Designed objects have a story behind them, whether the object is conceived by an architect, artist, or any other designer. These stories can sometimes be discerned easily or at times discovered through thoughtful consideration and they create an experience for the user. This experience is subjective and varies from person to person while they get involved within the space, or while they use the designed object.

The spatial narrative is the storytelling potential of architecture. It describes how the experiential process of moving through built spaces and decoding messages that are embodied in architecture can influence the perceiver spiritually and emotionally and go beyond the physical traits of the structure designed. By introducing spatial narrative and architectural designs, the perceiver can understand how the architect can imbibe the narrative while designing the building.

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Here are a few tips for introducing spatial narrative in designs.

1. Relating to the project site and purpose: Spatial narrative evolves from the building program or its function, the site context, and its relation to its history. Creating a theme out of it and expanding it into a complete story thus creating a fulfilment to the experience which will be gained by the perceiver in that built space. Structure, Form, Materiality, and architectural details become important to create a specific spatial narrative.

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2. Creating a journey within: Movement within the built space creates a huge impact on the spatial narrative of a structure. Architecture is subject to laws and these laws are expressed through two levels of systems being the form and the spaces. Architects combine geometrical shapes and forms to give buildings a specific appearance. They also combine spaces to give buildings a specific experience through movement. Architecture is always planned to give an experience to the observer through various factors and one of such factors is movement in that space. The sequence of moments created in space by dividing it into horizontal and vertical moments is like dance around that space. Movement not only defines space but also provides experience and contributes towards the spatial characteristics of the space.

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3. Importance of scale: The perception of space is largely based on our relationship with the scale of the built space. There are three main scales that we experience in a space; near, middle and far range. At the small scale(near) we can best understand complex curvilinear geometry. When we can take in the entire object, grasp it in a go and then we can build a mental map of the object, we can understand it much easier than if we experience only individual pieces at a time. In the medium-scale(middle) we experience a portion of an object a time. Clarity and texture become important in this stage to understand the space or the architecture as a whole. When objects are understood in space at a distance, shading and contrast becomes important. Lastly in the large scale when experiencing architectural objects from a large distance, the ability for tactile understanding fades out. Simple forms and colour are the most important. To interpret complex forms, we lack the optical dexterity and therefore high contrast forms or materials are important. 

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4. Having a design influence communicating a broader message: The result of various styles of architecture throughout history is the long-sought of architects to communicate their crafts through their building designs. This has resulted in various styles of architecture throughout the historical timeline. Whether it is about Antoni Gaudi’s organic designs influenced by his passions in life, nature and religion, or about displaying client’s power with the strength of the facade like the Palazzo Farnese for the Medici’s or the inspiring gothic designs with stained glass, flying buttress and soaring groin vaults or the five principles of modern architecture introduced by Le Corbusier, or epitome of modern architecture elegance signifying solidity and strength in Mies van der Rohe’s Seagram Building. Each of them communicates a broader message than fulfilling the function of the building. 

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5. Architecture elements: Elements of architecture play a vital role in defining the spatial narrative. How light is sculpted, the way space is entered and experienced, the use of materials that make up the enclosure and the transition of volumes in the space, all these have the potential to evoke meaning far beyond just utility. The spirit of the place and time is conveyed by the choice of materials available, and the technology used to erect it. The regional climatic needs can be represented in the size and placement of apertures, the threshold condition upon entering the space, and the shape and height of the ceiling and walls.

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6. Architecture Interpretation of Reality: The specific relationship between space and architectural work strengthens the interest of the visitor by giving them a heightened sense of involvement. Experimental art and theatre use the visual, embodied, collective, duration, and spatial systems to induce an experience in the visitor. The same may be said of architectural works when they create a “stage” within the city meant for individual involvement. Landscape elements are complementary to architecture elements. However, they set up the opposition between what is displayed and what is hidden, both in architecture and among the natural elements themselves by way of straight axis/meandering path creating many sensations through stillness/movement, the oblique view through central perspective. 

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7. Creating sequential spaces: Architecture forms a series of possibilities that can be explored by the perceiver. The plot of the narrative is played out by those who enter and allow their destinations to be dictated by the architectural syntax like walls, doors, stairs, windows, etc, the form and the geometry of the building. This syntax structures the architectural journey through space and time and provides the perceiver with a series of options and decisions to be made. Each decision taken helps the narrative – to unfold and develop cumulatively. This leads the story to become entirely interactive with the built form while navigating through the architectural journey. The architecture can use other narrative tools in its role as storytellers such as flashback and foreshadowing, and suspension of disbelief. 

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Nonetheless, the exploration of the spatial narrative is something that interests both the architect and the perceiver. Each story behind the narrative creates a level of meaning and connects the user with the building by constantly engaging them and creating curiosity at each stage. This ability of the architect to connect the user/ perceived with his building is where the success of the design lies in, which is rightly done with the help of spatial narratives.

Author

Diksha is an architecture graduate from Nirma University, 2020. Being an avid traveler, she has always tried to connect the city's culture with architecture. She is a keen observer, finds inspiration from unexplored places and believes that true essence of architecture lies in its execution (form generation) and user experience.

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