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Workshop & Seminar on narrative perception within architectural design

“Narrative is the principal way in which our species organises its understanding of time…wherever we look in this world we seek to grasp what we see not just in space but in time as well. Narrative gives us this understanding; it gives us what could be shapes of time. Accordingly, our narrative perception stands ready to be activated in order to give us a frame or context for even the most static and uneventful scenes.”

– H. Porter Abbott, The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative

A building is never grasped in its complete totality, from the foundation to the window details and up to the canopy. While experiencing or studying a building we add the notion of time upon the static spaces we perceive. We comprehend architecture in shapes of time, moments of experience in space, linked by a framework we could entitle as narrative.

Architectural design in general and students projects in particular often form uneventful and static scenes that exist on paper, in models, the virtual drawing and the like. These outcomes are the frame or context through which we will perceive the project. Whether we activate this framework with our narrative perception, and by doing that create a better understanding of the proposed design, depends on the imagination and experience of the perceiver.

What are narrative qualities within architecture, and how can they be used as a tool to activate our understanding and perception of a designed frame or context? How can we consciously use narrative perception as a design tool to strengthen our projects and already consider the notion of movement and time within our projects?

The two day workshop and seminar, hosted at TUDelft dealt with answering both questions addressed above, how can we apply narrative as a tool and consciously use it to strengthen our projects?

On Thursday morning the students directly started with presenting a former studio design and were tutored to explore narrative tools that varied from the writing of text and poetry to the (re)drawing and (re)organising of the presentation and design.

After the brief acquaintance within the workshop we continued with a theoretical introduction in the form of a seminar. Prof. Wim van den Bergh provided us with new insides on the narrative teaching techniques and projects of John Hejduk. From his early years as an educator who was part of the so-called Texas Rangers group, where he developed the nine-square grid problem, and continued and expanded this studies with the Texas and Diamond Houses. It is this early period that Wim addressed as the basis for Hejduk’s teaching by osmosis approach that he would finetune as dean of the Cooper Union. Within the topic of the seminar, Hejduk’s explorations of the city via the different masks couldn’t be left unmentioned.

Narratologist and prof. Bart Keunen, crossed different disciplines in his lecture Learning form stories, narrative imagination and urbanism. With examples from psychologist such as Wolfgang Köhler and his emphasis on the role of imagination in our thinking and actions Bart exemplified in this lecture his theoretical contribution to the writingplace book. Along with Bart’s theoretical content, the examples put on view where extremely illuminating. By using movies, photos, poems and text we got insight in the properties of a narrative. After both lectures the writingplace team, audience and students got into a dialogue with both professors and each other.

On Friday we continued the workshop with the students, experimenting with the different narrative methods and techniques that where addressed the previous day. In the afternoon we opened up the floor for the students to present their results. With an emphasis on the experiment and the form of presenting the students drifted away from the known paths and activated the framework of their projects to stimulate our narrative perception/imagination.

The results ranged from the declamation of a statue in Bogota, to poetry readings, up to the drawing out of the floor plan from an apartment according to the festive preparations in Virginia Woolf’s novel Mrs. Dalloway. Results weren’t discussed, neither the method or tools, but the insight that the assignment provided into their own design and thinking about architecture. Many found errors in their own design, others completed theirs by describing and changing the interior spaces completely. Our goal was achieved.


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