Narrative Space Day Three - Post Nine

'Place Time and Memory' Stephen Greenberg/ Rachel Morris

Stephen Greenberg is, unfortunately, ill today. We hope he gets better soon! Fortunately, Rachel Morris, also of Metaphor, has stepped in to read his paper, for which we thank her enormously!

This paper suggests the relationship between storytelling and architecture, and how this might develop. How might the thoughts which we formulate in museums be applied beyond this, into the world of urban space, in mixing content and architecture, narrative and art together. Can we move performance into the wider cityscape?

The First Emperor was very theatrical and multisensory, as I experienced myself when I went there. Exhibtion design tells story, uses content, but it also uses facsimilie and simulacra. One of the biggest challenges in upscaling the interpretive environment to the cityscape, is that those architectures more often use form and content. When the key driver is commercial, such things are almost inevitable. Where, in this, is the story.

Le Corbusier's Voisin Plan for Paris was visionary, and dominated much of the 20th century. This has meant that much past and history has been erased. The past has been wiped out in many places. When a building is demolished, its intangible memories are lost. But still, even in buildings which are reappropriated, the past is erased.

The post-modernists, though, were interested in the collision of eras. The Sainsbury Wing, which samples a range of styles, reflects this ideal, much as Eliot's poetry does. Whilst the moderns wanted to confine history, the post-moderns wanted to pile it in, and bring it out, in the present. For centuries, we have lived in organically growing cities, in cities without Voisin plans. We need to make story a part of our landscape. Dennis Severs' House is the closest you can get to time-travel, as if he tried to bring Hogarth back to life. When you come out, you move back into the modern world, from candlelight to towers of glass.

Architects and urbanists do not use stories as much as others do. Goven used to be one of the great shipbuilding areas of Glasgow, with a handsome, but run down high street. At one end is a Viking burial mound, with a church upon it. This looks across to a new transport museum, which seems disconnected from the community across the river. Metaphor put a bid in for this, which wanted to relate to the past of the Glaswegian community. But they lost out to Zahar Adhid.

It seems interesting that city councils so often want starchitect branding for their city. In a sense I suppose they are trying to do right by their city, but they don't always do so. This often means that homogenity ensues, and we loose the sense of the authentic city. I find this a terrible shame.

El Paseo, Santa Barbara, was rebuilt after an earthquake in 1925. But it used the local community history, and is now one of the most beautiful American cities, retaining rules and character with regard to its building principles. But whose history takes precedence when you do so? Such things are always subjective and selective, and places engage with so much history, so many layers, that inevitably some are elided, or subsumed.

Accuracy is a different thing from atmosphere. Places which are not wholly historically accurate may yet, I would argue, retain some soul. But sometimes, fully accurate reconstructions are heartless. It is because they have no story.

Sur-i Sultani Penninsula, Istanbul. Places are made up of pivotal moments, and Istanbul's come from 312, Constantine's conversion, and the 1453 Ottoman invasion. It is a site of multiple metanarratives which have often been hidden or dispersed, and need bringing out, or put into dialogue. Here Metaphor's interpretive plan pivots around the principle that objects come back to their appropriate home, using three buildings as museums, and the landscape around it to build a narrative and public spaces for the citizens, a landscape of many histories which tells the story of 'One Place, Three Worlds'. Such a landscape of many histories can be found at Museum Island. Stories are central to interpretation, and interpretation is central to placemaking. The past is a foreign place, but we can use storytelling to at least come to an imaginative engagement with it.

Whilst the current architectural zeitgeist is about fragmentation, stories are about connection, and when you run the two together, something very interesting occurs. The inscribed skin of buildings, so prevalent in design before modernism, has been lost, and perhaps we need to re-engage with this.

Metaphor are currently working on the Grand Egyptian Museum in Cairo, and I'm impatient to get in there and see how it turns out! Climbing up the staircase there, the visitor goes on a journey through Egyptian history, and is a concept which gives "power to stories and stories" Stephen and Rachel say, "give power to the future".

I shall update you all later with the concluding thoughts from the conference - looking forward to it chaps!


Abi said…
I just wanted to say thanks for blogging this. Reading it has compensated a little for not being able to make it to the conference. Great to see such a diversity of approaches to narrative.
Jenny said…
That's part of what it's there for! Glad you appreciated it :) Shame about the ashcloud, but I think it came off really well in the end.

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