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Architecture and Storytelling are Forever Linked

This is my entry in the ArchiTalks blogging event for October. Links to the other posts are provided below.

Architectural Storytelling is a subject I’ve been blogging about for years at Building Content. (Please don’t rush over there right now, I’m about to make a point. Plus, the site is down pending a grand social media makeover to realign all of my online content.)

My main passion regarding Architectural Storytelling is to write a decent novel based on our profession, and thus open the door for a new category of fiction. It can happen. “New Adult Fiction” emerged last year as a publishing phenomenon. Why not “Architectural Drama” as the next new thing in books?

Books (sm)

However, there is a broad application of Architectural Storytelling that extends beyond writing novels or screenplays. In a sense all Architects are (or could be) great Storytellers. (The bloggers participating in this ArchiTalks series are among some of the finest at telling architectural stories! See their links below.) The world needs to know what we really do and what we potentially could do. The world needs the untapped value that Architects can provide. I believe this will come about as we learn to tell or transformational stories. Remember Plato’s words: ““Those who tell the stories rule society.”

In advance of the 2012 AIA Convention I posted a blog to state that “architecture and storytelling are forever linked.” There is an Architecture-Storytelling relationship. Tapping into this relationship, most architects could become masterful at the storytelling craft. Think of the word itself, “story.” It has a communication-based definition (the stories we hear or tell) and a construction-based definition (the stories or floors of a building).

I’ve traced the word “story” back to the work of etymologist Robert Barnhart (yeah, the one who wrote the Barhhart Concise Dictionary of Etymology. You have a browsing copy, don’t you?). The Architectural meaning of “story” comes from the Latin word “historia” (meaning history, account, tale, or story). The similar word, “storied” means celebrated in history or decorated with designs representing scenes from history.

It makes sense that the carved frieze on a Greek Temple, being “storied,” could come to be associated with the outward demarcation of the floor-to-ceiling area below the frieze. The temple was literally a “one story” building. The Architecture-Storytelling relationship goes that far back.

In the English language the codification came much later, but was also based on the horizontal ornamentation of buildings. Barnhart says the architectural use of the term of “story” to mean the floor of a building didn’t come until the 1400’s. He suggests, “Perhaps so called ‘story’ because the front of buildings in the Middle Ages often were decorated with rows of painted windows.” The Architecture was telling a story of history and culture to all who saw it.


Whether temple friezes, stained glass windows, or the billboard-clad buildings in Times Square, buildings have often served to tell culture-shaping stories.

(I’m so captivated by the Architecture-Storytelling relationship that I call on the homophonic nature of the word “story” in my firm’s tagline: “Thousand Story Studio. Huntsville Commercial Architecture – One Story at a Time” Each project has the client’s personal story that leads to one or more constructed stories.)


(“homophonic” – look it up – it’s probably in your Barnhart.)

There are many other aspects of the Architecture-Storytelling relationship that give us a unique platform for telling edifying stories. And remember what Plato said, “Those who tell the stories rule society.”



If you haven’t signed up for the 2014 Business of Architecture Summit, please consider it. Among the other presentations to help grow and strengthen your architectural practice, I will be speaking on this very topic. “The Role of Storytelling in Architectural Practice” will examine the Architecture-Storytelling relationship and will focus on three story types; The Origin Story, The Brand Story, and the Client Story.

Here’s a link to learn more about the Summit, being held online October 16th and 17th. (LINK)

Please enjoy these other entries in this ArchiTalks blogging event!


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