Architecture Inspired by Music

A Pacific Northwest artist retreat is a destination for musicians, artists, and students.

Icicle Creek Center for the Arts hosts residency programs, chamber music performances, festivals, symphony camps, and classes in Washington’s Cascade Mountains.

Icicle Creek Center for the Arts (icicle.org) offers musicians, performers, and artists an opportunity to escape the hustle of urban life and become immersed in the Pacific Northwest’s natural beauty. The Center hosts 100 performances and more than 15,000 visitors each year, including residency programs, chamber music performances, festivals, symphony camps, and classes in Washington’s Cascade Mountains.

The mountain sanctuary in Leavenworth, WA, was originally founded in 1995 by local entrepreneur and art enthusiast, Harriet Bullitt, as part of the Sleeping Lady Resort. Bullitt wanted to create a place that celebrates the synergy between the arts and the environment.

In 2011, Bullitt received funding for a redevelopment project to broaden Icicle Creek’s range of education and performance offerings. Seattle architecture firm, Jones and Jones (jonesandjones.com), who designed Sleeping Lady Mountain Retreat, were awarded the design contract. Mark Johnson (now at his own firm, Signal Architecture + Research, Seattle, signalarch.com) served as the project architect and project manager. Using his unique ear for music and holistic design approach, Johnson collaborated with Johnpaul Jones, FAIA, to design the music center as a unique place for music education in nature. Johnson is also a musician, which made him well suited for the music-driven project. His thesis project at Savannah College of Art and Design in 1996 theorized a music academy with residency programs for high school through master’s level students in experimental music, recording, and performance—a very similar concept to Icicle Creek.

Canyon Wren Recital Hall, the primary gathering space for performances, focuses the view on the Sleeping Lady ridgeline through a unique wall of glass.

The redevelopment plan included a series of 19 buildings, including a master recital hall, group rehearsal facility, group lodges, individual rehearsal studios, and administrative offices. A combination of careful site planning and strategic building orientation resulted in a collection of buildings inspired by regional rock formations and historic agrarian farmhouses. The buildings are nestled into the hillside facing the Cascades so views to the landscape connect musicians and visitors to the natural world.

Canyon Wren Recital Hall, the primary gathering space for performances, focuses the view on the Sleeping Lady ridgeline through a unique wall of glass, indicating that there is a story embedded in the space. The design team drew parallels from Pythagoras’ theories of music, including music keys and the “Music of the Spheres,” which described a music emitted by the planets of our solar system. By embedding numerology, color, and light into the design approach, the Master Recital Hall became a narrator of music structure and theory.

Stained glass, salvaged by Harriet Bullitt from a Depression-era CCC camp on the site, was installed in prominent positions throughout the building, indicating relationships between the major (even number/masculine) key, and minor (odd number/feminine) key, with colors representing Pythagoras’ “Seven Spheres of Babylon.”

The colors of the glass represent each planet—yellow is Saturn, blue is Earth, red is Mars, and so on—which reflect a stunning array of light into the Recital Hall and make the walls come to life at different times of the day.

With framed views of stone outcroppings and ridgelines, sunsets, and tall Ponderosa pines, the buildings create an aperture to the landscape that provides an inspiring experience for visitors and resident artists.

Click here to view more photos from the project.

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