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Ubc graduate research, designing stories : a narrative-driven design process for architecture lum, theresa --> -->.

This thesis proposes that narrative can bring richness and depth to a architectural project, and that there are unexplored ways that narrative can be used in the design process. I suggest that drawing from the discipline of film production design, which is a process that is already centered on storytelling, can offer a new working method for architecture. Using production design as a template for the design process allows narrative to be the foundation of a design, creating a new lens through which to see storytelling in architecture. In production design, the script is the client – the design is completely centered on storytelling, with each design tool being used to help tell a story. Key to designing a film’s story is the process of world building. This process begins with the creation of mood and the development of characters, using tools such as colour, light, scale and pattern. In architecture, narrative is often used to frame a project or to describe how a project operates, but is not at the core of the design process, guiding the design decisions, as is the case with production design. Through an investigation into how the process of production design can be translated into an architectural project, this thesis expands the conversation between narrative and architecture, and the relationship between architecture and film. This project uses the production designer’s narrative tools – namely world building, mood and character – to weave multiple storylines through a site, allowing these stories to shape the design and shift the perception of the resulting built forms. The site chosen for this exploration is Cooper’s Green Park in Halfmoon Bay, British Columbia. In the following design process, I use the design of five architectural interventions to support three different stories, in a way that can be changeable from one narrative to the next. Through the architecture, this project creates moments that highlight the narratives’ story worlds – their mood and their characters. We experience and frame our lives in stories, and architecture will always be part of those stories. I believe it is worth exploring new ways of developing architecture through narrative.

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Royal College of Art

NATØ: Exploring architecture as a narrative medium in postmodern London


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We use signs, images and words, molded to make sense of our world, or to communicate with others. We are imaginative beings, driven by curiosity, and 'stories' are often the molds that we use to process the matter that we see and experience. We have an intuitive understanding of stories. From anecdotes in our daily conversations to fairytales and legends, story-telling was used by the oldest cultures to educate, entertain and propagate knowledge. From the way indigenous cultures engaged with it, storytelling has largely changed in form today, with various new media replacing oral tradition, and the increasing speed of information exchange over the internet. Yet, the practice retains relevant due to the merits it holds, and requires avenues to continue on a societal scale.

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narrative architecture dissertation

Writing an Architecture Thesis: A-Z Guide

ishika kapoor

14 min read

January 5, 2022


Table of Contents

How to Choose Your Architecture Thesis Topic

As with most things, taking the first step is often the hardest. Choosing a topic for your architecture thesis is not just daunting but also one that your faculty will not offer much help with. To aid this annual confusion among students of architecture, we've created this resource with tips, topics to choose from, case examples, and links to further reading!

[Read: 7 Tips on Choosing the Perfect Architecture Thesis Topic for you ]

1. What You Love

Might seem like a no-brainer, but in the flurry of taking up a feasible topic, students often neglect this crucial point. Taking up a topic you're passionate about will not just make for a unique thesis, but will also ensure your dedication during tough times.

Think about the things you're interested in apart from architecture. Is it music? Sports? History? Then, look for topics that can logically incorporate these interests into your thesis. For example, I have always been invested in women's rights, and therefore I chose to design rehabilitation shelters for battered women for my thesis. My vested interest in the topic kept me going through heavy submissions and nights of demotivation!

Watch Vipanchi's video above to get insights on how she incorporated her interest in Urban Farming to create a brilliant thesis proposal, which ended up being one of the most viewed theses on the internet in India!

2. What You're Good At

You might admire, say, tensile structures, but it’s not necessary that you’re also good at designing them. Take a good look at the skills you’ve gathered over the years in architecture school- whether it be landscapes, form creation, parametric modelling- and try to incorporate one or two of them into your thesis.

It is these skills that give you an edge and make the process slightly easier.

The other way to look at this is context-based , both personal and geographical. Ask yourself the following questions:

• Do you have a unique insight into a particular town by virtue of having spent some time there?

• Do you come from a certain background , like doctors, chefs, etc? That might give you access to information not commonly available.

• Do you have a stronghold over a particular built typology?

3. What the World Needs

By now, we’ve covered two aspects of picking your topic which focus solely on you. However, your thesis will be concerned with a lot more people than you! A worthy objective to factor in is to think about what the world needs which can combine with what you want to do.

For example, say Tara loves photography, and has unique knowledge of its processes. Rather than creating a museum for cameras, she may consider a school for filmmaking or even a film studio!

Another way to look at this is to think about socio-economically relevant topics, which demonstrate their own urgency. Think disaster housing, adaptive reuse of spaces for medical care, etcetera. Browse many such categories in our resource below!

[Read: 30 Architecture Thesis Topics You Can Choose From ]

4. What is Feasible

Time to get real! As your thesis is a project being conducted within the confines of an institution as well as a semester, there are certain constraints which we need to take care of:

• Site/Data Accessibility: Can you access your site? Is it possible to get your hands on site data and drawings in time?

• Size of Site and Built-up Area: Try for bigger than a residential plot, but much smaller than urban scale. The larger your site/built-up, the harder it will be to do justice to it.

