Narrative In Design


The relationship between narrative and design is a very important one. Narrative works with space differently to how we think of linear narrative in literature or film. In design, narrative is a kind of picture of time. The space tells its own story, and yet this changes depending on who is there – who is experiencing the space. This is because we bring our own personal stories into what we see, and this influences the way we feel about design. This means that spatial design is always an interactive process between the space itself and the personal identity of the people who move through the space. Designing space is a kind of communication with many possible stories, and we can’t always predict what these will be.


Narrative is how we all make sense of our world. Some people describe it as a kind of thread which connects all our meaningful experiences – the images we see, the smells, sounds, feelings we have as we move through time. It is impossible for us to imagine life without narrative, because we can only make sense of all the chaos of life through finding stories within it. In this way narrative is always a kind of communication.


Nigel Coates says that ‘the built environment always communicates’, and it is particularly interesting to think of how a building is expressive of a story. Coates uses the examples of the ‘glossy tallness’ of financial centres in great cities, and how these communicate economic power, then he compares these to derelict buildings, and how they ‘disclose’ a ‘story of decline’. This means that buildings cannot be separated from where they exist, in space or time, and that they can only communicate to people who understand the cultural significance of their design. Their visual identity is a story which can change. In a way, we can decide how we experience space. In another way, space can surprise us. Some designs are surreal, and take us through unexpected twists and turns.



Borson, B. (2013) Life of An Architect: Narrative as Design Process Available at: Accessed February 2016

Coates, N. (2012) Narrative Architecture Chichester: John Wiley

Potteiger, M, and Puriton, J. (1998) Landscape Narratives: Design Practices for Telling Stories New York: John Wiley




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