Architecture as an instrument

Here is a very sharp text from Hertzberger on referring architecture to an ‘instrument’

“When you have a dwelling, a living unit, it changes considerably within 15 years. It may start with a couple, then they have children, then the children leave – it’s a constant state of change. Another way to approach this is the difference between an apparatus and an instrument. An apparatus is a thing – a coffee machine or a shaver, a thing based on the one thing it’s made to do – to make good coffee or whatever. A shaver is completely designed for cutting hair. But an instrument – like a musical instrument – is a thing that incites you to put your own ideas into it. A musical instrument gives you the challenge to do what you think you should do. And I want to make my buildings more like instruments and less like apparatuses.” (1)

“ A (musical) instrument essentially contains as many possibilities of usage as uses to which it is put – an instrument must be played. Within the limits of the instrument, it is up to the player to draw what he can from it, within the limits of his own ability. Thus the instrument and the player reveal to each other their respective abilities to complement and fulfil one another. Form as instrument offers the scope for each person to do what he has most of heart, and above all to do it his own way “ (2)

Architecture can operate as an instrument for various agencies – social, political, cultural and at multiple scales – public and domestic. To give an example at the domestic scale, I want to mention about the balcony we appropriated recently at our home during lockdown. This part of the balcony (image below) was used as a storage space for many years since I moved to this house. The negotiation of space between different members of the family forced us to carve this space as a refuge during the lockdown. This space is connected to my bedroom, so it is sort of private. Even though we have a bigger balcony in the house, this little space (4’ x 4’) became an ‘instrument’ to take refuge from the house itself. Now we have also started growing few plants here. This is a good reminder to me, on how a small place can also add a lot of value. We spend a lot of time here now – having tea, reading books. There are 8 houses in our apartment which have exactly the same balcony detail, out of which may only 2-3 houses are actively using that space. And we are only one to add a few plants to it. This unused balcony “challenged us to do what you think you should do”. Any architecture needs active participation, like a musical instrument has to be ‘played’. And may be its design’s responsibility to embed the potential to ‘play’.

(1) Source : . Accessed on Sep 14, 2020 
(2) Lessons for Students in Architecture, Herman Herzberger, 1991 Edition, Page 170