• Popularity/Controversy of Topic: While there’s nothing wrong with going for a popular or controversial topic, you may find highly opinionated faculty/jury on that subject, which might hinder their ability to give unbiased feedback.

• Timeline! Only you know how productive you are, so go with a topic that suits the speed at which you work. This will help you avoid unnecessary stress during the semester.

How to Create an Area Program for your Architecture Thesis

Watch SPA Delhi Thesis Gold-Medallist Nishita Mohta talk about how to create a good quality area program.

Watch SPA Delhi Thesis Gold-Medallist Nishita Mohta talk about how to create a good quality area program.

Often assumed to be a quantitative exercise, creating an area program is just as much a qualitative effort. As Nishita says, “An area program is of good quality when all user experiences are created with thought and intention to enhance the usage of the site and social fabric.”

Essentially, your area program needs to be human-centric, wherein each component is present for a very good reason. Rigorously question the existence of every component on your program for whether it satisfies an existing need, or creates immense value for users of your site.

To this end, you need to create three lists:

• A list of proposed spaces by referring to area programs of similar projects;

• A list of needs of your users which can be fulfilled by spatial intervention.

• A list of existing functions offered by your immediate context.

Once you put these lists side-by-side, you’ll see that you are able to match certain needs of users to some proposed spaces on your list, or to those in the immediate context.

However, there will be some proposed spaces which do not cater to any need, and needs that are not catered to by any of the spaces. There will also be certain proposed spaces which are redundant because the context already fulfils that need.

This when you remove redundant spaces to create ones for unmatched needs, and viola, you have a good quality area program!

Confused? Here’s an example from the above video. Nishita originally intended to provide a typical eatery on her site, which she later realised was redundant because several eateries already existed around it. In this manner, she was able to fulfil the actual needs of her users- one of which was to be able to rest without having to pay for anything- rather than creating a generic, unnecessary space.

How to Identify Key Stakeholders for Your Architecture Thesis

“A stakeholder? You mean investors in my thesis?”, you scoff.

You’re not wrong! Theoretically, there are several people invested in your thesis! A stakeholder in an architectural project is anyone who has interest and gets impacted by the process or outcome of the project.

At this point, you may question why it’s important to identify your stakeholders. The stakeholders in your thesis will comprise of your user groups, and without knowing your users, you can’t know their needs or design for them!

There are usually two broad categories of stakeholders you must investigate:

• Key Stakeholders: Client and the targeted users

• Invisible Stakeholders: Residents around the site, local businesses, etc.

Within these broad categories, start by naming the kind of stakeholder. Are they residents in your site? Visitors? Workers? Low-income neighbours? Once you’ve named all of them, go ahead and interview at least one person from each category!

The reason for this activity is that you are not the all-knowing Almighty. One can never assume to know what all your users and stakeholders need, and therefore, it’s essential to understand perspectives and break assumptions by talking directly to them. This is how you come up with the aforementioned 'List of Needs', and through it, an area program with a solid footing.

An added advantage of carrying out this interviewing process is that at the end of the day, nobody, not even the jury, can question you on the relevance of a function on your site!

Why Empathy Mapping is Crucial for Your Architecture Thesis

Okay, I interviewed my stakeholders, but I can’t really convert a long conversation into actionable inputs. What do I do?

This is where empathy mapping comes in. It basically allows you to synthesize your data and reduce it to the Pain Points and Gain Points of your stakeholders, which are the inferences of all your observations.

• Pain Points: Problems and challenges that your users face, which you should try to address through design.

• Gain Points: Aspirations of your users which can be catered to through design.

In the above video, Nishita guides you through using an empathy map, so I would highly recommend our readers to watch it. The inferences through empathy mapping are what will help you create a human-centric design that is valuable to the user, the city, and the social fabric.

Download your own copy of this Empathy Map by David Gray , and get working!

Beyond Case Studies: Component Research for your Architecture Thesis

Coming to the more important aspects, it’s essential to know whether learning a new skill will expand your employability prospects. Otherwise, might as well just spend the extra time sleeping. Apart from being a highly sought-after skill within each design field, Rhinoceros is a unique software application being used across the entire spectrum of design. This vastly multiples your chances of being hired and gives you powerful versatility as a freelancer or entrepreneur. The following are some heavyweights in the design world where Rhino 3D is used:

Case Studies are usually existing projects that broadly capture the intent of your thesis. But, it’s not necessary that all components on your site will get covered in depth during your case studies.', 'Instead, we recommend also doing individual Component (or Typology) Research, especially for functions with highly technical spatial requirements.

For example, say you have proposed a residence hall which has a dining area, and therefore, a kitchen- but you have never seen an industrial kitchen before. How would you go about designing it?', 'Not very well!', 'Or, you’re designing a research institute with a chemistry lab, but you don’t know what kind of equipment they use or how a chem lab is typically laid out.

But don’t freak out, it’s not necessary that all of this research needs to be in person! You can use a mixture of primary and secondary studies to your advantage. The point of this exercise is to deeply understand each component on your site such that you face lesser obstacles while designing.

[Read: Site Analysis Categories You Need to Cover For Your Architecture Thesis Project ]" ]

The Technique of Writing an Experiential Narrative for your Architecture Thesis

A narrative? You mean writing? What does that have to do with anything?

