Architecture Students Sound Off With Designs of Note

About 120 first-year University of Cincinnati architecture and interior design students are fine tuning their skills by fashioning musical instruments from cast-off dishwashers, refrigerators and stoves. 

And soon, they'll have to show real pluck by debuting their designs in a concert featuring their own, original compositions at 6:30 p.m., Wednesday, Jan. 22, in Room 4400 (the auditorium) of UC's College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning.

In the unusual assignment, beginning design students are learning the score when it comes to the challenges of their chosen profession:  Materials limitations, extreme creative demands, choreographing teamwork under deadline pressure, followed by a very public exhibition of their best efforts.  All are very common demands for working architects.

"The idea here is that students should stretch themselves beyond what they're accustomed to or comfortable with.  They need to look at the world around them with a critical eye.  We can learn a lot about design issues from everyday life, everyday objects.  We can learn the principles of design from cuisine, art, a movie, a magazine, a building, and yes, from old appliances," explained Marc Swackhamer, assistant professor of architecture, who added that music and architecture have a lot in common as creative endeavors. 

Swackhamer teaches the first-year architecture and interior design students along with David Lee Smith, professor of architecture; Jim Postell, associate professor of interior design; Melanie Swick, adjunct professor of architecture; Dennis Mann, professor of architecture; and Katherine McCormick, visiting assistant professor of architecture.

Will Yokel

Will Yokel

In addition to making musical instruments from the parts of disembowled appliances, the UC students, most of whom have little-to-no musical experience, are also permitted to use a few items from hardware stores.  And the resulting range of instruments is impressive: A saxophone of PVC pipe and sheet-metal keys; a harp fashioned from the body of an oven range, a guitar welded from the frame of a refrigerator as well as an array of chimes, zithers, xylophones, drums, whistles and more.

For instance, Pete Muessig of Wallkil, New York, created what looks to be some version of a "Mad Max" guitar with a super-tough body fashioned  and welded from a refrigerator frame.  But when Muessig and his roommates play, a casual listener would not know its humble origins by its sound.  Said Muessig, "I went and researched in the library as to how guitars are really made, the acoustic requirements, and I patterned my guitar on what's demanded for a typical guitar.  About three or four of us have played it in my dormroom."

Others admitted to instruments that didn't quite perform "on cue."  Justin Smith of Orlando, Florida, made a reed "woodwind" from copper piping that, he admits, "makes a sound more like a choo-choo train than music." 

Daniel Ebert

Daniel Ebert

For some, orchestrating the teamwork necessary to write their small-group compositions is the toughest part.  The challenge is coming together nicely for the small group, Without Sun, and their composition, "Movement in Water, #6."  Their collection of chimes, zithers and drums steadily build in tempo, rhythm and energy for a piece that mimics rain and thunder surprisingly well. 


to hear from members of this group along with some of their instruments during a recent interview on WVXU-FM.  Corrie Sedmak of Worthington, Ohio, laughed, "Well, one good thing is that rain is random.  If you make a mistake, no one knows it."

There's no mistaking the lessons learned however.  Said Ryan Devenish of Madison, Wisconsin, "You have to make use of whatever works even if it's not traditional.  I'm in a real band, and we've always had the attitude that if you find a pot that makes a good sound, use it.  Be willing to use it." 

Echoing him was Shiam Omri of the West Side, "I learned you could make something you didn't know you could." 

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