design process, that it seems like your hands take over and possess a mind of their own – this is an architect’s dexterity.  Combine that with a little bit of creativity and a few coffees, and you have no boundaries as to what you can do (until a client tells you that you can’t).  Both architects and musicians rely on their “dexterity” in order to quickly express an idea.

Some nights I like sit down at my own digital keyboard and jam away on a lengthy improv session, or try to memorize intros to popular songs.  The video below is my recent “muscle memory”, and attempt at emulating the great Billy Joel with the intro to “New York state of mind”.