A hell of a lot, actually! While your area programs, case studies, site analysis, etc. deal with the tangible, the experience narrative is about the intangible. It is about creating a story for what your user would experience as they walk through the space, which is communicated best in the form of text. This is done for your clarity before you start designing, to be your constant reference as to what you aim to experientially achieve through design.

At the end of the day, all your user will consciously feel is the experience of using your space, so why not have a clear idea of what we want to achieve?

This can be as long or as short as you want, it’s completely up to you! To get an example of what an experience narrative looks like, download the ebook and take a look at what Nishita wrote for her thesis.

Overcoming Creative Blocks During Your Architecture Thesis

Ah, the old enemy of the artist, the Creative Block. Much has been said about creative blocks over time, but there’s not enough guidance on how to overcome them before they send your deadline straight to hell.

When you must put your work out into the world for judgement, there is an automatic fear of judgement and failure which gets activated. It is a defensive mechanism that the brain creates to avoid potential emotional harm.

So how do we override this self-destructive mechanism?

As Nishita says, just waiting for the block to dissolve until we magically feel okay again is not always an option. Therefore, we need to address the block there and then, and to systematically seek inspiration which would help us with a creative breakthrough.

This is where the concept of Divergent and Convergent Thinking comes in.

• Divergent Thinking: Say you browse through ideas on pinterest to get inspired. If you’re in a creative rut, do just that, but don’t worry about implementing any of those ideas. Freely and carelessly jot down everything that inspires you right now regardless of how unfeasible they may be. This is called Divergent Thinking! This process will help unclog your brain and free it from anxiety.

Snippet from the video explaining divergent and convergent thinking.

Divergent and convergent thinking.

• Convergent Thinking: Now, using the various constraints of your architecture thesis project, keep or eliminate those ideas based on how feasible they are for your thesis. This is called Convergent Thinking. You’ll either end up with some great concepts to pursue, or have become much more receptive to creative thinking!

Feel free to use Nishita’s Idea Dashboard (example in the video) to give an identity to the ideas you chose to go forward with. Who knows, maybe your creative block will end up being what propels you forward in your ideation process!

How to Prototype Form and Function During Your Architecture Thesis

Prototyping is one of the most crucial processes of your architecture thesis project. But what exactly does it mean?

“A preliminary version of your designed space which can be used to give an idea of various aspects of your space is known as a prototype.”

As Nishita explains in the video above, there can be endless kinds of prototypes that you can explore for your thesis, and all of them explain different parts of your designed space. However, the two aspects of your thesis most crucial to communicate through prototyping are Form and Function.

As we know, nothing beats physical or 3D models as prototypes of form. But how can you prototype function? Nishita gives the example of designing a School for the Blind , wherein you can rearrange your actual studio according to principles you’re using to design for blind people. And then, make your faculty and friends walk through the space with blindfolds on! Prototyping doesn’t get better than this.

In the absence of time or a physical space, you may also explore digital walkthroughs to achieve similar results. Whatever your method may be, eventually the aim of the prototype is to give a good idea of versions of your space to your faculty, friends, or jury, such that they can offer valuable feedback. The different prototypes you create during your thesis will all end up in formulating the best possible version towards the end.

Within the spectrum of prototypes, they also may vary between Narrative Prototypes and Experiential Prototypes. Watch the video above to know where your chosen methods lie on this scale and to get more examples of fascinating prototyping!

How to Convert Feedback (Crits) into Action During Your Architecture Thesis Project

Nishita talks about how to efficiently capture feedback and convert them into actionable points during your architecture thesis process.

Nishita talks about how to efficiently capture feedback and convert them into actionable points during your architecture thesis process.

If you’ve understood the worth of prototyping, you would also know by now that those prototypes are only valuable if you continuously seek feedback on them. However, the process of taking architectural ‘crits’ (critique) can often be a prolonged, meandering affair and one may come out of them feeling dazed, hopeless and confused. This is especially true for the dreaded architecture thesis crits!

To avoid that, Nishita suggests capturing feedback efficiently in a simple grid, noting remarks under the following four categories:

• Amplify: There will be certain aspects of your thesis that your faculty and friends would appreciate, or would point out as key features of your design that must be made more prominent. For example, you may have chosen to use a certain definitive kind of window in a space, which you could be advised to use more consistently across your design. This is the kind of feedback you would put under ‘Amplify’.

• Address: More often, you will receive feedback which says, ‘this is not working’ or ‘you’ve done nothing to address this problem’. In such cases, don’t get dejected or defensive, simply note the points under the ‘Address’ column. Whether you agree with the advice or not, you cannot ignore it completely!

• Explore: Sometimes, you get feedback that is totally out of the blue or is rather unclear in its intent. Don’t ponder too long over those points during your crit at the cost of other (probably more important) aspects. Rather, write down such feedback under the ‘Explore’ column, to investigate further independently.

• Consider: When someone looks at your work, their creative and problem-solving synapses start firing as well, and they are likely to come up with ideas of their own which you may not have considered. You may or may not want to take them up, but it is a worthy effort to put them down under the ‘Consider’ column to ruminate over later!

