What would a world without Architecture look like? This is the first question most professors ask their students in architecture college. The concrete jungle of the urban fabric that the world lives in – once used to be what? Just a jungle in general. The World wakes up to constant organised chaos everywhere, but one thing that every person wakes up to is the tall skyscrapers and the windows that house the people in them. But can one imagine a world without these interventions in the natural landscape? Like Philomena Cunk, gimmicky explains the Genesis of the world and stumbles upon various Architectural Entities – quite literally! A trip down memory lane is to understand how it all started.
Storytelling in Architecture
Architecture can narrate stories through spatial composition and how historical monuments manoeuvre themselves into evoking emotions and shaping human experiences. It goes beyond the vision of functional design and becomes a platform for communication and social interaction within the system. It plays a fundamental role in curating how human beings live – providing shelter, facilitating daily activities and defining spaces. Imagining the existence of the human world without architecture would alter the course of the fabric that people live in today.
Every space carries inherent meaning and communicates a story, becoming a spatial narrative. From the grandeur of ancient temples of Egypt and Rome to the simplicity of modern minimalist designs carried out by masters like Corbusier and Mies, each architectural style reflects various values, beliefs and aspirations of the society that made it. The metaphysical elements like the choice of materials, the colour and texture, the arrangement of spaces and the manipulation of light and shadow [chiaroscuro] all build up a spatial narrative embedded within the built environment.
A Summary of the Kinetic Energies
“All pictorial form begins with the point that sets itself in motion… The point moves . . . and the line comes into being—the first dimension. We obtain a two-dimensional element if the line shifts to form a plane. In the movement from plane to space, the clash of planes gives rise to the body (three-dimensional) . . . A summary of the kinetic energies which move the point into a line, the line into a plane, and the plane into a spatial dimension.” (Paul Klee, 1961)
This is an extract from the very bible of architecture – Form, space and Order by Francis D.K Ching. In similar lines to this extract, the point where architecture started and took off to be the volumetric variations observed to date is a specific journey—in a world far removed from the current one, a civilisation without architecture existed. In this peculiar realm, people lived in harmony with nature, their lives intertwined with the surrounding elements. In this world, humans did not build towering skyscrapers or grandiose palaces. This was the prehistoric time of homo erectus, who paved the way for the utilitarian and civilisation of spatial narratives. The utilitarian need for food, shelter and clothing gave rise to various inventions and discoveries – one of which is the birth of architecture itself. The prehistoric people found shelter in caves and the nooks and crannies of natural landscapes. The first ever structure made was a thatch mud structure known as Tera Amata. And this paved the way for human civilisations and habitats like the Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Greek, etc.
Architecture is a utilitarian attempt by humankind – this gave rise to a variety of spatial narratives hence formulated. Spatial explorations did not restrict themselves to shelter and housing but also embraced cultural identity and functionality. From the pyramids of Giza to the massive temple of the Acropolis – spatial narratives started to define and expand regarding power, position and time. Empires started building fortressed palaces and large-scale granaries. With time, the beauty of public domains like plazas, gardens and marketplaces became an expression of social interaction and community development. A shift to the millennial times brought the new spatial narratives of industries and factories into the picture of the world.
Wonders of the tales – keep wandering
Just like music, with every note progression, there’s a verse, a chorus and a bridge and a never-ending variety of genres to explore and look forward to; architecture has the same rhythm and flows when it comes to its progression in day-to-day life. It still advances and is continuously growing and trying to leave its mark on humankind and the course of the history of the world. With time gradually going forward, dwellings and utilitarian spaces evolved to various typologies. They gave rise to congregation spaces like informal gatherings, cafes, bars, restaurants and performance-based architectural entities for the sake of basking and entertainment.
To imagine a world without architecture is to imagine one without human progress and prowess. The bustling city would become a desolate area with nowhere to relax after a long day of work, read novels in solitude, shop, exercise, attend to a pearl of spiritual wisdom or have fun. There is no room for spiritual qualities, social commitments or attending to psychological requirements. This would lead to absolute turmoil and anarchy in nature. To not wake up to sunrises and sunsets seen from a balcony or a fully glazed patio, to not have to climb up to the topmost floor of a building, not to feel the thrill of crossing the road from a foot over bridge, not to be amazed by the tall skyscrapers and tiny intricate details – the very thought of it becomes unimaginable as we lived and thrived in it so far with utter calmness and trust.
