How I Learn by Doing

The Sound of Space

Architecture student Emma Gracyk smiles on the Performing Arts Center stage with her euphonium.
Emma Gracyk holds her euphonium in the Performing Arts Center, a space meticulously engineered for sound. She performed on this stage dozens of times as a member of several Cal Poly music ensembles. Photo by Joe Johnston.

By Emma Gracyk

When looking at colleges, I had one requirement: it must have a marching band.

The Mustang Marching Band sold me when I went to Open House and I saw them marching in the parade. They looked like they were having so much fun, and I wanted to be a part of that some day. When I also learned Cal Poly had a successful architecture program, I knew it was the school for me.

Music and marching band have been a huge part of my life. Many people told me I wouldn’t be able to continue with marching band as an architecture major due to the long hours it demands. While at first these warnings scared me, I quickly learned how to manage my time. Not only was I able to handle band and architecture, but my passion and drive for marching band led me to march with the Santa Clara Vanguard Drum and Bugle Corps for four summers while still going to Cal Poly.

I also had the opportunity to coach some of the local high school marching bands in the area, including the Templeton Talon Marching Band. I found doing something outside of architecture felt healthy and invigorating. That’s why I love music; it has always been an outlet for me. When I am in rehearsal, I am able to forget about my worries and focus my energy elsewhere. Along with that freedom, band has sharpened my time management skills and focus in ways I would not have mastered otherwise.

One of the exciting things about Cal Poly’s Bachelor of Architecture program is that each student completes a full-year thesis project on a topic of their choosing. I always knew I wanted to do something with music and architecture, but once my fifth year finally came around, I didn’t know how to start. My initial research quickly evolved to focus on how sound affects one’s environment. For my thesis, I chose to argue that sound is a vital part of architecture and design. Sound must be considered to curate the overall experience and identity of a space.

Cal Poly has taught me that it is always possible to make time for your passions.

To test my thesis argument, I studied the underground cisterns of San Francisco as a way to test the aural experience of architecture. By intervening in one of many unused cisterns that were once used as an emergency water supply system, I created a controlled environment where darkness subverted sight and sound emerged in the foreground. Throughout my design process, I used sketches, watercolors, 3D modeling and rendering software, as well as sound recordings to develop an architectural stance on my argument.

While going into the real world can seem scary and unknown, I am confident music will always be there for me and find a way back into my life. After graduation, I plan to continue teaching at the local high schools and playing in community bands. I was fortunate enough to get the chance to try my hand at writing drill for the Cal Poly Mustang Band this year; I hope to continue sharpening this skill. I would love to one day combine my love for the marching arts and design by designing field shows for marching bands and indoor groups. In the meantime, I plan to work in the field and pursue my architecture license. Cal Poly has taught me that it is always possible to make time for your passions.

Learn more about the history, tradition and unbreakable enthusiasm of the Mustang Band later in this issue.