Following this system, you would come out of the feedback session with action points already in hand! Feel free to now go get a coffee, knowing that you have everything you need to continue developing your architecture thesis project.

How to Structure Your Architecture Thesis Presentation for a Brilliant Jury

And so, together, we have reached the last stage of your architecture thesis project: The Jury. Here, I will refrain from telling you that this is the most important part of the semester, as I believe that the process of learning is a lot more valuable than the outcome. However, one cannot deny the satisfaction of a good jury at the end of a gruelling semester!

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Architecture Senior Theses

Architecture of Narrative


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Spring 2020

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A historic building should be adapted to the existing context and its character should be encouraged to evolve and transform. The addition and intervention to existing building is an inventive and creative process which provides great opportunities to transform an obsolete building into a propelling agent through particular ways, although at the same time restricted by numerous limitations. Architecture should become a tool of highlighting the relationship between the old and new and a bridge that connects the past, present, and future, becoming a point in the timeline of a place and culture. Also, visual storytelling displays a history of the past, an identity for the present, and an expectation for the future for people to compare and think of. Architecture is an ever-present form of experiential storytelling. The built environment has the potential to become more than just a space for daily life and activities, beyond the pure materiality. The space itself can carry stories, memories and imaginations. The narrative is not only about images or words, but about three-dimensional spaces. This thesis seeks to explore how to engage with the history of a site, respects existing conditions of a place, relates to present needs, and provides the potential for future use and adaptation, and how to utilize architecture spatial and material strategies in order to propel narrative and create an immersive experience for visitors, using the renowned Chinese novel The True Story of Ah Q as the primary vehicle for exploration. The thesis will explore the narrative and architectural typologies and focus on study “defamilization” as a main strategy in different scales to create connections between visitors and the story, and also enhance visitors’ sense of being part of the story, prompting them to think about the past, present and future. Through this examination, the thesis will attempt to incorporate a sequence of archetypal experiences and rituals corresponding to crucial scenarios in the story.

Recommended Citation

Day, Yinem, "Architecture of Narrative" (2020). Architecture Senior Theses . 479. https://surface.syr.edu/architecture_theses/479

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"Cyberfeminism Catalog 1990–2020," by Malinda Seu (MDes '19) — Recipient of the Design Studies Thesis Prize

Narratives neither recount things “as they really happened” nor reveal the “true” meaning of artefacts, cultures, and lived experiences.

Narratives, rather, construct the literary and spatial figures that render all these available to our attention as sites of projection, dispute, and transformation. The Domain of Narratives of the MDes Program provides students with the opportunity to explore and articulate interpretations of the social, cultural, historical, technical, and political contexts of design. As such, it is directed towards those for whom advanced study can serve as preparation for future work in three general areas:

  • The development of an intellectual foundation for the pursuit of careers in journalism, digital media, publishing, or curation related to the design professions.
  • The cultivation of theoretical and historical frameworks for future design practices and pedagogies.
  • The subsequent pursuit of a PhD degree in the history and philosophy of design, architecture, cities, or landscapes, or in adjacent fields that include the study of constructed environments.

The program is structured around a curriculum that includes offerings taught by the history/theory faculty as well as courses in digital media and design theory led by practitioners. Students are encouraged to look across departments for their courses in order to foster interdisciplinary pursuits. During their residence, students in the Domain of Narratives also have access to an unparalleled array of archives, museums, centers, and libraries at Harvard University.

Narratives Proseminar: Word & Image as Narrative Structure

In our Proseminar, we will grapple with a selection of critical discussions on word and image as these have been formulated in aesthetic philosophy, literary criticism, media studies, and art and architectural history. The encounter between graphic form and written discourse has been construed as a seamless exchange, a contentious rivalry, or an outright war between incommensurable modes of expression. By setting this encounter against design-related tropes and themes (these might include, but are not limited to, Sign, Figura, Shadow, Threshold, and City), we will assess a debate that ranges from the doctrine of  ut pictura poesis  to visuality and textuality, the rhetoric of the image, and the mediation of cultural techniques.

Domain Head

Ed Eigen , Senior Lecturer in the History of Landscape and Architecture

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Architecture Narratives – The Storytelling of Design

If a building can’t speak, can it really tell a story?…

Architecture narratives Story telling in architecture

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If a building can’t speak, can it really tell a story? 

Buildings, paintings, cities, or any other well designed object for that matter – tell stories in all kinds of ways, from their form to their materials to their referencing of history. They don’t do this by themselves, of course; it’s the job of the designer to ‘write’ and express this story, otherwise known as the narrative. 

This article explains in detail what an architectural narrative means, with plenty of concrete examples of why and how it might be generated. We offer some tips for improving your skills in producing architectural narratives, and look at strategies for presenting them.

Are you sitting comfortably? Then we’ll begin. Once upon a time…

Architecture Narratives

What is a narrative?

In short, a narrative is just a story – a description of a sequence of events, involving characters and usually some underlying messages or themes. The word is commonly used to discuss novels and plays, but also features strongly in the field of design.  

What is ‘architectural narrative’?

