architectural storytelling narratives

What are stories and narratives in architecture?

Just the way all kinds of stories pierce our daily lives, storytelling also surrounds the architecture we see and experience. Architectural storytelling can manifest in many forms – by referring to cultures, using specific materials, shapes, design techniques, or textures.

Stories in architecture are also called narratives – that concern the way buildings represent events, ideas, archetypes, and messages. Narratives are expressed and written by the architect during the pre-design phase and have the ability to speak to millions. A truly talented storyteller architect can construct and sustain narratives that turn their projects into landmarks.

Properly expressed narratives help embed each architectural project into the spiritual and material culture of the area they are built in. As a result, the value of the structure grows exponentially – and so does the reputation of the architect who worked on it.

Examples of narratives in architecture

The Sydney Opera House by Jørn Utzon tells the story of the cultural and natural landscape of Australia through its sculptural form that resembles sails or shells. It also reflects the architect’s vision of creating a democratic and accessible space for the arts. The building has become iconic and is instantly recognized worldwide.

The Fallingwater by Frank Lloyd Wright tells the story of the harmony and integration between humans and nature through its organic design that follows the contours and rhythms of the site. It also expresses the architect’s philosophy of organic architecture.

There are many other examples of architectural narratives around the world.

Are narratives relevant to you as a professional

You may think that architectural storytelling is mostly applicable to memorials and public buildings, but you can embed and leverage narratives in residential architecture as well.

It all comes down to how you express your ideas and tie them to existing cultural references. If you are able to speak to your client’s direct needs and pack your deliverables into a clear and accessible narrative – you can grow as a storyteller architect.

There are two major reasons you need to seriously think about positioning yourself as a storyteller architect. One is cemented client satisfaction, and the other is revenue growth. Both go hand in hand and inadvertently take your architectural business to the next level.

When you start thinking in terms of narratives and not just standalone designs that look good, you anchor your vision on the bigger picture – which leads you to clients who think big as well.

The practical meaning of storytelling

Storytelling and narratives may sound like woo-woo until you realize that it’s exactly what sets great architects from mediocre ones. A narrative does not only embed the building into the environment, it turns the building into a landmark and shapes the landscape.

Visual storytelling in architecture transcends decades and is ever-present. While designing a project you get a chance to think bigger and capture the spirit and history of any location. 

Understanding and mastering the use of storytelling as an architect is one of the ways to grow your business. Being a storyteller and working with architectural narratives goes hand in hand with other ways to increase your value such as getting certified in sustainable design, blogging, or being strategic with services you offer.

If you are only starting your architectural business, consider thinking in terms of stories and narratives early on. Clients love stories, and if you capture what they need and express it in all your design presentations, client satisfaction will be guaranteed.

Usually, the client comes to an architect with a story already. It takes an experienced professional to extract that story, purify it and condense it into shapes and materials of architectural design. 

How to adopt storytelling as an architect

Mastering architectural storytelling and working with narratives requires not only the right mindset, but appropriate skills, tools, and tactics as well.

Here are some techniques and tools that architects can use to master storytelling:

Supercharge your concept drawings

Sketches or concept drawings are to be used to give anyone an initial idea of your designs. But as always, there are several ways to do anything, and if you want to charge a premium for consistent narratives, you need to up your sketching game. 

Check out this article on the latest architecture storytelling sketching techniques such as conceptual diagrams, prototypes and models, virtual and augmented reality experiences, and more.

Adopt and master the use of storyboards, as well as other techniques like landscape storyboarding.

Network and brand yourself accordingly

The way you present and brand yourself directly affects your bottom line.

Develop a platform that will let you produce thought leadership content and express your views on architectural narratives and stories. There are many channels to use for that, we suggest blogging as one of them.

Use the right tools

Using professional, robust tools is non-negotiable. We are talking about project management, document management, collaboration software, site analysis tools, and drafting software.

In 2023 most of the tools will work on an iPad or any other tablet so you can have them on the go and build out & support your narratives in meetings with clients and other stakeholders.

We’ve developed PlanMan so that you could take care of your administrative and project management tasks while focusing on bigger and better things, – so sign up for a free trial now!