Story Place

| July 1, 2011

“Story time,” we call it, but it is just as much a place. We have places for our stories. Or is it stories for our places?

But isn’t this just another way of saying there is a time and a place for stories? And isn’t this just another, polite, way of saying there are times and places where stories do not belong?

That’s the story we are about to tell…

Short Stories: London in two-and-a-half dimensions

One can find, (I can attest), in a building built to hold stories about buildings, a woman who will make a gesture of sealing her lips, but will decipher the code that will lead you to a separate area, “for new holding,” (no doubt the more recent stories must be acclimatized first), and there you will find a book on a shelf that begins:

The modern age has been an unkind chapter in the history of narrative architecture. In pre-secular times, it was not unusual for buildings to be constructed of and around narrative…

It will proceed to give examples before returning to the lament.

Today’s built environment presents such a poor receptacle for story that Arato Isozaki felt compelled to publish drawing of his Tsukuba Centre in Tokyo as ruins, immediately after its completion in 1983, in order to imbue it with a fictional life beyond the building’s conventional existence.

“Buildings these days…” the story goes. True enough. As a corrective, they will fabricate any number of stories to fill the void. Lovely, entertaining stories. Collages of fairytales and celebrities, renderings and cutouts, facts and fictions. Stories for places that lack stories of their own. You should glance through such a book, as I have. Perhaps even read it. (I might recommend it even more than that other book I never finish, Invisible Cities.) It is, in short, a book that should escape its shelf.

Odd, then, that it prefaces itself by fitting things back into their place, a book apparently for renderers:

The ultimate purpose of this book is to demonstrate that architectural representation need not be a neutral tool or mere picture of a future building, that drawing and models have a direct influence on the conceptual development of a project and the generation of form, and that there are alternatives to the reductive working methods of contemporary architectural practice.

Noble and welcome, yes. A breath of fresh air. But what of this story itself? The story architecture tells of finally escaping its confines and constraints, breaking free and tumbling finally back into a bed of meaningful tales? Could it be that this is the modern secular story? It’s as if we like to tell the story of the place of stories: they are either here or there. But what is difficult to glean then is that stories become what they are in the navigation through hostile space. The story is what survives by finding space, by making this space here and that space there. A story is just as much the story of what it is not. Gather close or you won’t be able to hear.

It makes me wonder, here in the basement of the building-built-to-hold-stories-of-buildings, whether  we aren’t always creating the best possible environment for stories. And the best environment for the story of stories is a story-forsaken place.

The worth and marvel of a book might then be the ways in which it exceeds its own lament.