Women in Architecture Taiwan

Szu-An Yu︱Narrative, as Behaviour and as Knowledge

Author : Szu-An Yu (俞思安)

Date : 2019-12-01

Published in Taiwan Architect Magazine, no.540, 2019 December issue, page 112-120.  
Special Column: "Architectural Relativity"  


What character in architecture does the narrative play when it has been widely talked about and used? If architecture could be narrative, who is the speaker and who is the audience? Are we attracted exactly by architecture itself or trickily by something it borrows? Does architecture bring us closer to what we see, or, contrarily, away from reality?
Not only is narrative an inviting situational added value, but, perhaps, we should regard it as a tool for organizing or thinking. As language is the basis of knowledge, so does narrative organize every detail in our daily live.
"We make narratives many times a day, every day of our lives. And we start doing so almost from the moment we begin putting words together (Abbott 2008)."
We interviewed LANZA Atelier, FALA Atelier and BIAS Architects & Associates in this issue, and trough the conversation with them, observed in which way narrative exists in their works and in their introspection of architecture respectively.

Architecture Tells Stories
Architecture tells stories. But it’s not like other narrative forms that we already get used to. ‘Whether architecture does or does not need to communicate’ must have ever been raised in some of our minds. In fact, a dwelling at its origin is a ‘protection’ for human, which is a bodily experience that arises a mental activity at the same time. The example that Umberto Eco (1997, p.173) [1] illustrated in his discussion of semiotics and architecture might give us some clues; if we imagine that a hypothetical Stone Age man sheltered from the wind and rain be in a cave, and that he notice that the ‘outside space with wind and rain’ is cut off, whereas the place in which he stands is the ‘inside space’; in that moment, he somehow feels relief as he is being protected by this vault, which, at the same time, might remind him of some unclear nostalgia for the womb.
This hypothetical story describes the capacity of how a space manipulates human’s cognition merely by its presence. We can assume it’s the start point of ‘identifying architecture’, where we perceive and are conscious of the effect that the space is offering. To go further, there are mental activities with various qualities which will happen when we start to build relationships with the architecture in front of us, through our perception of it. This connection, is based on a certain event of information transmission, that is, a communication without words provoked by its spatiality.
That capacity is inherent and unreplaceable, like the shadow following its completion of the space. An architecture, or even a space, is born out of human’s will with conventions and creativity. In that case, the architecture represents certain cultural phenomena while implying functions at the same time. In human’s nature, we more or less generate thoughts and feelings and develop them by merely occupying the space. The possible narratives, is something that we cannot neglect or avoid; it is only a question of its degree.

Narrative as Behaviour
Overall, architecture is a discipline that involves many different aspects, and the main purpose of an architecture is commonly thought to be its function. However, we are aware of that, even with a role in satisfying human needs, architectures are cultural productions after all. As architects, we are the authors of what to be experienced in the space, are we not responsible for its inherent narrativity in architecture? How do we take care of this possibility of various interpretation by its beholder?

1. The Narrative Intention
To consider this act of ‘deciding what to be experienced’, we are composing the narratives for audiences, hence we are in a status of ‘narrative as behaviour’. Borrowed from a study of linguistic structure (Halliday, 1978) [2], the language as behaviour is situational. It concerns with the author, the audience, and their communication relations in between.
First question of all, we ask ourselves what we are intending to communicate and to what extent. At the very least, there may be buildings produced without intended narratives. Under the premise of that, there are always possible interpretations in any context, thus what we are looking at here is ought to be the author’s intention. Apart from solving problems or meeting the needs, if there is no added value or additional information that are aimed to deliver, we regard it as the unintended level; in other words, the possible meaning in the architectural elements are not paid attention to or not particularly arranged for meanings. In this level, what the audience can read about is mostly meaningless or unexpected; in either way, it’s irrelevant to the authorship.

