While storytelling and narrative have been interchangeably used, when it comes to architecture, writing and filmmaking there are several differences between the two. Great architecture has to tell a story. We all have heard this statement and often wondered what story would an office building or a factory tell. We have heard that narratives have to be established to make space meaningful and we believed it even without knowing what it means. Some interpret it as setting up the milestones as a part of the design which would be the literal expression while some would abstract the elements and beg to differ. What if we were to say that narrative is something else altogether? 

Narrative in architecture ©www.evolo.us

‘Storytelling’ requires a premise revolving around one or more central elements, a problem and a solution to the problem while a ‘Narrative’ requires a context, an emotion that is associated with it and a revelation that follows through the emotion.

‘Narrative’ is a multifarious term. Its essential meaning can change according to the situation it is put into. Let us take the example of architecture. It is a multi-faceted field. It can hold various subsets and mean differently when put into different scenarios like research, construction, design, management, innovation, journalism, advertising, and many others. Similarly, ‘Narrative’ poses with a different tint in each of these subsets.

‘Narrative’ in Architectural Design

While museums and memorials are more towards the spectrum of storytelling where the design revolves around the life or history of some central character, the case of other spaces stand to differ. ‘Narrative’ in this context takes up the function of serialization and revelation of spaces. A residence design would have a semi-public lounge which would then flow into a more private living room followed by private dining and then leading on to the most private spaces of the residence. The sequence of the spaces is the narrative in this example. An architect is equipped with the responsibility of adding flavor to this narrative by adding certain spaces that would add a sense of curiosity as to what follows next or simply a space that lets someone take a break before going on to discover the rest of the narrative.

‘Narrative’ in construction

Construction is a time-oriented activity that requires material and manpower. Construction is based on series and sequences. The narrative in this context is the flow from one activity to another. The purpose of the narrative here is to ensure the smooth and easy functioning and completion of the project. The phases in construction hence hold great importance. How the work is carried out which also considers the social and cultural aspects, how it impacts the environment and the existing fabric of a place, and what it represents and is aimed at sets the narrative in construction.

‘Narrative’ in Adaptive Reuse

Setting the narrative in the case of a built environment is challenging. The sequence and the form of the space remain constant. The change in narrative is brought about by the function assigned. We have seen examples of how old industrial buildings and power stations have been repurposed to museums, hotels, and resorts. The narrative in this context functions as a bridge from the past to the present. Here again, the narrative can exist as an extension of the past or stand as an antonym to the previous function. How smoothly and creatively the narrative is set up shows the talent and caliber of the architect.

‘Narrative’ in Religious Architecture

Religious buildings altogether follow a different narrative. The purpose of narrative in this context is to reaffirm the beliefs and traditions of the particular religion based on holy texts and their practitioners. The sequence, in this case, differs largely from all the other design projects. The narrative sets the premise for one to experience divinity and the holy presence. Every space has a religious significance and the unfolding of these spaces form an integral part of the narrative. Apart from the religious inputs that impact the narrative, introducing the divine experience and meditative effects becomes the task of the architect. 

‘Narrative’ in Architectural Journalism

Architectural journalism stemmed from the need of bringing architecture to the common man, unlike a medical term. Earlier, the term ‘architecture’ was a term relatively used by the architect, contractor, and client and anybody who is not involved would shrug it off as something relevant. A narrative was necessary to familiarise the concept of architecture, the role of good architects and how they impact our day to day lives. Setting up the narrative in architectural journalism evolved through sketches, models, photos, project descriptions, competitions, renders, walk-throughs, magazines, cartoons, film, comics and now we stand at Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality.’ Narrative’ in this context was meant to create awareness and make ‘architecture’ a term that could be used in our routine vocabulary. 

A narrative can be hence set in different contexts and mean differently. It is upon the user to play with the narrative to set up something that benefits the user group. What is your narrative?

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Rethinking The Future (RTF) is a Global Platform for Architecture and Design. RTF through more than 100 countries around the world provides an interactive platform of highest standard acknowledging the projects among creative and influential industry professionals.

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