The ever-evolving field of architecture breathes among the visuals and arts; hence it is no wonder architects are trained likewise to create beautiful drawings, models, and renderings. Most of the time, architects communicate through their craft and imagery. But this is only half the story. A design or picture might deserve a thousand words. 

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What is it that connects and fills the gap between the design journey and visuals………………….a narrative.

In simple terms, a form of architecture where building words is equally important as the building itself is narrative architecture — an architecture whose basis lies on statements and prose. A narrative helps to paint a series of events. 

Every designed object by a designer, tells a story. On the one hand, stories can be perceived easily while on the other, they need thoughtful consideration. The story can be simple or complex, like a novel. The copiousness lies in the content, just as the saying goes, ‘you can’t judge a book by its cover’, in the same way, you can’t judge a building by its exterior.

The narrative not only generates curiosity and wants to explore the design but also creates a level of meaning and connection with the user. The story brings in the ability to further take architecture into depth, eliminating the obvious. Narrative architecture evolves by introspecting the client’s passion, building function, site context, its program, and the historical background. A simple message through the structure, material, form, and details, completes the full story, and gives fullness to the experience.  

This form of architecture gave rise to various styles of architecture throughout history. Some designs display their power through the strength of a façade like the Palazzo Farnese for the Medici’s, or the impressive Gothic cathedrals with the flying buttresses and soaring groin vaults, or the solidity of Mies’ Seagrams Building, each communicates a message more significant than the function enclosed within. Sometimes the story grows too kitschy, like.

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How is narrative architecture received by mainstream media - Sheet2
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Narrative architecture, apparently heroic, is not utopian. It can be as open as one explains it or can be a mystery.

An architecture of failed and accomplished designs and projects, which aims to get portrayed through narrative texts and visual imagery. An architecture, not concerned with any form of criticism, not preoccupied with expert’s views in newspapers or internet opinionated blogs or glossy magazines, is something that talks for real.

The Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas said: “Architecture has a serious problem with communication,” in the 1st European Conference on Architecture & the Media organized by Fundació Mies Van der Rohe in 2018. The conference was a part of Barcelona Architecture week and the program to broadcast the European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture – Mies van der Rohe Award. The conference was for twenty most influential communicators to share about how to transmit architecture. To come up with ideas for gaining attention to high-quality projects as well as public spaces in the media. Discussions took place with architects, communication professionals, cultural institutions and organizations, and other journalists. Everyone was keenly interested and could not agree more.

Narrative architecture nowadays is also growing through digital and social media with an experiential description. At the same time, in mainstream media, it is often displayed and explored through visuals. A picture of a completed building or design seems to be the end of a professional’s work but is just the beginning of the users. Caukin Studio’s attempt to put the picture into a detailed narrative is beautifully demonstrated in the documentary by Katie Edwards. Very few projects are explained in and out, which gives an experience of the design process with people associated with it.

You can watch it here.

The narrative has a long-lasting and memorable impact on the readers as well. An article from ‘The Dallas morning news’ by Mark Lamster is an excellent and detailed narrative of a conventional single-family dwelling. The impact this article creates on the reader is experiential and personal. It walks you through the design and tells the story of how and why every tiny element owns the space. Read the full article here.

Another beautiful example of the narrative of architecture is the article by Ada Huxtable in The New York Times, ‘ Sometimes we do it right,’ in 1968. This article is an incredible physical illustration of the lively and fascinating New York City.

Read the article here

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These examples of good narratives tell us how it makes a difference and changes the language of architecture completely. 

A good picture or rendering can captivate attention. But it is not the case for every design or structure, still could be capable of writing a story on. Not only famous buildings, monuments, government buildings or some unfortunate incidents (e.g. violation of rules or if the building collapses) should be covered in the media, but every designer should implant the storytelling art for all designed objects to reach more audiences.

Author

Tanvi Saraf, an architect who believes that every space has a story, waiting to be narrated. Always looking to make a tiny effort to connect the dots through experiences.

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