“What the people are within, the buildings are without” –Louis Sullivan.

We as people always perceive the world around us through stories. In our childhood home, the playground we used to play at as a child, we tend to think about our memories too as a story, sometimes in the form of a picture, a song, a place. The first day at school, or the day we woke up to a nationwide lockdown. Every different person has their own tale to tell, don’t they?

Even without essentially realizing it, the spaces around us become a part of this story. Our homes, the places we go to, the ones we would remember even many years in the future, architecture plays a very important role in the narrative of one’s life. A person talking about their yesteryears talks about the spaces they lived in, how their house had this huge courtyard or how they remember that particular landmark that still stands today. All of this contributes to the way we see the world around us, and our vision often broadens when we learn more about architecture.

Stories of the past

When we learn about architecture in history, we can see that it was built and understood as something revolving around the lives of people then. Even today, we perceive it as a part of a story, as a mark of past events for generations to come. Through the built environment of a particular time and place in the past, one can learn about the kind of lives the people lived, their culture, traditions and beliefs. From the minute carved details to the kind of spaces they built, all the architecture appears to be very ingrained with the people living in them.

We see architecture also expressed in other art forms like paintings, where it is used as a medium in the story depicted through the painting.

Tales of spaces: when architecture speaks - Sheet1
Mughal painting_Akbarnama_warfare.ga

The Mughal emperor Akbar (r.1556–1605) encamped before the river Ganges in northeast India. The painting depicts the architecture of the period in context with the events happening.

Architecture in the past, apart from being a provider of shelter, was created as another form of art to express, understand, experience and to learn. It was also a powerful medium to document history, which we can learn from today. The buildings were built to lead to a visual story, preserving important information of the time. We see stories depicted in architecture, like the carvings in temples or stupas. They even sometimes recorded the purpose of the building or the people who contributed to its creation within the building itself.

Spaces in stories

Stories depicted in a variety of media like books, cinema, music and many others are a reflection of realities or imaginations. Spaces often have an important role to play in these artistic creations where one can go beyond reality to showcase interesting visual and literary scenarios.

They become the backdrop or often the catalyst for the happening of events. The “Haunting of Hill House” by Shirley Jackson is one such book where the house itself has been described in such a way that it plays a major role in the horror aspect of the story. Important landmarks also bring, along with their presence, a legendary value and story of their own to a work of fiction. They create a memorable presence of history, of the real world around often a fictional narrative which adds to its depth and appeal. We remember the experience of the fictional story when we, at times, actually visit the place. Science fiction often depicts architecture as one of the main visual sceneries of the story, where it symbolizes the type of life the story is about.

Tales of spaces: when architecture speaks - Sheet2
Grand Budapest Hotel_Fox Searchlight Pictures

The Grand Budapest hotel offers an aesthetic visual backdrop using the interiors of the hotel with its ornate details and vibrant colours.

Architecture for storytelling

Tales of spaces: when architecture speaks - Sheet3
Jewish Museum Berlin_Michele Natasi

The Garden of exile (Jewish Museum Berlin) provides a view of the open sky through tall pillars, which express contrasting emotions of being lost and hopeful at the same time.

Telling a story purposefully through architecture can give great profundity and value to the creation. Projects based on narrative other than the conventional program-based approach offer another working strategy for design. Such architecture offers a different perspective for the people to look at and experience the building through. A very famous example of architecture that tells a story is the Jewish Museum in Berlin, which creates a storyline aligned to the historical events and provides a unique experience for visitors. The Vietnam veteran memorial also tells a tale with its unique form, which is an interpretation of the experience of the actual events.

Tales of spaces: when architecture speaks
Vietnam Veteran Memorial_Maya Lin Studio

The Vietnam veteran memorial, is formed by a 247 ft granite wall shaped like a slit in the earth

“Whatever good things we build end up building us”, –Jim Rohn

Often without us realizing it, architecture has a huge impact on our lives as humans living in a society. Knowing this, it is necessary that we create and live in spaces that help make and experience our own stories, which they witness to tell for generations to come. The architecture of today and tomorrow, when building a narrative, a storyline, can connect more to the people that live in it. Empathy from the space to the living and, even the other way round, makes architecture alive. After all, what is a building without the people using it, just like a body without a soul!


  1. mindspace. (2018). Architecture and Storytelling. [online] Available at: https://mindspacearchitects.wordpress.com/2018/04/05/architecture-and-storytelling [Accessed 29 Mar. 2022].
  2. www.linkedin.com. (n.d.). Architecture and Storytelling (Part 1 of 2). [online] Available at: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/architecture-storytelling-part-1-2-chris-jones [Accessed 1 Apr. 2022].
  3. ArchDaily. (2020). 6 Movies That Use Architectural Visualizations to Tell Stories and Create Atmospheres. [online] Available at: https://www.archdaily.com/942402/6-movies-that-use-architectural-visualizations-to-tell-stories-and-create-atmospheres.
  4. Surya Tubach (2018). The Astounding Miniature Paintings of India’s Mughal Empire. [online] Artsy. Available at: https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-astounding-miniature-paintings-indias-mughal-empire.
  5. Pavka, E. (2010). AD Classics: Jewish Museum, Berlin / Studio Libeskind. [online] ArchDaily. Available at: https://www.archdaily.com/91273/ad-classics-jewish-museum-berlin-daniel-libeskind.


  1. Akbar Receives Trophies of War from Asaf Khan, (1565) (Akbarnama (right panel), V & A Museum)
  2. dam-images-daily-2014-03-grand-budapest-hotel-grand-budapest-hotel-set-05-lobby-german-jugendstil-decor.jpg, ©Fox Searchlight Pictures(www.architecturaldigest.com)
  3. Natasi, M. (Libeskind.com, Jewish Museum Berlin)
  4. Vietnam Veteran Memorial, ©Maya Lin Studio(www.mayalinstudio.com)

An observant and wandering soul, Gandhali has always been fascinated by the power that words can hold. While exploring architecture, she developed an interest to learn about spaces and the life in them, and about seeing architecture through words. She strives to be able to express through her words too.

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