1.1 Intentional Level
On the other hand, there are architectures telling stories. At this level, there are embedded narratives for demonstrating spirits of the spaces. And it covers a range of intentional degrees while countless architects experimenting ideas in their works. LANZA Atelier is one of the architects whose works show ambitions of articulating their critical views on architecture.
Lanza Atelier is an architecture studio based in Mexico City and was founded in 2015 by Isabel Martínez Abascal and Alessandro Arienzo. Their design work includes exhibition, installation, furniture, renovation, and architecture. They are one of the winners of the Architectural League Prize in 2017; they also had their first solo show at SFMOMA in 2018.
Steps Table is a project for Mesa Nómada (Nomadic Table), a series of events aiming at providing incomparable dinner experiences in various locations around Mexico City. Lanza was asked to design a set of tables and seats for a group of 26 guests for the second anniversary. What they did, is more than just providing functions for the needs; they wanted to create an uncommon experience and were thinking about it architecturally. Started from elevations, the design of the furniture gradually formed as an object that opens up the conversations between the furniture, human body, and space. The result is a long table consisting of 13 successive sections at different heights, from 60 centimetres to 120 centimetres high; each piece is supported by the next one with 5 centimetres height difference. Each section of the table is paired with 2 face–to–face chairs with corresponding heights.
This project explores the limit of what we consider as ‘a convenient height’ and questions our common ideas of how furniture functions. Isabel mentioned that “people are usually taught what objects and how they should use by designers and architects; in this case, we are questioning what a table is, somehow we are giving freedom to the users, as well as to the object.” Guests were invited to choose the seat among these ‘options’, in this way, they started to think about ‘which height?’ They are forced to interact with the furniture by their own bodies. What narrative tended to stimulate here by the architects, is an open conversation between the objects, the human body, and even the surrounded space. By doing this, the value and meaning of a ‘table’ are re–examined and emphasised.
Here is another group of young creatives showing their critical views through architecture — Fala Atelier, an architecture practice based in Porto, was founded in 2013 by Filipe Magalhães, Ana Luisa Soares and Ahmed Belkhodja. The studio has taught and lectured at many universities and institutions around the world, including Europe, UK and the US. They describe themselves as an ’naïve architecture practice’; they regard the naivety as a tool of thinking, where they value the motivation of trying things and doing what they think is right.
House in Rua do Paraíso is one of their renovation projects with a characterful style and a hint of argumentation. It was a 19-century sing-family street house and aimed to be transformed into a series of studio apartments. There are four rooms with en suit bathrooms, a staircase connecting two floors, and a corridor leading to the private backyard. Steps shapes, curves, and colour painted doors are applied, showing their interest in geometric shapes and playful compositions, as well as their particular taste on colours with consistency. For the exterior, white, green, and black marbles are used for the back façade, composing a conspicuous pattern of vertical strips. As for the front façade, it was mostly remained except the replacement for shabby tiles.
In Portugal, there are regulations constraining the renovation of old buildings in certain area, where the façades facing the street are protected and cannot be changed except some repairing and replacement for surface materials. Even though the structure and walls of the whole building is damaged, the front façade has to be kept. Fala mentioned that they find this situation unreasonable, which shows an imbalance between tourism and city’s natural evolution. In the House in Rua do Paraíso, same as many other projects, they had to find a new space for the expression of the building, which is the back façade. In this way, while celebrating the hidden part of the city, the back façade suddenly became prettier than the front one. It delivers a message of unusual treatment resulted from the questionable fact. “It was almost a manifesto of doing a front façade in the back,” said Ana Luisa Soares, “This would be the façade that people should see on the street.”
That reaction became an argument responding its own particular situation apart from fulfilling the inhabitant’s needs and requirements. In other words, with the architect’s intentions and opinions, more than emphasising or enhancing the value of the space, to an extent an architecture challenges conventions and re–examine common senses in some of the cases.
Another work of Fala Atelier, the Competition for Bauhaus Museum, shows a radical rethink of the most basic architectural elements through an uncommon way. The proposed design of the museum consists of three layers of system; a grid of the column with structural purpose, another grid of the walls that divide the space, and a roof that covers the whole building. The three layers work correspondingly, and provide a series of almost generic rooms except few service and gathering spaces. The two grids of columns and walls have the same dimensions in spacing but slightly shift from each other, so that the columns are not hidden in the walls anymore, despite their grids being perfectly the same. In this way, when visitors enter the rooms and move forward, they will find the special existence of the columns due to the different relations between each column and the composition of that room.
What Fala Atelier aimed for in this project, is to make a clear statement on readability of architecture. “We are looking for some kind of clarity, and an architecture that is easy to understand.” Through dissecting the systems that are usually overlapped together, the idea clarifies the purpose of division and structure. What a column and what a wall stands for, are something that we all know about as basic knowledges, but we usually tend to ignore them while we get used to how they are commonly used. Therefore, the idea of the project is a statement of going back to the essence of architectural elements and re–acknowledging their capacities in their own rights.

1.2 Threshold of Readability
All the three projects above, have demonstrated intentions of conveying the architects’ ideas or beliefs through their works. Although in different degrees and directions, they either emphasis, argue, or request for re–acknowledge, they are all communications through architecture. One important thing can be brought up here, is the threshold of readability for the message. A minimum communication consists of an author and an audience apart from the message. Whether the messages can be read or not, depends on the readability of the audience and each condition of the context. From topics referring basic human features that everyone can experience, to topics requiring certain knowledge to understand, different messages reflect different groups of audiences. For example, the Steps Table interacted with anyone that came to the dinning event, and the narrative evoked is about our daily use of the table; the façade of the House in Rua do Paraíso, can only be noticed by the neighbours or discovered randomly by anyone in the city; although quietly, it became part of the urban environments; as for the Competition for Bauhaus Museum, the language it uses is rather architectural, where general public may be aware of the column’s importance, yet only a smaller group of professionals may fully understand it.

