“Life is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” – William Shakespeare This universal quote defines human life in the material world, in its totality. Human life is churned, lived, and composed of tales. Stories are what make us and break us. Our childhood memories are nostalgic of fairy tales while senility makes life autobiographical.
Hence, narrativity is the basis of human existence, personhood, and social life, symbolized as an account of events in one’s life that has a temporal dimension. There is an underlying narrative for every object that humans interact with.
A spatial narrative is a constant interaction and interrelation between the formal and pattern language of space and the events unfolding within it. Beyond the functional and structural aspects of architecture, it is a psychological necessity for humans that could conceive and project endless meanings or connotations for users.
Human psychology has an essentially narrative structure, which demands a phenomenological understanding of the ‘order of meaning’ in life. This meaning is the activity dimension of human life which is associated with temporality and sequence of events. The lifeworld is lived by a human being by constantly interacting with the dynamic world through his activities, forming life experience. Therefore, the spaces which humans inhabit have to coax them to become participants of activities within it rather than being mere spectators, which is accomplished through its narratives.
The psychological impact of spatial narratives is mainly through the configuration of space and the configuration of time.
The human body is the locus of perception, thought and consciousness of the ever changing world, and the human physique is a reflection of the human psyche as they are complimentary. Every building occupies a unique volume of earth and is defined and reinforced by its physical configuration, which thereby pushes the human understanding of the world with his bodily capacities.
The formal construction of a space or a building gives its first impression, conveying its meaning by evoking particular feelings and symbolizing it through architectural principles. The pure geometry of buildings makes us comprehend the mathematical principles of nature, such as horizontality invokes a sense of rest and repose, curves seem to smoothen the vision, etc.
For example, RonChamp Notre Dame Church designed by architect Le Corbusier, one of the most vital buildings of the 20th century, has an imposing curved roof atop the high massive walls symbolizing folded arms peeling towards heaven. The sporadic window placement, volume, and smooth whitewashed concrete accentuate the spiritual emotion within the devotees.
The scale of spaces causes the degree of intimacy with the sense of enclosure or openness which is a fundamental aspect of a meaningful configuration. For a kindergarten, the scale of the spaces has to be least possible to make kids comfortable with an environment at their reach. In a city, a monumental scale among the districts will cause a sense of getting lost and anxious.
Our thought process has a multisensory capacity and senses store, articulate, and process the sensory responses and thoughts. Hence space which beyond its visual appeal having a multisensory dimension is that which reverberates within us, because of the psychological nature of humans that vision separates us from the world whereas others unite.
For example, compare a Buddhist cave and a glass-walled room, the latter offers expansive views and admits abundant light while in the former one could see the rhythm of pillars, hear the echo of one’s sound, smell the antiquity, touch and feel the raw texture of the stone.
Hence, a multisensory space embeds a narrative within itself which causes us to experience and live the world due to the peripheral perception that it offers. A vision centered space or a building, purely functional could provide only a focussed vision that distances us from the space. Moreover, the texture of the space is a plastic emotion.
In narrative architecture, the connectivity and relativity of spaces within the building impact us psychologically due to the innate nature of humans who in any mental state, always tend to relate the events encountered to anticipate the future and to recollect and connect with the past.
Human life on earth is itself characterized by temporality or a configuration of a past-present-future continuum. Spatial narratives compose together interrelated events or activities of a building similar to the musical notes of a melody which could be inferred only with the help of activities preceding and succeeding it.
The temporality of human life on earth is primarily influenced by the movement, for eg, day and night are marked by the movement of the Sun. Spatial narratives employ patterns of movement in architecture that will cause a sense of motion, direction, and balance.
For example, the Guggenheim Museum at New York designed by Frank Lloyd Wright intelligently employs a definite pattern of movement, which is the deliberate part of its design to experience the building. The spiral movement sequences the exhibits with a definite beginning, intermediate part, and an end, narrating the events within the building.
When it comes to social psychology, the culture is articulated by history, collective memories, traditions, etc all of which are forms of narratives. The basis of morality for a particular group of people is obtained from the culture. Narratives have tremendous power in causing a progression and orientation towards what is considered as good for the respective culture.
The collective memory of the past will serve as the prophecy of the future in human minds. Daniel Libeskind’s Jewish Berlin Museum is a classic example of architecture in conveying the history of Jewish people and the Holocaust tragedy through the geometry and volume of spaces, the sequence of movement, and voids.
Hence, narratives act as the organizing principle of human life by making our minds capable of understanding the meaning of life through bodily perception configured by time. They mediate human experience and knowledge by reinforcing our meaning of existence or life which is the innate nature of human psychology.