How the Built Environment Shapes Music

From Motown to grunge, techno to hip hop, modern music came to life in garages, living rooms, churches, and warehouses. Urban design has been instrumental to what we listen to every day.

2 minute read

February 15, 2016, 9:00 AM PST

By Philip Rojc @PhilipRojc


Hackney Empire

Fin Fahey / Flickr

Journalist David Maraniss recently made the case for why single-family homes were crucial to the rise of Motown: every working-class family could own a piano. Here, Ian Wylie explores how urban design directly influenced some of the biggest trends in popular music.

On Seattle grunge Wylie writes, "Not only did that damp marine climate probably persuade bands to stay in their garages and practise more, but it's also fairly temperate, meaning the garages were warm enough to hang out in without needing to be heated separately – unlike, say, Minneapolis, where an unheated garage is a miserable place in winter."

Wylie documents why Berlin provided the perfect environment for electronic music to thrive. The city's abandoned warehouses, empty spaces, and disused bunkers provided ample room for dance parties and DJ experimentation. "Much of the recording of David Bowie's Berlin trilogy – Low, Heroes and Lodger – was completed at Hansa studios in the Kreuzberg district of west Berlin. From the control room, Bowie and his producer, Tony Visconti, could see over the Wall to the Red Guards in their gun turrets, who stared back through binoculars."

And in New York City, vibrant community centers gave rise to today's most widespread genre. "DJ Kool Herc, for example, held his first jams in the community centre of Sedgwick Avenue of the west Bronx. Afrika Bambaataa held his first parties in the Bronx River Community Center, jump-starting hip-hop in his section of the Bronx."

Wednesday, February 3, 2016 in The Guardian Cities

Green rapid transit bus pulled into station in dedicated lane.

Indiana Once Again Considering Ban on Dedicated Transit Lanes

The proposed legislation would impact the construction of planned IndyGo Blue Line, the third phase of the city’s bus rapid transit system.

February 25, 2024 - Fox 59

Aerial view of New York City architecture with augmented reality visualization, blue digital holograms over buildings and skyscrapers

4 Ways to Use AI in Urban Planning and City Design

With the ability to predict trends, engage citizens, enhance resource allocation, and guide decision-making, artificial intelligence has the potential to serve as planners’ very own multi-tool.

February 20, 2024 - ArchDaily

View from shore of Sepulveda Basin water catchment basin with marsh plants along shore.

LA’s ‘Spongy’ Infrastructure Captured Almost 9 Billion Gallons of Water

The city is turning away from stormwater management practices that shuttle water to the ocean, building infrastructure that collects and directs it underground instead.

February 25, 2024 - Wired

View of 110 freeway with downtown Los Angeles buildings in background.

LA Freeway Ramp ‘Quietly Canceled’

A 2018 lawsuit forced Metro and Caltrans to do full environmental reviews of the project, leading to its cancellation.

February 29 - Streetsblog LA

Street view of 4th Avenue, a commercial street of shops and restaurants through the city center of downtown Seattle, Washington.

Study: Seattle Vision Zero Projects Not Bad for Business

An analysis of seven road safety project sites showed no negative economic impact on surrounding businesses.

February 29 - UW News

Black-and-white photo of street with old black model T and brick building on the corner.

The History of Racial Zoning and Housing Discrimination in the US

More than a century of discriminatory housing policy divided cities and contributed to the racial wealth gap and other social and economic inequities.

February 29 - Urban Land Magazine

Senior Planner

Heyer Gruel Associates

Regional Transportation Planner

Crater Planning District Commission

Senior Planner- Long range

Prince William County Planning Office

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Planning for Universal Design

Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.