Decoding Architectural Stories

For the longest time, humanity has been obsessed with stories. Be it the cave paintings in the ancient civilizations to sitting around a bonfire and sharing anecdotes of our lives. Because when you think about it, all the best memories are made better when we get them to share them. Giving a memory a narrative is such a core part of deciding how to remember it. And more importantly, what parts we choose to remember and what parts we want to forget. 

Architecture feels like a symbol of that most time. It’s the narrative of the parts we choose to share, the parts we choose to want to remember. 

It’s a memory – a physical embodiment of the narrative of the time it’s being built, and the people it’s being built for. And if you think about it – that’s what a story depends on – the characters.

Where it Started

Before pursuing architecture, that’s what I considered architecture as – a symbol. Something that told a story to present and future generations about the kind of society and environment we live in, and what we prioritise. It’s a part of our future history. And who wouldn’t want to make history?

It was a sentimental thought – to want to help create architecture so that in a small way I can be a part of the history that remains – that lives beyond my lifetime, and maybe the ones of my loved ones. 

A sentimental thought yes, but maybe a bit narrow-minded. 

Architecture isn’t always a symbol, as much as we’d like to romanticize it to be. It’s usually just a space we try to make as functional and comfortable as possible for its users. 

It’s the setting for the story. Creating the context for the right narrative. 

The Impact of Everyday Spaces

The spaces we occupy and surround ourselves with every day have such a large impact on how we perceive the work. The work being done out of a gloomy, dark room with no ventilation, being done in a large double-height space with large fenestrations and natural light would lead to such a different kind of work experience. And thereby productivity. 

Architectural Narratives – Shaping Stories through Spacces-Sheet1
Badly lit workspace  _©
Architectural Narratives – Shaping Stories through Spacces-Sheet2
Well-designed Workspace _©Keith Bedford

And that day-to-day is what plays a bigger impact at the end of the day. The architectural monuments of a time play a large role in the narrative of a place, but the day-to-day experiences of the people in it are what define the place. 

Our perception of a space is what drives our experiences in it after all. 

Unconventional Architecture

Architectural Narratives – Shaping Stories through Spacces-Sheet3
Personalization of spaces _©AdamCohn

In this modern urbanized world due to rural migration, the presence of squatter settlements has increased tenfold. The living conditions of these squatters though distressing in terms of space and hygiene, have managed to retain their persisting tradition amid the squalor of the cities. One can see personalized spaces with wall decorations, thresholds and inscriptions of auspicious symbols. That too is its kind of architecture.

There’s always an intricate relationship between buildings and the surroundings, a manner of give and take. It’s the details such as material compatibility, acoustics of a space, light and threshold that curate the experience. And the narrative of the journey through it.  

Crafting Spaces – Power and Intimacy

As Peter Zumthor has mentioned – (Zumthor, 2006). Our surrounding spaces allow a level of intimacy it that we can understand by scale and proximity.₁ 

In architecture one needs to be able to understand the vocation of the context. The character of these spaces is how we relate these natural spaces to human traits. To be able to build and experience we need to understand the importance of the setting we’re creating for the people we design it for.

Space in Storytelling – A New Perspective

Now every time I come across a book or a movie – or any medium of storytelling. I stop and consider the importance of where the story takes place. I stop to consider how the space the characters occupy has played a factor in the very essence of how the narrative unfolds. 

So when you ask me how architecture has changed my perspective, I’d have to say it’s given me a sense of how importance of a space (Charles, 1978). It is this same gaze over which architecture has such a high command. This design of spaces can seduce our gaze towards, saunter us towards, and thereby mould our experiences because of it.₂

Ideas and stories are easy to come by. But a great story comes with the right context. And how privileged we architects are to have this power to guide the narrative by the space we curate. With this comes a significant responsibility to ensure our creations positively impact the world around us.

Maybe that’s why we need architecture to tell the right story. 


₁ Zumthor,PZ, 2006, Atmosphere, Boston, ‎Birkhäuser Architecture

₂ Charles, JC, 1978, The language of Postmodern Architecture, New York: Rizzoli


Aiman Ansari is an architect currently working and residing in Bombay. She completed her B.Arch 2021 and has gone on to work on projects varying from low-cost housing, to educational institutes and in the hospitality industry. She’s fascinated by the power architecture has to not only tell a story but also create them. She draws inspiration from the idea that the spaces we occupy guide a large part of our individual stories Social responsibility plays a large part in her life. Aiman co-authored the publication ‘Rising Beyond the Ceiling – Karnataka’. A book that looks to break the stereotype of Indian Muslim Women.