There isn’t anything that can hold people’s attention but a good story. Be it a movie, an ad, a campaign, a struggle or maybe just a good old Facebook post. A story is said to have the magic to connect to one’s mind and engrave the memories deep within. Each one of us remembers the proverbs that were told to us in the form of stories. Let us not forget the time when someone would narrate us a story or an experience to give us a clear picture of a situation like we were almost there. A story is a very simple, yet powerful tool. If story and storytelling have this magic, ever wondered what would we be witnessing if architecture and storytelling got together? Well, it is not a new concept and neither an overused one.

One architect who advocates strongly this power of integration of story and architecture is Bernard Tschumi, who is also renowned for editing the famous ‘Form follows Function‘ into ‘Form follows fiction’. This can give us a fresh perspective where each building would tell the story of the people working there, or the owner of the place or the mere reason why it exists.

Ole Scheeren elaborates on this thought in his famous TED Talk in London which was shot at the TED Global in 2015. He takes us through his journey of narrative space building with examples of some of his best works. You can watch his famous talk on “Why great architecture should tell a story” below:

Buildings age over time and turn obsolete; it is this story of aging and mortality that they embed that keeps them alive. While narrative architecture could be both tangible and intangible; their influence on the human mind is to be noted. Some buildings tell us stories of achievements, beliefs, evolution, technological advancements and developments that have taken place over the years. One may draw parallels from a story and recreate it literally through a built form. Also, one can design a built form by establishing a timeline and deriving key incidents from the story. A good example of this would be the Jewish Museum in Berlin, designed by Daniel Libeskind. The timeline of events and the gist of the horrifying tale of the holocaust is translated into abstract elements that are a crucial part of the design process.

The dull and toned-down corridor of the Jewish Museum with metal pieces representing the cries of people is an abstract take on the journey to the gas chambers during the Holocaust.

Why great architecture should tell a storyStorytelling in architecture can be done in two ways. One would be where a narrative is set up and spaces are designed according to this narrative. This is the case when one is getting a house or an office space designed by an architect. The narrative would be based on the user group and the daily activities one might go through. The narrative helps to establish personalization and gives a unique result. The other way of storytelling in architecture would be one where the user group becomes a part of the storyline and learns of the story as they move across. For example, in a memorial or museum, the sequence of the spaces and the artifacts takes you through a journey while revealing the story. A timeline is set and the spatial configuration would try to impart the feeling and essence of a past event. Here, multiple facets of the story are revealed based on the observer. Both these narratives impart a storyline and yet are so different.

When stories unfold through architecture, each built form turns into a living organism; one that has a story to tell to every passerby. The task of an architect is to break down this story, translate them into spatial or design elements and finally put them together for the user to apprehend. This task gets challenging as the number of users or viewers increases. The function of the built form would just be a part of this narrative. The fiction that is associated with the design can be out of fantasy like in the case of Disneyland or one that has been taken from real incidents or people, as the Jewish Holocaust Museum.

Apart from setting a narrative, every designed object or space has a story of its conception and evolution. But most of the time, it so happens that this story never gets to see the daylight. Since times immemorial, the most common and thriving form of communication was storytelling. The Aesop’s fables or the religious books or stories of the afterlife; all of these are known to people even now, in the form of the stories they were passed on. The use of metaphors, idioms and common proverbs when translated and abstracted into a design, can work wonders and create a long-lasting impression in one’s mind.

RTF too has a story to tell; one which brought it to your smartphones and laptops, one which acts as the foundation for this community, and one which works to bring forth a new dimension in architecture.

Reshmy Raphy
Author

Reshmy Raphy has always been a lover of words. Pursuing final year of B.Arch, she is on her path to discover Architectural Journalism. She loves to learn about different cultures and architectural styles, approaches and people. It is this passion that brought her here on RTF.

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