An architectural narrative is the story that a building tells about its users and/or its patrons. A great example is the Institut du Monde Arabe (1987) in Paris by Architecture-Studio and Jean Nouvel, which combines elements of Western and Islamic architecture in order to illustrate and nurture the relationship between France and the Arab world.

It is a building that can be ‘read’, almost like a book (and for this reason will be mentioned as an example throughout this article).

What about ‘design narrative’ and ‘spatial narrative’?

The terms architectural narrative, design narrative and spatial narrative are often used interchangeably, though there are subtle differences. Since most fields of design (industrial, graphic, fashion, and so on) use storytelling as part of their process, ‘design narrative’ has a broader application than ‘architectural narrative’.

On the other hand, ‘spatial narrative’ applies principally to architecture and landscape design, since space is less of a factor when designing a poster or a pair of jeans.

Architectural narratives

Why should architecture tell a story.

During the design process, generating an architectural narrative serves a multitude of functions.

It ensures that the client, architect and broader team are on, and stay on, the same page; it acts as a motivator, since stories remind us why we are doing something; and it works as a unifying factor to create aesthetic harmony throughout the building.

When the building is in use, a strong architectural narrative adds interest for users of the building and attracts outside visitors, as well as strengthening the identity of a particular community.

One story told by the Institut du Monde Arabe , for example, is that French Muslims belong in France; an enormous building in the capital city so influenced by Islamic traditions can hardly mean anything else.

How can architecture tell a story?

Research by Gensler found that architecture and literature share four key storytelling elements, namely characters, image, backstory and theme.

In a building, the characters are the people who are connected with the site, whether patrons, users or visitors; the image is the physical appearance of the building and the impression it creates; the backstory is the rootedness of a place in its historical context; and the theme is the underlying belief or principle that the architect wants to communicate.

The section below (‘How do architects actually create narrative?’) expands on this idea.

The same research also identified situations in which architecture fails to tell a story. One of these is when economic constraints force buildings to be erected as quickly and cheaply as possible, producing ‘McBuildings’ that appear banal and unconnected to their surroundings.

Another is when architects communicate just one thread of a story, or try to communicate a complex story through just one part of a building, instead of conceiving the building and its narrative as an interrelated and multi-faceted whole.

Architecture Narratives

How do architects actually create narrative?

There are three main ways in which architects generate narrative. 

The first is by using forms, materials, scale, light, heat, and sound in particular ways, especially in ways that enhance practicality by linking form to function. Consider the brise-soleil (a feature commonly found in tropical architecture, which keeps buildings cool by deflecting sunlight) at the Institut du Monde Arabe .

Though Paris is far from tropical, the architects included a photo-sensitive brise-soleil with motor-controlled apertures. The resultant filtered light not only evokes the mishrabiya in Islamic architecture, but also protects the delicate objects in the museum. 

The second way architects create narrative is by attending to the location and physical properties of a building’s site, and working with rather than against them.

This tendency is exemplified by so-called critical regionist architects such as Tadao Ando , whose stepped Rokko housing development (1981-1998) is built into a mountain near Kobe, Japan.

Every house has an outside space inseparable from ‘nature’, and the architect used concrete so the natural form of the mountain and geometric form of the apartments could be pleasingly contrasted.

The third and final way narrative is generated is by reference to history, ensuring continuity of architectural form and meaning.

For example, Alvar Aalto’s Summer House (1953) in Muuratsalo, which served for many years as his experimental space, was inspired by a Roman atrium but opens onto a courtyard like traditional Finnish farmhouses. 

Architectural narrative and the design brief

It is common complaint that design briefs, whether for buildings or other products, are full of overused and broadly meaningless words such as ‘user-friendly’. (Who wants a school or hospital that isn’t friendly to its users?) Creating an architectural narrative is one way to get around such generalizations.

By putting themselves in the shoes of a ‘character’ – which is to say a typical user or another person likely to be affected by the building – and imagining their ‘story’, architects should be able to design spaces that are appropriate for the largest number of people.

For example, when designing a family home, it makes sense to undertake a virtual walk-through as each member of that family, may not have the same needs and preferences.

When designing a building that occupies a public space (or indeed designing public space itself), it may be helpful to imagine the responses of those living and working nearby such as older people concerned about an increase in anti-social behavior or parents worried about the loss of green spaces for their children to use. 

Discussing architectural narratives

Architectural narratives can feel somewhat intangible, and when presenting them it’s all too easy to confuse them or to ramble. The following three-stage process should help you stay on track:

1. Give a very brief introduction

Though your introduction should be brief, the process of coming up with it may not be! In just one or two sentences, you should try to explain exactly what you’re about to present, for example, ‘This is an antenatal clinic that makes expectant parents feel welcome and reassured’.

It’s not always easy to condense everything you’re thinking into so few words, but your audience really need to hear a succinct description upfront. Make sure the words you choose are meaningful and precise.

2. Outline your specific approach to the project

There are probably as many ways to create a welcoming and reassuring environment as there are expectant parents, so make plain to your client what your particular understanding of those terms is.

Will the clinic reassure with the clarity and consistency of its design, with its form and color, with the privacy and comfort of its spaces, or with something else? 

