Architecture Sotto Voce

April 13, 2016

The musical term sotto voce is used to describe an intentional lowering of the voice for dramatic effect.  If it is not too much of a stretch to imply a musical analogy to architecture – and given the regular use of the words “rhythm” and “accent” to name just two terms pertaining to both music and design, I don’t think it is – there are a number of projects we have encountered over the years that demand sotto voce architecture.  That is, where the natural beauty of a landscape is so overwhelming, it demands a strategy of subtlety – of sotto voce.

As an example of this quality, Estancia del Rio is a project of ours conceived in deference to the landscape, indeed entirely of the landscape.  The fieldstone and adobe building structures seem to grow from the earth and are woven together by open air viga structures and low stone walls.  The Chama River and dramatic desert landscape are the real stars of the show, as it should be.

Table Rock Ranch, as another example, is a project that perhaps best exemplifies sotto voce as a site strategy, in which the most appropriate idea was to create multiple buildings rather than a single grand architectural gesture in order to respect the beautiful Colorado valley and top-notch trout fishing stream that runs through it.

We were happy to hear these thoughts echoed in a recent article for Dorado Magazine by author Jamie Gillin, about her recent tour of Table Rock Ranch.  Bill Curtis describes how the visual impact of the buildings was deliberately suppressed in order to “let the valley win.”  Long views down the valley, coupled with epic fishing and buildings at different scales that could tolerate many different kids of use, support the ranch functioning for both family and business retreat events.

Continuing the musical analogy, Curtis quipped:  “Architecture is like a guitar – it can be in tune or it can be out of tune.  When everything is dialed in to a specific place, architecture gives you a chance to better understand where you are.”