‘Buildings’ and ‘stories’ are two words architectural students are encouraged to connect and create concepts during their five-year-long journey of architectural education. Equally creative and exhaustive, this journey encourages students to explore beyond their norm- to look deeper and see wider. The broader perspective enables one to notice the presence of design everywhere and the built world around begins to make more sense. If heard closely, it even begins to narrate stories. The perception shift in viewing the built space is exciting and is one of the factors that contributes a great deal to becoming a good architect- because for a building to tell the right story, architecture that connects with a site’s history, respects the site’s existing characteristics, responds to current demands, and offers the possibility of future use and adaptation- must be created. (Wallace, 2007) This article explores the profound impact of architectural education on widening one’s perspective on the world, with a focus on architectural narratives.
Image 1_Initial concept sketches of the Museum of the Future, Dubai by architect Shaun Killa_ © Killa Design
Architecture- a medium of expression?
‘Art and Architecture- are they the same, related, or different?’ – is one of the subjects addressed when students are introduced to Architecture. While both art and architecture can be used as a ‘medium’ to ‘narrate a story’, the latter isn’t as emotional or personal as art. Buildings can be called a piece of art, but that doesn’t give the architect the freedom to bring out his/her ideas and stories irrespective of the context and users of a particular project. Unlike art, architecture isn’t to interpret, but to live in. However, art combined with technology gives rise to architecture which is often showcased vividly in exhibitions such as biennales, offering an experience that transcends traditional boundaries.
Image 2_Installations- a combination of art and architecture; (above) a woven sculpture depicting the Shimoni Cave at the Architect’s Studio: Cave_bureau at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art_©LousianaMoMA/ Kim Hansen
Another impact of architectural education on one is the realization of how inseparable a role design plays in our lives. It sparks a sudden attention to the design of things in our surroundings and appreciates the art in everything. From the little logos and everyday products to intricate marvels like aircraft- the realization of how integral a part design is of our lives, and how it has been simplifying our lives is enlightening. Consequently, one begins to see the beauty in built spaces- recognizing the application of learned design elements and principles in built spaces around you.
Image 3_Scale, Symmetry, Lines, and Light: usage of various design elements and principles in Jeddah terminal of Haramain Speed Railways_© Author
Given the objective and storytelling nature of architecture, it is observable that every built environment holds a narrative, which may not be visible to the casual eye, but only to those who seek the stories etched in every element, spatial arrangement, and structure. Explored herein are a few categories of narratives that buildings can carry and how architectural education trains you to find them.
Historical and Cultural
Image 4_Al Balad: Historical city in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia _ © Arab News/ Ziyad Alarfaj
From the grandeur of ancient civilizations to the minimalism of Modernist structures, every building tells the tale of the time it was built in. It also gives us an insight into the region’s cultural and religious practices and traditions. The historical district of present-day Jeddah city, in Saudi Arabia can be cited as an example. Al-Balad, a UNESCO World Heritage site, stands as a testament to the port city’s rich history. Its old town serves as a vivid portal to the past- showcasing the cultural richness reflected in the vibrant coral stone houses.
From public parks to plazas, architects have a keen eye for public places, examining them closely for unique features and minute details. The design elements used and street furniture are noticed, and how they add to the places’ public character and ease of access is analyzed. They review how the designer has recognized the potential of the site and responded to it. Or if the development is organic, they look out to the various aspects that have helped shape the essence of the place. Not just public places, but the planning of a city as a whole is an interesting concept to be reviewed and analyzed. Many unique regional characteristics stem from the city/ town’s planning on a larger scale.
Image 5_General Gordon Square, Woolwich, London designed by Gustafson Porter + Bowman’s_© Gustafson Porter + Bowman
Image 6_Sohrabji Godrej Green Business Centre, Hyderabad, one of the first green buildings in India_ © Deccan Chronicle
As more and more architects and designers realize the importance of reconnecting with nature, architecture is increasingly becoming a storyteller of environmental responsibility. Sustainable design practices like solar panels, energy-efficient materials, green roofs, water harvesting and treatment systems, and passive cooling techniques are promoted along with sustainability certifications like LEED, Energy Star, etc. As the buildings around us become greener, it serves as a poignant reminder to live in harmony with our surroundings and protect our planet.