3. Offer examples in 2D & 3D

Once you’ve clarified your approach, give the client some specific examples of how you will manifest it using sketches , plans , and models . Don’t wander off track; illustrate only the approach you described in step two.

Include enough examples to convince your audience that you’ve given the building thorough consideration, but not so many that they blend into one and create confusion.

Key tips and strategies

In sum, here are eight tips and strategies to bear in mind when creating an architectural narrative.

1. Location, location, location

The location of the building will be the starting point for many narratives. Returning to the Institut du Monde Arabe, the building’s river facade follows the curve of the road (dictated by the river itself), while the opposite facade – the one with the motor-controlled brise-soleil – overlooks a public square.

One ‘reading’ of this might be that the institute, and therefore by extension Arab culture, can fit harmoniously into the Parisian context without losing itself.

2. Keep people at the center of your story

Narratives are all about people; no great works of literature describe only scenery and objects. Though these things can be important to architects, most of the buildings we design will be for human use. It follows, then, that the way to make them better is to think like the humans who will move through and around them. 

3. Create a ‘journey’ through the building

On the topic of movement, it might help to think of your architectural narrative in terms of a journey through the building, articulated by horizontal and vertical spaces of varying size, brightness and warmth. How do you want someone to feel as they approach the building, and as they experience each of its areas? How can you make this happen? 

4. Do your research

Your research should go beyond finding out what the building’s users will need (though of course this is essential). Read up on the ethos and history of your patrons, as well as the historical context of the site where the building will be located. Can you incorporate your findings into the building?

An oft-derided example of this is the use of porthole windows and other nautical motifs at waterside apartment complexes, but thorough research will allow you to address this aspect of storytelling with much greater subtlety.

5. Take scale into account

Remember that your building will tell a different story depending on where someone is located in relation to it. Make sure you consider the narrative from a considerable distance, from the middle distance, close-up, and from the inside.

To think about this more clearly, consider brutalist estates of the 1960s that can today appear foreboding as one approaches on foot, but whose spacious flats with their extensive views were generally popular with initial tenants. 

6. Every element matters 

Architectural narrative is not about making grand gestures that tell a story all at once. It works best when every element of a building, from materials to sound qualities, work together to reveal what it’s all about. Take care not to produce the design equivalent of a soundbite.

7. External representation of an unseen reality

Architecture, at its best, can be an embodiment of something that is otherwise hard to articulate. Think of an awe-inspiring, heaven-scratching church or mosque, or the cosy cottage that feels like home even before you’ve moved in.

These kinds of feelings don’t happen by accident; an architect has considered how to induce them with physical form. Get used to making notes of your emotional responses to buildings, and interrogate the reasons for them. 

8. Avoid wishful thinking and after-stories

In spite of its connection with storytelling, an architectural narrative should not represent what you’d like to build in an ideal world. It should articulate what you can realistically achieve. Similarly, don’t be tempted to design first and create a narrative later.

Tacked-on stories never ring true, and the building will feel much less satisfying for it. Let the narrative truly drive what you’re creating. 

Examples of architectural narrative 

As well as the Institut du Monde Arabe which has been mentioned more than once in this article, you might like to spend time reading about the following buildings which have a strong architectural narrative. There are, of course, thousands if not millions more.

  • As the holiest pilgrimage site for Muslims, the Masjid-el-Haram (which has existed in its current form since 1571) could hardly tell a stronger story. It is the largest mosque in the world and contains the Kaaba, around which pilgrims must circle seven times.
  • Eero Saarinen’s TWA Flight Center (1962), part of New York’s JFK Airport, is a swirling embodiment and celebration of leisure flight, which had become increasingly popular since the end of World War II.
  • The Pompidou Centre in Paris (1971-77) by Rogers + Piano represents the decentralisation of the arts by turning the building ‘inside out’.
  • In Berlin, Daniel Libeskind designed the 2001 Jewish Museum as a representation of ethnic fracture and reconciliation in Germany. Similarly, the city’s Holocaust Monument (2005), designed by architect Peter Eisenman, inspires reflection on the millions of Jewish lives lost in the war with its scale and sombre materials.  
  • OMA’s Casa de Música in Porto, Portugal, which opened in 2005, is a solitary building in the middle of a large public space in a working-class area, designed to symbolise visibility and access.

An architectural narrative is the story told by a building through its form and feel. It is not superfluous, to be added after the ‘real business’ of design, but should guide the design.

It keeps project teams on the same page and immeasurably improves users’ experience of the building; compare an identikit branch of Starbucks and Uruguay’s Café Brasilero , with its nooks and wooden walls, and this becomes immediately apparent! 

The key to creating better architectural narratives is to center the people who will use, and/or who have commissioned, the building. This involves thinking like an author, and putting yourself in someone else’s shoes so they can . . . live happily ever after!


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10 Examples of Narrative Architecture around the world

narrative architecture dissertation

Architecture operated within society as a type of literal narrative. A story in architecture can carry wealth and profundity to a venture, and there are unexplored ways that account to be utilized in the plan procedure. Projects based on narrative other than the conventional program based approach can offer another working strategy for design. Using narrative as a template for the design process allows the foundation of a design to be deep and anchored in history creating a new lens through which to see storytelling in architecture and providing a dynamic spatial experience as a story to its user.

