What if your house was a musical instrument?

The Symphony HouseAn unusual house overlooks Lake Michigan. Known as the Symphony House, it not only emphasizes natural sounds but can be played like an instrument. Architect David Hanawalt and sound artist Bill Close designed the 6,200 square-foot home for Steelcase heir Jonathan Wege and his wife. At a cost of $2.4 million, the concrete-and-wood structure blends Japanese and Scandinavian architectural design. (I’ve included a video that provides a tour of the house’s unique musical properties.)

Like Sitting Inside a Giant Cello

Visitors strum the doorbell—a 100-string wall harp on a concrete wall outside the back door—to announce their arrival. In the guest room, three windows framed in resonant mahogany face the lake, and three others face the woods. Open the windows in a variety of ways and different blends of sound—the wind in the trees, the surf in the lake—fill the room. Adjust other windows in the living room and let the wind enter to play a huge harp. Or open the windows to listen to two giant wind harps outside. On the main stairwell, brass wires extend from the first floor to a glass skylight. To play them, you rub the strings up and down with a gloved hand dusted with rosin.

The musical centerpiece occupies the living room, where two 40-foot horizontal beams are boxed in with anigre, an African wood. Brass strings extend along the sides of the beams. Playing the strings causes the beams to resonate. Panels of rosewood line the living room, enhancing the room’s acoustics. The entire living room space vibrates as if you’re sitting inside a giant cello, according to Hanawalt.

Santa Monica sound artist Bill Close, who builds giant earth harps, came to the attention of Hanawalt by chance. Close and his troupe, MASS (Music, Architecture, Sonic Sculpture), have played these contraptions (long brass strings extending over an audience) at a variety of locales. Together they created the sound elements of the house.

A Musical Tour of the Symphony House

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