Image 7_Adaptive reuse of a sugar refinery building into workspaces in Brooklyn by PAU_© Max Touhey
Skyscrapers are an awe-inspiring combination of architecture and new-age technology. What appeared to be simply tall buildings in various shapes before architectural education, are now intricate expressions of technological advancements of the human race. Learning about architecture makes us really consider the structural challenges and meticulous planning the designers had to go through for each high-rise building. Also, with AI and augmented reality, the process of storytelling has become more interactive and an increasing number of architects and designers use AR to bridge the gap in communication with their clients.
Image 8_The tallest building in the world, Burj Khalifa, a part of the Dubai Mall and other skyscrapers in Downtown Dubai, UAE_ © Author
Architectural education emphasizes the ability of spaces to evoke emotions and shape personal narratives. You see how certain colors and careful spatial arrangements have the ability to conjure feelings and emotions in a person. Designers carefully consider the selection of colors and elements, especially in the interiors, for it to invoke certain emotions and responses in a particular space; like the soothing interiors of a hospital, or workspaces intentionally designed to calm the employees.
Image 9_Hello Yellow, an office space in Calicut by Humming Tree Architects, intentionally designed to remind one of cheerful summers and playfulness, contrary to the typical industrial office interior designs_© Justin Sebastian Photography
In her TEDx talk, Ar. Damaris Hollingsworth recalls her initial hesitance to blend in with the students since she was older and belonged to a lower-class family, during the first years of her architectural school in the University of Sao Paulo. Despite her attempts to hide away, she found no enclosed spaces in her campus building. The building, a classic in campus design, by architect Vilanova Artigas (pictured below) has very few enclosing walls and doors. Deliberately designed to encourage interaction and exchange of ideas, the building design eventually led her to connect with her fellow students, whom she once tried to hide from. Her experience is a great example of how when intentionally designed, architecture fosters inclusivity and facilitates interaction.
Image 10_the Faculty of Architecture and Urbanism, University of Sao Paulo, by Vilanova Artigas_© flickr Fernando Stankuns
New Perspectives, Never Ending Lessons
It is proven that the sensory information collected by our brain fuels our creative thinking by combining it with our thoughts to generate new ideas. Everything we create is inspired. It is also proven that heightened awareness of the senses increases creativity (N.Divya, 2015), highlighting the importance of listening to and understanding the stories in built spaces. By keenly observing and being attentive to details with the trained eye one can come up with fresh and innovative designs. The wider perspective earned from architectural education marks the start of an endless journey of exploration, continuous learning, and updating one’s knowledge. Responsible architects stem from this realization. Architectural education becomes the beacon, illuminating the path, which has to be trodden ourselves. It acts as a guiding light to collect all the treasures along the way. As architect Damaris Hollingsworth rightly said, “Every built environment tells and creates stories, they make an impact; every space does something, we need to make sure it’s the right thing.”
Hollingsworth, D. (Director). (2018). Places and Spaces and the Behaviour They Create [Motion Picture]. Retrieved 11 14, 2023, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aNSNyJBK0VY&ab_channel=TEDxTalks
N.Divya. (2015). Development of Creativity Through Heightening of Sensory Awareness. New Delhi: Springer. Retrieved 11 16, 2023, from https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-81-322-2229-3_6
Wallace, C. N. (2007). Storytelling Through Architecture. Knoxville: University of Tennessee. Retrieved 11 13, 2023
- Initial concept sketches of the Museum of the Future, Dubai by architect Shaun Killa_ © Killa Design
- A woven sculpture depicting the Shimoni Cave at the Architect’s Studio: by studio Cave_bureau at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art_© Louisiana Museum of Modern Art/ Kim Hansen
- Scale, Symmetry, Lines, and Light: usage of various design elements and principles in Jeddah terminal of Haramain Speed Railways_© Author
- Al Balad: Historical city in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia_© Arab News/ Ziyad Alarfaj
- General Gordon Square, Woolwich, London designed by Gustafson Porter + Bowman’s_© Gustafson Porter + Bowman
- Sohrabji Godrej Green Business Centre, Hyderabad, one of the first green buildings in India_ © Deccan Chronicle
- Adaptive reuse of a sugar refinery building into workspaces in Brooklyn by PAU_© Max Touhey
- Burj Khalifa, a part of Dubai Mall and other skyscrapers in Downtown Dubai, UAE_ © Author
- Hello Yellow by Humming Tree Architects_© Justin Sebastian Photography
- the Faculty of Architecture and Urbanism, University of Sao Paulo, by Vilanova Artigas_© flickr Fernando Stankuns