1. Jewish Museum, Berlin | Daniel Libeskind

The extension to the Jewish Museum was about establishing and securing an identity within Berlin, which was lost during WWII. Reasonably the exhibition hall was intended to communicate sentiments of nonappearance, void, and intangibility – articulations of the vanishing of the Jewish Culture. It was the demonstration of utilizing design as a method of narrative and emotion, giving visitors an encounter of the impacts of the Holocaust on both the Jewish culture and the city of Berlin. The undertaking starts to take its structure from a preoccupied Jewish Star of David that is extended around the site and its specific circumstance. The form is established through a process of connecting lines between locations of historical events that provide structure for the building resulting in a literal extrusion of those lines into a “zig-zag” building form.

Jewish Museum, Berlin | Daniel Libeskind - Sheet1

2. Steilneset Memorial, Norway | Peter Zumthor

In memory of those aggrieved in the seventeenth-century Finnmark Witchcraft Trials, the Steilneset Memorial rests along the spiked coastline of the Barents Sea in Vardo Norway. Zumthor portrays venture as a point and as a line. The line belongs to the architect while the dot belongs to the artist Louise bourgeois, a collaboration of ideas. According to him, the art installation talks about burning and aggression, and the building is about feelings about life and emotions.

Steilneset Memorial, Norway | Peter Zumthor - Ssheet1

3. VitraHaus, Weil Am Rhein, Germany | Herzog, and de Meuron

The VitraHaus combines the idea from two different structures, the Vitra Design Museum by Frank Gehry (1989) and the Conference Pavilion by Tadao Ando (1993). The idea of the VitraHaus associates two subjects that show up more than once in the oeuvre of Herzog and de Meuron: the theme of the archetypal house and the theme of stacked volumes. Since the primary purpose of the five-story building is to present furnishings and objects for the home. Because of the extents and measurements of the inside spaces – the architect utilizes the term ‘local scale’ – the showrooms are suggestive of natural private settings. The individual ‘houses’, which have the general qualities of a showcase space, are considered as theoretical components.

VitraHaus, Weil Am Rhein, Germany | Herzog, and de Meuron - Sheet1

4. Bait Ur Rouf Mosque, Bangladesh | Marina Tabassum

The Land was donated by a client and through community fundraising, the project came to completion. Situated in an undeniably thick neighborhood of Dhaka, the Mosque was raised on a plinth on a site hub making a 13-degree edge with the qibla course, which called for advancement in the design. A barrel-shaped volume was embedded into a square, facilitating a rotation of the prayer hall, and framing light courts on four sides. The lobby is a space raised on eight fringe sections. Auxiliary capacities are situated in spaces made by the external square and the chamber. Subsidized and utilized by local people, and propelled by the Sultanate mosque design, it inhales through permeable block dividers, keeping the supplication lobby ventilated and cool. Characteristic light acquired through a bay window is adequate for the daytime.

Bait Ur Rouf Mosque, Bangladesh | Marina Tabassum - Sheet1

5. Parc de La Villette, Paris, France | Bernard Tschumi

Parc de la Villette was not intended to be a beautiful park suggestive of hundreds of years past; it was a greater amount of an open spread that was intended to be explored and found by those that visited the site. Tschumi, needed the recreation center to be a space for movement and connection that would bring out a feeling of opportunity inside a superimposed association that would give the visitors perspectives. As a major aspect of Tschumi’s general goal to instigate investigation, development, and connection, he dissipated 10 themed cultivates all through the huge extensive site that individuals would unearth either truly or vaguely. Each themed garden allows visitors to unwind, reflect, and even play. Parc de la Villette is structured with three standards of association which Tschumi arranges as points, lines, and surfaces. The 135 section of the land site is sorted out spatially through a framework of 35 points, or the architect calls as follis. The arrangement of follis gives a dimensional and authoritative quality to the recreation center filling in as perspectives. The repetitive nature of each folly, even though each one is unique and different, consider the visitors to hold a feeling of spotting through the enormous park.

Parc de La Villette, Paris, France | Bernard Tschumi - Sheet1

6. The Therme Vals, Switzerland | Peter Zumthor

“Mountain, stone, water – working in the stone, working with the stone, into the mountain, working out of the mountain, being inside the mountain – in what capacity can the suggestions and the arousing quality of the relationship of these words be deciphered, compositionally?” Peter Zumthor This space was intended for visitors to thrive and rediscover the antiquated advantages to a bath. The blends of light and shade, open and enclosed spaces, and direct components make for a profoundly exotic and remedial experience. The underlying informal layout of the internal space is a carefully modeled path of circulation which leads bathers to certain predetermined points but lets them explore other areas for themselves. The viewpoint is constantly controlled. It either guarantees or denies a view.