2. The Narrative Content
We have talked about the narratives provoked from the articulations by the architects, which reflect relations between human body and the furniture, questionable constrains of the urban context, and the common sense of the architectural elements. Now we might have to make some distinctions first in order to push the exploration of ‘narrative as behaviour’ further.
Through which medium we perceive the narrative? In the narrow sense of architecture, which is undoubted, it is a physical entity with space(s) that human can occupy. If there are narratives involved, it is considered as ‘narrative architecture’. On the other hand, we talk about architecture through many other media; that is to say, we deal with media that transmits the idea of architecture. What produced in that way can be accounted ‘architectural narratives’, where the media represents the architecture or the idea of architecture; in either way, it’s always happening without physical presence of an architecture, and will not be discussed too much here for now.

2.1 Representing Meanings via Architecture
Next, what is the narrative about? The content of a communicated story can be a major point to categorise the narrative architecture into different types. First, there is ‘Representing Meanings via Architecture’ which very often is about the pre–existing stories. We can find it in some places aiming to recall memories of particular historical events, to show cultural identities, or to mark religious symbols. In this category, the narratives to be generated usually are referential and rely on some existing knowledge to read. Moreover, the messages in many cases refer to wider social context and beyond the physical spaces, and sometimes result in transplantations or collages from multiple sources. Many socially engaged architectures manifest and express the significance and value within this kind of narrative; the BIAS Architects & Associates is one of the creatives that can exemplify this idea.
BIAS Architects & Associates was founded by Han–ju Chen, Chen–jung Liu and Alessandro Martinelli in 2013. The office is devoted to finding new ways of thinking architecture, landscape and urban environments by integrated curation and practice of architecture. They have realised numerous important events and curations involving public spaces, exhibitions and natural environments.
Green House was a project completed in 2018 Taoyuan Agriculture Expo by BIAS. It proposed a new agricultural lifestyle for the future. It consisted of five successive greenhouse units with different expressions though architectural tectonics. Each unit was assigned with a particular scene; starting from the entrance, there was a Fern Living Room, where a misted garden of various kind of ferns was intertwined with the living space for human; and a Farm Dining, where family members could sit together around a large table, observing the process of a seed becoming food and learning the essence of agricultural life; then a Photosynthesis Kitchen, which was a high–tech indoor farm combined with a kitchen set right next to it, showing a clean and convenient way of growing vegetables and making food at the same time; via a staircase and a bridge, the Sun Garden would be glimpsed from above and the Theatre of Mushroom was presented, where the senses were enhanced by the smell and the vision of glowing fungus, providing a hint of ideal future residence with an agricultural lifestyle.
This conceivable agricultural lifestyle in the near future can be possibly applied everywhere. It was just a model exemplified here, but through borrowing a typical structure of greenhouse that is widely used in many farm places in Taiwan, a common vision was aimed to spread out. It symbolizes an unreplaceable role of agriculture on our lands and has a narrative based on our common sense of traditional farming. However, the five greenhouse units were presented in a modern way, and each of them used the black sun–blocker shades and transparent climate screens variously in order to create five different settings of conditions on light, temperature, and humidity in responding to the five proposed scenes. As the fact of being a temporal structure, all the components were assembled and dismantled easily and have gone back to their original industrial roles. In this point, this project was about a system in both cultural and industrial sense with higher hierarchy; an overall theme was actually representing a lifestyle developed from the wider social context that shared by everyone.

