The Architectural Stories Behind 7 Famous Album Covers

The Architectural Stories Behind 7 Famous Album Covers
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The production of creative work often requires a very particular type of space—a temple, if you will, to the work being done. Architects and artists are open about how their living and working areas affect their practice, and musicians, of course, are no different. Perhaps this is why places and spaces are often featured on album covers. The art on an album cover is partially advertising, but it is also often a visual symbol of an entire period in the life of a musician. An album's cover artwork may depict the view a band saw coming into the studio every day, the building the album was recorded in, the city the musician grew up in, or myriad other more abstract connections. We will leave it to you to make sense of the connection between the 7 architectural landmarks featured on the following albums and the music their images envelop, but the stories behind the constructions themselves may help you make a more educated guess.

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The Album: Encore, DJ Snake (2016)
The Building: a Hector Guimard metro station entrance

Guimard is known as one of the architects who brought Art Nouveau to France, a style which began in the decorative arts in the late 1800s and spread to architecture soon after. Central to its ethos was the importance of decoration. Previously unadorned surfaces sprouted new ornamentation in the form of paintings, relief work, stained glass, and more. The architects of these embellished structures drew their inspiration from organic curves and plantlike shapes in response to the industrial architecture of the previous era. Hector Guimard's entrances to the Paris metro are among the most iconic examples of the Art Nouveau style. Although the entrance's form maintains a sense of abstraction, the architect pulls from naturalistic motifs to create a new style: the legs of the structure evoke stems or vines, while the glass awning extends out like a leaf. Guimard's entrances are also known for their use of the era's material advancements in cast iron and glass.

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The Album: Physical Graffiti, Led Zeppelin (1975)
The Building: former tenements on St. Marks's Place in New York City

Many of Manhattan's tenements began as middle-class townhouses in SoHo and the Lower East Side. Single families occupied an entire building, and even had a large yard hidden from the street. Throughout the 19th century, as the city became increasingly populated and industrialized, the value of space appreciated to the point that that these affordable single family homes were no longer economically viable. Landlords parceled out the townhouses into apartments, first making each story a separate unit, then adding partitions within each story. To further increase the building's profitability, the existing yards often gave way to construction additions until they disappeared completely.

The evolution from townhouse to tenement was also driven by the movement of labor into the area. In the second half of the 19th century, the garment industry had taken hold of lower New York. It drew low-wage employees, often immigrants, who created a need in the market for less expensive housing. Meanwhile, the former tenants of the townhouses moved uptown to get away from garment production, which they perceived to have brought danger and noise to the neighborhood, leaving their homes behind them. When these homes were subdivided to the point that multiple people shared a single room, and built next to one another in such a way that little light or fresh air could enter, the tenement was born.

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The Album: Dead Mountain Mouth, Genghis Tron (2006)
The Building: a geodesic dome

The geodesic dome was first conceptualized by Buckminster Fuller in the early 1900s. The architect and inventor wanted to design a new style of housing that would improve quality of life. He devised the geodesic dome as an extremely efficient housing model. Fuller took advantage of new materials, building a steel frame structure that was strong enough to hold coverings and light enough to ship inexpensively (and ideally even transport by air). The dome is made up of triangles, a shape chosen for its strength, and an array of different covering materials. The parts for Fuller's dome can be mass manufactured and assembled with little difficulty, all in the hope to cut costs enough to make more housing available to more people. Inside, natural air circulation regulates temperature, and efficient plumbing decreases water usage. Fuller was contacted after WWII to build the "house of the future" around the country, but several problems made it difficult to scale up. The geodesic dome remains an important contribution to humanitarian architectural research.

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The Album: Animals, Pink Floyd (1977)
The Building: Battersea Power Station by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott in London

Construction on the Battersea Power Station began in 1929 as part of a move to consolidate London's power grid from many small, privately owned stations into a single plant owned by the public. The Power Station's prime location on the Thames, which was necessary for cooling and coal transportation, put its design under heavy public scrutiny. A team of architects and engineers designed the original project, but the proposal was received so poorly by the public that Sir Giles Gilbert Scott was hired to redesign the exterior. A steel frame and brick exterior are clad in Art Deco detailing, such as the thick vertical fluting on the four chimney shafts. It is now one of London's largest development sites, with the power station being converted into a mixture of apartments and offices hosting Apple's new London campus, while the surrounding area plays host to new projects by Gehry Partners, Foster + Partners, and BIG.

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The Album: Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Wilco (2002)
The Building: Marina City by Bertrand Goldberg in Chicago

An icon of the Chicago skyline, Bertrand Goldberg's Marina City is actually a set of two identical reinforced concrete towers. At the time of the project's completion in 1964, Marina City was the tallest residential building in the world. Goldberg was commissioned to build something that would help to combat the migration out of the city and into suburbs that had affected Chicago and many other metropolitan areas after WWII by demonstrating that suburban amenities could exist within a city. To do this, Goldberg combined all of the attributes of a suburb into the towers for maximum convenience: he included a gym, bowling alley, iceskating rink, restaurants, and even nineteen stories of parking at the base of each tower. The smoothness of Marina City's corn cob shape is echoed on the interior, which features soft curves in place of right angles and is divided into equal units for a 360-degree view. Many of the towers' original facilities still exist (not the ice rink, sadly), and the project now has landmark status.

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The Album: SB#3, Gramatik (2010)
The Building: the Empire State Building by Shreve, Lamb, and Harmon in New York City

The Empire State Building is a New York City icon like no other. Commissioned in 1929, the building was intended to be a towering representation of the boldness of the United States. The "stair-step" effect of the skyscraper's top half is an outcome of the 1916 Zoning Regulation, which required tall buildings to be set back (tiered) proportionally to their height and footprint in an effort to allow light and air to flow down into the street. Unlike most projects of this period, which began pre-1929 and halted construction after the stock market crash, the Empire State Building was actually an effort to create economic activity despite the Great Depression. This was partially achieved in the thousands of construction jobs the project supplied, but to be fully successful, the building had to have as much office space as possible, hence the large lot and height. Aesthetically, the building is an understated Art Deco, much less flamboyant than its NYC neighbor the Chrysler Building.

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The Album: "Sprawl II" Single, Arcade Fire
The Building: an aerial illustration of suburban sprawl

Sprawl describes a form of urban development most often associated with the postwar United States, when a growing middle class moved away from urban centers and into the suburbs. The nature of the suburb, and a major factor in the choice to move, is the availability of land affordable enough for single family homes with private lawns. As more people moved away from cities with expectations for less-dense life in the suburbs, developers built new neighborhoods and expanded towns into previously undeveloped land. Sprawl necessitates travel by car, which was made possible by falling automobile prices at this time. Sprawl is notorious for its poor use of resources, problems of traffic and pollution, and the vacuum of it leaves behind as it empties out residents and funding from cities.

About this author
Cite: Isabella Baranyk. "The Architectural Stories Behind 7 Famous Album Covers" 30 Jan 2017. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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