The Therme Vals, Switzerland | Peter Zumthor - Sheet1

7. Villa Muller, Prague, Czech Republic | Adolf Loos

The essential type of the manor is a straightforward shape: its exteriors are astounding in the grimness of the enormous continuous territories of smooth dividers with abnormally small windows. This somber façade treatment is commonplace of Loos’ work. As much as on account of the estate for Dr. Müller, this building affirms Loos’ conviction that a structure ought not to be worked for the passers-by, however for its inhabitants or clients. The Villa Muller permitted Adolf Loos’s degree to make a definitive type of his unique idea of the room, the Raumplan, in light of the sensational arranging of various height levels for different rooms dependent on their capacity and emblematic significance, all formed around a focal flight of stairs. It makes conceivable both the common visual association of house-spaces and a round of spatial experiences, as well as the maximum use of the interior space of the residence. Rooms are linked through steps at different levels.

Villa Muller, Prague, Czech Republic | Adolf Loos - Sheet1

8. Imperial War Museum, Manchester, UK | Daniel Libeskind

A style of postmodern design portrayed by discontinuity and contortion. The plan idea is that of a globe that has been broken into parts and afterward reassembled. The three sections interlock and join at various edges, each speaking to an alternate component, earth, air, and water. These three shards speak to clashes that have been battled by people via land, sky, and ocean. The Earth shard frames the gallery space, meaning the open, natural domain of contention and war. The Air shard fills in as a sensational section with anticipated pictures, observatories, and instruction spaces demonstrating an increasingly elusive and enthusiastic side to war. At long last, the Water shard frames the stage for surveying the Canal, with an eatery, bistro, deck, and execution space.

Imperial War Museum, Manchester, UK | Daniel Libeskind - Sheet1

9. Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art, Helsinki, Finland | Steven Holl

The very idea of a workmanship exhibition infers an internal core interest. While the need to grandstand the social fortunes contained inside is undeniable, the need to interface these shielded show spaces to the outside world is less and they are now and again ignored completely. Even monumental design that turns the museum itself into a sculptural element may fail to refer to its particular surroundings. This feeling of ‘placelessness’ is the thing that Steven Holl tried to maintain a strategic distance. The Kiasma Museum is orchestrated with outward views and formally irregular gallery spaces.

Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art, Helsinki, Finland | Steven Holl - Sheet1

10. Casa Barragan, Cuerámaro, Mexico | Luis Barragan

The Emphasis on shading structure and surface characterize the account of villa Barragan. The most noticeable angles are the utilization of level planes and light, both characteristic and counterfeit. The lookout windows and windows bring in light throughout the day; the surges of normal light and perspectives on nature are the key motivations behind the windows. Opening up into the nursery, the rear of the house makes a noticeable and physical connection between the lower level and the patio.

Casa Barragan, Cuerámaro, Mexico | Luis Barragan - Sheet1

ArchDaily. AD Classics: AD Classics: Casa Barragan / Luis Barragan . [online] Available at: https://www.www.archdaily.com/102599/ad-classics-casa-barragan-luis-barragan

ArchDaily.  AD Classics: Kiasma Museum Of Contemporary Art / Steven Holl Architects . [online] Available at: https://www.www.archdaily.com/784993/ad-classics-kiasma-museum-of-contemporary-art-steven-holl-architects

Allen, E., 2016, 14 Forward Thinking Buildings By Daniel Libeskind . [online] Architectural Digest. Available at: https://www.architecturaldigest.com/gallery/daniel-libeskind-architecture

Adolf Loos. The Villa Müller . [online] Available at: https://adolfloos.cz/en/villa-muller

Lecuyer, Annette. “Art Museum, Steven Holl Architects.” Architectural Review, August 1998. http://www.architectural-review.com/buildings/1998-august-art-museum-steven-holl-architects-helsinki-finland/8618907.fullarticle.

Akdn.org. Bait Ur Rouf Mosque | Aga Khan Development Network . [online] Available at: https://www.akdn.org/architecture/project/bait-ur-rouf-mosque

ArchDaily. Peter Zumthor Works . [online] Available at: https://www.www.archdaily.com/19403/peter-zumthor-works

Jewish Museum, Berlin | Daniel Libeskind - Sheet1

Yash Siroliya is a Masters in Urban Design student at the Planning Department in CEPT. In an award winning bachelor's thesis, Yash focused on the restoration of the artistic and cultural legacy of a Himachal village. These days he spends his time thinking about public spaces for the next billion.

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Computer Science > Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition

Title: sora: a review on background, technology, limitations, and opportunities of large vision models.

Abstract: Sora is a text-to-video generative AI model, released by OpenAI in February 2024. The model is trained to generate videos of realistic or imaginative scenes from text instructions and show potential in simulating the physical world. Based on public technical reports and reverse engineering, this paper presents a comprehensive review of the model's background, related technologies, applications, remaining challenges, and future directions of text-to-video AI models. We first trace Sora's development and investigate the underlying technologies used to build this "world simulator". Then, we describe in detail the applications and potential impact of Sora in multiple industries ranging from film-making and education to marketing. We discuss the main challenges and limitations that need to be addressed to widely deploy Sora, such as ensuring safe and unbiased video generation. Lastly, we discuss the future development of Sora and video generation models in general, and how advancements in the field could enable new ways of human-AI interaction, boosting productivity and creativity of video generation.

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