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Kraftwerk on stage: architects and musicians.

Arts & Culture

Architects in the Music World

The general public may know more about musicians than about architects; after all, it’s a lot easier to share a song far and wide than a building. But, both are both creative fields, so it may come as no surprise how much crossover there is between them.

August 9, 2019

Ah, summer… Time to enjoy Seattle’s magnificent weather and ponder things such as, why are there so many references to buildings and architecture in old Talking Heads songs? Did David Byrne study architecture?

Well, it turns out that the answer is “no,” but, fellow Head, Jerry Harrison, did indeed study architecture at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. He was a student there in the early ‘70s when he joined Jonathan Richman’s band, The Modern Lovers. The Modern Lovers petered out before becoming famous, so Jerry went back to the GSD to continue his studies, only to be recruited a second time by a bunch of art students from RISD to join their band. He arrived in time to help write tracks for their second album, “More Songs About Buildings and Food.” Of course. I don’t know if he ever finished his architecture degree.

Who else? Maybe the musicians who wrote and recorded “The Wall”? Sure enough, three of the original members of Pink Floyd — Roger Waters, Nick Mason and Richard Wright — met at architecture school in London in the late ‘60s. Although they never completed architecture school, by the time “The Wall” hit the concert stage, it featured construction (and then demolition) of a wall on stage, and was designed by the architect Mark Fisher.

Isn’t a career in music a riskier choice than architecture? It seems like it. That’s why O’Shea Jackson, aka Ice Cube, got a degree in architectural drafting from the Phoenix Institute of Technology before joining N.W.A. in the late ‘80s. Good to have a back-up plan.

Other musicians who took the architecture school highway to rock ‘n roll fame include:

  • Art Garfunkel: Maybe that explains the Simon & Garfunkel song, “So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright”.
  • Weird Al Yankovic: Cal-Poly grad and DJ at the school’s radio station, KCPR.
  • Seal: Worked at several firms in London before bursting on to the music scene in 1990.
  • John Denver: Studied at Texas Tech. With his love of the outdoors, and dislike of cities, it’s easy to imagine him designing sustainable cabins in the mountains.
  • Kraftwerk: There’s something very architectural about Kraftwerk. They must have a connection to architecture, right? Sure enough, Ralf Hutter, one of the founders of the band, was trained as an architect. And the father of the other main founder, Florian Schneider, was an architect from Dusseldorf named Paul Schneider-Esleben. He was known for the Cologne Bonn Airport. Ironic that airplane travel is one mode of transportation that Kraftwerk did not write about.

Mary Weiss, lead singer of the Shangri-Las in the 1960s took a different track. The group had their first hit when she was only 16 and broke up when she was 20. Now what? She could never go home anymore. So, she found work in an architecture firm, first as an accountant and then working on commercial interiors projects.

Finally, here’s a short, in-progress list of songs related to architecture and design:

  • “My Favorite Buildings” – Robyn Hitchcock
  • “My City Was Gone” – The Pretenders
  • “This Must Be the Place” – Talking Heads
  • “Government Center” – Modern Lovers
  • “Minimal” – Pet Shop Boys
  • “Scandinavian Design” - Sparks
  • “Our House” - Madness
  • “Let’s Build a House” – The White Stripes
  • “In The Garden” – Van Morrison
  • “Textile Factory” – Emitt Rhodes
  • “Holly Park” – Emitt Rhodes
  • “Architecure and Morality” - OMD
  • “The Architect” – Jane Weaver
  • “Cool in the Pool” – Holger Czukay
  • “Mmmm…Skyscraper I Love You” - Underworld
  • “New Town” – Life Without Buildings
  • “Highways” – Jim Sullivan
  • “Burning Down the House” – Talking Heads
  • “Cities” – Talking Heads
  • “Architektur Ist Geiselnahme” – Einsturzende Neubauten


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