Storytelling in Architecture

Design By Justin DezenDorf and Installation by DE HArvey

Design By Justin DezenDorf and Installation by DE HArvey

If these walls could talk is a phrase we’ve all heard. If you’ve ever walked through Independence Hall in Philadelphia, its almost impossible not to ponder the significant historical events that the building has witnessed. Have you ever wondered what mysteries the monoliths at Stonehenge might reveal? Or what conversations dried into frescos on the vaulted ceiling that crippled Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel? All buildings have a story to tell, whether it played an important role in history, or serves the everyday mundane routines. These are the types of stories that give life to architecture throughout their existence, but what about the story of their genesis?

Great storytellers all understand that a story needs to connect with the audience. The beginning of a project is often the most intense period of discovery and problem identification. This is when the bonds of trust are forged and when the elements of the story begin to reveal themselves. It’s also the stage in the project where excitement and anticipation runs high. All sorts of information & data are gathered. The authors, or architects & designers, begin to craft everything into inspirational imagery boards, space plans, and even early 3D views.

Good design solutions solve a problem. Just like the workplaces PDR impacts, solutions take on many shapes and sizes.  No one design is the same as another. All of these solutions share a common thread. They are developed out of strong concepts, design statements, and possibly even a tagline. In architecture, the parti or the design concept, serves as the foundation for decisions that follow. These foundational concepts are often communicated with visual graphics and words. We use this story telling approach because it is relatable and allows clients to connect with the process.

Sharing the story with clients for the first time is a thrilling stage for the design team.  This is when solidification of the concept occurs. More often than not, clients are excited and enthusiastic about the design solution. The story serves to condense that translated information into a concise format that can be told and retold. As the design process progresses, the elements of the project get tested against the story. Each decision that gets made from the design team about the space must fit the story. In that sense, the story serves as set of design guidelines.

Once the project is complete, and the end-users have moved into their new workspace, we often wonder how the story will continue. For written stories like novels, there is a first page, and a last page: a beginning and an end. With architecture, the completion of the project is the beginning of something else. The space goes from being the main character in a story to playing a character in somebody else’s story.

Perhaps the walls silently assume their role as a backdrop to hundreds of stories. They become witness to new discoveries and innovation. They capture memories of their own. If these walls could talk, what would they say over time?

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Justin Dezendorf


Justin, a Project Architect, has collaborated on projects for ConocoPhillips, BG Group, Occidental, Hines and CBRE. Justin has a focused knowledge of developing and executing efficient, high tech workspaces. His design acumen and knowledge of production standards are what his clients continually rely on throughout all phases of the project.