Fiction Brings Architecture Closer To Its Users

by | 16. Jun 2016

Article | Student Writer

Blank Space logo

by Kristina Barniskyte

Rather than being defined by classic blueprints and cutting-edge renderings, architecture has become increasingly interdisciplinary and accessible to people from different fields. Storytelling is one of the ways it can be communicated to the society, and Blank Space, an online platform for architecture, use it as a key tool to bringing architects’ ideas to the wider audience.

Blank Space is founded by Matthew Hoffman and Francesca Giuliani – an architect and a journalist, respectively. They host an annual architecture storytelling competition called Fairy Tales, inviting creatives (not necessarily architects) to write an imaginary story, a design proposal in narrative form – something far from the ordinary tasks of the architectural profession, however, no less serious. The winners of the Fairy Tales competition 2016 were recently announced, bringing 3 winning entries and 10 honorable mentions to the public eye.

The narrative, a sequence of events or experiences, is introduced into the architectural world and suddenly there is place for characters, events and the timeline – be it the past or the future – in the architect’s agenda. The architectural fiction of the Fairy Tales competition involves both narrative and representation, making the most out of the two complementary mediums. Some of the participants mention the word “architecture”, others write about extraordinary places, which they then visualize using their designer skills. Imaginative cities, islands and future projections of the planet Earth emerge in the stories.

Fiction Fairy Tales_'Welcome to the 5th Facade'. Olson Kundig - Alan Maskin, Jerome Tryon, Kevin Scott, Gabriela Frank & Katie Miller_.jpg
‘Welcome to the 5th Facade’. Olson Kundig Credit: Alan Maskin, Jerome Tryon, Kevin Scott, Gabriela Frank & Katie Miller

These architectural fairy tales are not only meant to be read by “non-architects”, but also serve as a tool for the architects themselves to expand the possibilities of the profession. Olson Kundig Architects, a Seattle-based design practice and winners of the first prize in this year’s  competition, took on the challenge to design using fiction and brought this method into their successfully running office.

The idea of applying a narrative filter – to both built and conceptual projects – became another way to look at and critique design ideas.”
//Alan Maskin, principal at Olson Kundig Architects

The competition entry “Welcome to the 5th façade” was a meaningful detour of Olson Kundig’s  ongoing research on the rooftops. Their science-fiction story features a future scenario, where new kinds of possibilities and issues in architecture arise with the introduction of cryonic freezing, which enables life extension. The rooftops of Seattle look different when the architect protagonist returns to the city a few decades after his death – a landscape of vegetable farms and parks cover the buildings, replacing the HVAC units and elevator machine rooms. The optimistic fairy tale turns into a dark sci-fi story, when the bitter reality of returning to life in a different body is revealed.

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Paris empties itself of its content; no Genius, no Loci, no Zeit, no Geist. –  Parisian Lullaby. Credit: Hagai Ben Naim

Hagai Ben Naim, an architecture student, studying in Paris and author of the story “Parisian Lullaby”, awarded the second prize, forms the fairy-tale around his personal view on urban space and political issues in Paris these days. He envisions a world of filthy creatures, taking over the Parisian parks at night. There are rays of architectural satire that cut through the whole story, making the proposal a delightful and intellectual read.

Paris empties itself of its content; no Genius, no Loci, no Zeit, no Geist.”
/Hagai Ben Naim, Parisian Lullaby

“12 Nautical Miles” by Kobi Logendrarajah, architecture student at the University of Waterloo, is a third- prize winning story in this year’s competition. The fairy tale unfolds in a fictional island, placed in a real-world environment – a lonely oil platform called Barena, standing a few hundred miles east of the Philippines. The author skillfully navigates between the social issues of property, relevant in today’s world, and the imaginative family history, developing on an island without any laws or political regimes.

Fiction Fairy Tales_'12 Nautical Miles'. Kobi Logendrarajah.jpg
’12 Nautical Miles’. Credit: Kobi Logendrarajah

Blank Space aim to bridge the gap between the self-concerned architects and the society by encouraging architects to speak up. Fictional stories, though sometimes considered carefree and far from reality, superbly serve to address very serious concerns – they depict political systems, societies and rules, which architecture often reflects to or is influenced by. Talking about topics that are important to everyone and communicating them in a format of a fairy tale that is so familiar and likeable, storytellers lessen the boundaries between architecture and its users.

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Fairy Tales Volume 3 – a new book includes selected competition entries. Credit: Blank Space