Zain Elwakil ’21 launches The Singing Buildings Project

person in a church

Some places invoke an accompanying melody. A quiet church with stained glass windows where the walls seem to reverberate solemnity just begs for the majestic notes of an organ or the crystal tones of a choir to fill its spacious ceilings. The relationship between space and sound, though not one commonly discussed, is one that links two detailed processes of capturing beauty and structuring artistic possibilities.  Zain Elwakil ’21, studying in the School of Architecture, hopes to create dialogue surrounding the intrinsic relationship between architecture and music through his new project The Singing Buildings.

Elwakil has always been tireless in his pursuit of creating and re-imagining art. In his final year of architecture, he’s spent long hours designing spaces to support community needs, align with utilitarian requirements, and combine the detail and precision of construction with aestheticism. Part of his artistic process has always included the imagination of auditory music to accompany the spaces he’s constructing.

“Day-to-day, when I enter a space, I have a vision of what the space sounds like and what I’d like to hear in that space.” Elwakil spoke of his creative process. 

In his personal life, his natural combination of space and sound has taken place through his film and composition hobbies, where he films explorative scenes of outdoor nature or beautiful buildings, often set to a soundtrack matching his conceptions of the space. He also often composes his own music, a process he finds similar to architecture.

“It’s related to how I feel. When I play notes [at my keyboard] they’re usually in some kind of harmonic relationship, removing boundaries. It translates similarly to space- I close my eyes and have that imaginative process.” Elwakil spoke of the similar creative process in his own life.

Hoping to create new conversations surrounding this natural relationship, Elwakil created a film project showcasing musicians performing in intricate and architecturally complex spaces.  During a time where the traditional performances in large-scale concert venues are on pause, these smaller, more intimate concerts Elwakil hopes will combine musical performance with architectural showcase.

The Singing Buildings’ first project, which premiered on February 15, showcased a collaboration between ZAC and Jawuan, two emerging Syracuse University musicians in the historic Center for the Arts in Homer, New York.  The building, constructed in the late 18th century, was originally a church drawing architectural inspiration from Romanesque and pre-Gothic stylistic elements. Its lofted arches and rose windows create a presence of peace and wonder, calling to be paired with the explorative notes of modern music.

See the first video here and subscribe to the new series where “music and architecture share a stagehere on You Tube.

While The Singing Buildings project has only just started, Elwakil’s vision for the project’s growth seeks to create a platform for artists to showcase their work while opening minds to hidden architectural beauties. He hopes to create a consistent series for small artists to host these concerts on a global platforms and showcase their skills combined and inspire minds to the harmonic relationship between architectural elements and melodies.

The true wonder of The Singing Buildings project lies not in its artistic ingenuity or seamless fusion of artists and buildings but in Elwakil’s miraculous prowess in adding this project on top of his other work. The legacy of architecture school in its grueling work is no secret, and as a fifth-year student currently constructing his thesis on top of running his company, Zuluecho Initiative, his ability to head another project is inspiring to say the least.

For Elwakil, the secret lies the blend of passionate pursuits. “ I do all these different things and it seems related- all my work is me figuring out how to tell a story from the LaunchPad to design and to the Singing Buildings project. At the end of the day it’s still a business that you have to run like an entrepreneur.”

Elwakil’s combination of passions leads itself to seeing possibilities in combinations of different fields- whether that’s design and business, or in this case: music and architecture. The drive to create beauty is apparent in every artistic field, but the ability to see the fusions and relationships between differing fields creates atmospheres and inspirations of beauties to inspire us all to embrace differing passions and embrace new possibilities.

Story by LaunchPad Global Media Fellow Claire Howard ’23;  photo supplied