As with Moretti’s visual itinerary of Bernini’s Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (above), or Erle Loran’s analyses of Cézanne, composition here seems to be engaging the restless eye of the viewer in a continuous scanning of the construction, focusing and re-focusing on elements competing for hierarchical attention while expanding the visual field beyond the building into its various contexts. This is distinctly different than traditional concepts of composition, especially in architecture, that typically operate as a reinforcement of a building’s programmatic hierarchies and public engagement.
For example, the primary facades of most of Werner Seligmann’s buildings rarely include a “way in.” Like much of the work of Frank Lloyd Wright, entrance is sublimated while the elevations tease us with prospects of destination. Seligmann’s buildings almost always seem to be “looking out”—belvederes to spectacles located somewhere behind us.
Perhaps, then, the musicality of Seligmann’s buildings can be most discovered in their apertures and fenestration: their size, locations, frames, composition on a surface, and even their transparencies, translucencies, and opacities. Even while vertical surfaces are inevitably representative of their interior spatial distributions as they rub up against exterior contexts, one can imagine reading these surfaces as if they were musical scores. For instance, if an elevation might be seen as equivalent to a musical staff—and inevitably scaled with ledger lines of brick coursing or panelized surfaces—the size of the windows seem to register a hierarchy of values, almost as if from whole notes to eighth notes to grace notes.
The inevitable silhouettes included above the principal facade plane read as if they were upper-register pitches, flourishes gesturing toward the skies; while the frequent elements tucked into the ground, below the principal facade plane (in Science Building II and the Willard Buildings, for instance) seem to anchor the facades with an earthbound, bass register. At least it’s entertaining to speculate.
Circulation is scaled by the cadence of motion. Architectural scales—as with the musical varieties—provide the rules of composition: in limiting our choices, they free us within the potentially unbounded limits of our inventiveness. And Seligmann was always alert to the importance of scales—urban, neighboring, personal, and so on—their limits and potentials. One thinks of Igor Stravinsky’s lessons:
"As for myself, I experience a sort of terror when, at the moment of setting to work and finding myself before the infinitude of possibilities that present themselves, I have the feeling that everything is permissible to me. If everything is permissible to me, the best and the worst; if nothing offers me any resistance, then any effort is inconceivable, and I cannot use anything as a basis, and consequently that every undertaking becomes futile.
Will I then have to lose myself in this abyss of freedom? To what shall I cling in order to escape the dizziness that seizes me before the virtuality of this infinitude? However, I shall not succumb. I shall overcome my terror and shall be reassured by the thought that I have the seven notes of the scale and its chromatic intervals at my disposal, that strong and weak accents are within my reach, and that in all of these I possess solid and concrete elements which offer me a field of experience just as vast as the upsetting and dizzy infinitude that had just frightened me. It is into this field that I shall sink my roots, fully convinced that combinations which have at their disposal twelve sounds in each octave and all possible rhythmic varieties promise me riches that all the activity of human genius will never exhaust."
Introduction page 13