What unites the people of this ever-evolving globe of wonders is architecture, a place where friends and families may congregate. Given that the purpose of architecture is to offer enclosed interior spaces and experiential exterior promenades for human occupation, there will always be architecture in some form as long as there is humankind.
The power of spatial narratives lies in engaging individuals on a sensory and emotional level, creating a memorable and impactful experience, and thus architecture and its. Hence curated Spatial Narratives continue to find a way to thrive and co-exist with others. Humankind in a symbiotic relationship. These narratives would find their way through architecture, different forms of art and design, nature, or just an article written by a fellow human who is as mesmerised as the readers are – to engage with the public realm and leave its extravagant mark on the world.
On an end note, there is this line which goes – “The city, however, does not tell its past, but contains it like the lines of a hand, written in the corners of the streets, the gratings of the windows, the bannisters of the steps, the antennae of the lightning roads, the poles of the flags, every segment marked in turn with scratches, indentations, scrolls.”
― Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities
- Sir Banister Fletcher (1996). A History of Architecture. 20th ed. New Delhi: CBS Publishers Pvt. Ltd.,
- Francis D.K. Ching (1943). Architecture—form, space, & order. 4th ed. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
- Author links open overlay panel Fangqing Lyu and 1960s, A. the (2019) Architecture as spatial storytelling: Mediating human knowledge of the world, humans and architecture, Frontiers of Architectural Research. Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2095263519300317 (Accessed: 02 June 2023).
- Can you imagine a world without architecture? – sci-arc (no date) SCI. Available at: https://www.sciarc.edu/news/2017/can-you-imagine-a-world-without-architecture (Accessed: 02 June 2023).
- Expomobilia building experiences (2022) The power of architectural storytelling ” Expomobilia MCH Live Marketing Solutions AG, Expomobilia MCH Live Marketing Solutions AG. Available at: https://www.expomobilia.com/en/knowledgehub/2021/the-power-of-architectural-storytelling/ (Accessed: 02 June 2023).
- Sanghani-Patel, P. (2020) Understanding invisible cities with author’s illustrations for each and every city, Medium. Available at: https://firstname.lastname@example.org/understanding-invisible-cities-with-authors-illustrations-for-each-and-every-city-3648e044279d (Accessed: 02 June 2023).
- Stead, N. (2017) Sometimes a thing is not ‘properly’ architectural, but has something profound to say about the discipline., Places Journal. Available at: https://placesjournal.org/article/within-and-without-architecture/?cn-reloaded=1 (Accessed: 02 June 2023).
- The Art of Storytelling – Holocaust Memorial, Berlin by Peter Eisenman_©Photo by Dewang Gupta on Unsplash
- Reminiscing the past glory – The Temple Complex of Karnak – Egypt_©Photo by 2H Media on Unsplash
- The masters of new age spatial narratives – Le Corbusier´s Ronchamp Chapel “Notre Dame du Haut”_©Photo by Jana El Fahl on Unsplash
- View of the Acropolis of Athens with Parthenon and Erechtheion_©Photo by Constantinos Kollias on Unsplash
- A representation of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the fabled gardens that possibly adorned the Neo-Babylonian Empire’s capital, built by its greatest king Nebuchadnezzar II (r. 605-562 BCE). By Ferdinand Knab, 1886 CE.
- Wonders of Spatial Narratives – Saint Peter’s Square by Bernini_©Photo by Caleb Miller on Unsplash
- City Centre Salt Lake by Charles Correa_©Photo by Biswarup Ganguly on Wikimedia Commons
- Wonders of the Urban Fabric – New York Skyline_©Photo by Thomas Habr on Unsplash
- Wonders of the Urban Fabric – Munshi Ghat, Varanasi_©Photo by Ashish Singh on Unsplash
- Invisible Cities – Zenobia__©Illustration by David Fleck