Why Great Architecture Should Tell A Story

Defining Great Architecture

Great architecture can have a lasting impact on viewers, particularly when it incorporates storytelling elements into the physical structure. As a form of public art, great architecture should captivate viewers and move them to consider the deeper layers of meaning behind the building’s design. To best engage and validate the challenge of creating great architecture, it must have a larger purpose that goes beyond its utilitarian functions as a shelter or space holder. Great architecture should tell a story.
A great example of an architect who used story-telling to captivate viewers is Mark Fisher. He was an architect and urban designer who worked for famous firms such as Foster and Partners and he drew influences from the arts when creating his projects. Fisher believed that great architecture should imitate the feeling of an epic movie, building a story that ties the entire design together.

The Power of Storytelling

A primary tool for storytelling in great architecture is symbolism. Symbols can greatly influence how viewers interpret a space and bring life to an otherwise dull building. Symbols also connect back to a specific narrative and allow the architect to create their own story within the physical layout of the structure. The strength of symbols lies in the fact that they possess a tangible quality that can immediately draw viewers in and make them feel a personal connection to the architecture.
Symbols can also transport a viewer to a different place and time, allowing for the preservation of culture and heritage. Many great structures, such as cathedrals or temples, are filled with meaningful symbols that lend themselves to storytelling and captivating viewers. These types of structures are known to resonate with viewers through their symbolism and symbolism is used to evoke specific emotions and communicate important messages.

Using Emotive Imagery

In addition to using symbolism to create a narrative, great architecture should also use emotive imagery to connect with viewers. Emotive imagery is any type of image or object that elicits a strong emotional reaction. This type of imagery can be used to evoke a sense of awe, nostalgia, joy, or even despair.
Emotive imagery is often used in more classical forms of architecture, such as churches or memorials, but it is also found in more modern urban designs. Symbolic art works, sculptures, and even landscape design can all be used to create emotional triggers and steer the narrative of a building’s design.

Incorporating Technology Into Storytelling

Technology has revolutionized the way great architecture tells stories. By incorporating interactive elements such as sound, light, and movement into their design, architects can create experiences that tantalize viewers’ senses.
High-tech screens may be used to display stories, images, and videos that tell a large and captivating narrative. This type of storytelling typically requires a great deal of planning and careful consideration of how viewers will experience the architecture, but when done right, it can be a powerful tool for storytelling.

Mixing Storytelling With Practical Design

When creating great architecture, it is important to find a way to story-tell while still ensuring the structure is practical and functional. In order to do this, architects must integrate symbols, colors, and patterns into their designs while also paying attention to the practicalities of the structure such as its environmental impact, structural integrity, and cost-effectiveness.
Great architecture should create a lasting impression without sacrificing its ability to serve the purpose for which it was built. For example, a hospital should be designed in a way that both communicates the idea of healing and provides a functional, comfortable environment for its staff and patients alike.

Expressing A Meaningful Message

Storytelling in great architecture serves a deeper purpose: to express a meaningful message. This can be done through symbolism, emotive imagery or interactive elements. By taking a unique approach to storytelling, great architecture has the power to captivate viewers and create an engaging experience for them.
Ultimately, story-telling in great architecture should be used to share a deeper meaning or truth with viewers. Whether it is a political, social or cultural message, a great building should communicate something more than its practical function. By doing this, great architecture can have a powerful and lasting impact on viewers and help them experience the story on a deeper level.


When done right, storytelling in great architecture can be a powerful tool for expression. By using symbolic elements, emotive imagery, technology, and practical design, architects can create structures that captivate viewers and help them experience the story behind the building’s design. Great architecture should tell a story that goes beyond its physical form and can have a lasting impact on viewers.

Anita Johnson is an award-winning author and editor with over 15 years of experience in the fields of architecture, design, and urbanism. She has contributed articles and reviews to a variety of print and online publications on topics related to culture, art, architecture, and design from the late 19th century to the present day. Johnson's deep interest in these topics has informed both her writing and curatorial practice as she seeks to connect readers to the built environment around them.

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