2.2 Rendering the Relations Between Architecture and Surroundings
The second category, is regarded as ‘Rendering the relations between architecture and surroundings’ when the narrative is about the events provoked on site. The word ‘event’ here, is a narrative term referring to ‘something happens’ in the physical world or in the mental reaction. The events are of the features directly related to the space or architecture; including natural and geographical aspects of the site to be enhanced, urban environment to be on display, or other on–site content to be emphasised on. In this category, the focus of the narrative is within the site; the to–be–perceived specific feature and the space itself are very often an integral entity. It usually creates an impression of dependency between that particular feature and the space.
Both Stage On the Move and Infrastructure On the Move, curated by BIAS Architects & Associates, are actually part of the 2019 Creative Expo Taiwan. In the name of performing arts, Stage On the Move attempts to break the boundary between performing and exhibition as well as onstage and offstage. The centerpiece in this space is a big stage, but visitors will see a footbridge crossing over before arriving at where performance really takes place. There are lightning technicians, sound engineers, makeup artists and special effects equipments on the bridge, and performers warming up or practicing besides or below them. All of these discover the “manufacturing processes” of performing that are traditionally hidden from the audience as if visitors are butting into and peeping at the backstage. Just one simple yet unconventional setting displays the flowing relationships between onstage and offstage. With a series of videos featuring performing artists being projected in turn on several giant screens hung on the bridge, visitors could easily imagine that they be on the very scene with the artists as though they are the ones who really take parts in the performing. Hence, not only does the bridge define the distinctive attributes of this space, but it also builds up dynamic relations between onstage and offstage, between performers, technicians and audiences.
Infrastructure on the Move dealt with the Taipei Railway Workshop’s current situation, attempting to bring back the relationships with urban environment and citizens for a prospective opportunity of conversation. The strategy they took was to open up the long sight–blocking fences on one side and replaced it with see–through metal meshes, so that everyone who passes by can immediately notice the contrast and look towards the inside of the Taipei Railway Workshop. At the corner, they inserted an installation of a ‘platform’ with series of auditorium–like steps. From there, visitors can see the existing railways lying on the ground silently and crossing over the platform towards the Civic Boulevard. The platform is actually occupying only a tiny corner of the whole site, which visitors can panoramically tell from the clusters of workshops standing in front of them as stated in the introduction texts. A story of the infrastructure that has supported the city for a long time therefore appears, in which visitors might experience via this simple yet devoted connotation by the platform and steps — to see. With the fact that the original railways, current railways, and the route of Civic Boulevard are overlapped, the existence of the highway also becomes part of the performance, highlighting the previous transformation connected to the site. Albeit being quietly, this architectural installation brings out and enlarges the character of the site.
Infrastructure on the Move is a project that is actually part of the curation for 2019 Creative Expo Taiwan by BIAS Architects & Associates. It dealt with the Taipei Railway Workshop’s current situation, where it has stopped working for years and right now it is planned to become a Railway Museum in the future. With a goal of bring back the relationships with citizens, BIAS was asked to find a treatment for this transitional point. The strategy they took was to open up the long sight–blocking fences on one side, and replaced it with see–through metal meshes. So that everyone who passes by can immediately notice the contrast and look towards the inside of the Taipei Railway Workshop. At the corner, they inserted an installation of a ‘platform’ with series of auditorium–like steps. From there visitors can see the existing railways lying on the ground silently and crossing over the site along the Civic Boulevard.
The platform is actually occupying only a tiny corner of the whole site, which visitors can tell from the clusters of workshops standing in front of them apart from the introduction texts. A story of the infrastructure that has supported the city for a long time therefore appears, which is to be experienced via this simple yet devoted propose by the platform and steps — to see. With the fact that the original railways, current railways, and the route of Civic Boulevard are overlapped, the existence of the highway also becomes part of the performance, highlighting the previous transformation connected to the site. Although quietly, this architectural installation brings out and enlarges the character of the site.
Without Number is a project by Lanza Atelier. It is a proposal began with an investigation on unused police stations in Mexico City’s 16 districts, which are around 400 of them. These police stations were built for surveillance purpose, as well as places that people can call for help in emergency. The places once had such significant roles that they didn’t require addresses with street numbers; the locals were quite familiar with these structures and actually became attached to them. Arienzo mapped these 16 original types of the structure, and proposes a system of new programs that can be paired with each type. The walls of the stations are removed, and the designed new programs, such as a library, a water tank, a garden, a playground, or stairs, can be inserted to integrate with the existing structure frames. The outcome is a series of models and drawings that represents the idea, where the existing structure frames of the past are represented by brown kraft paper, and the new architectural interventions are highlighted with different bright colours for each function.
Aside from the proposal is presented as an architectural narrative in terms of its format, the series of architecture–to–be raises the conversations between past and present, underuse and reuse, framework and content, top–down systems and bottom–up local activities. In each of the updated infrastructure, the narrative of integrated contrasting layers is on display, belonging to every specific location; to look at all of them as a whole, a narrative of wider context emerges, which reminds us of the current situation and the vision for the urban infrastructures.
Zooming from an urban scale to a single–house scale, House for Three Generations in Porto, Portugal is a project by Fala Atelier. The brief of the project was a new–build house for a family with three generations; apart from one floor only and big windows, the client asked for en–suit bathrooms for all rooms. What Fala Atelier proposed were three rooms in different shapes and a common area to be included within a big square. Showing their obvious interest in geometric shapes among many other projects, one of the rooms is a square, another room is a quarter–circle, and the last one is a triangle, hence the left space becomes the common area that is in an irregular shape. Each of the rooms has its own independent presence, and is connected through the shared common area, where the three different expressions can be experienced together: a right angle, a curve, and a diagonal.
“In the common area, you feel this diversity,” it sums up the spirit of this project — the identity for each. The configuration of these spaces and shapes, contains a narrative of three likely different living styles and what is shared among all members of a family. Each shape marks the common space differently, and the common space embraces them all via being irregular. The house, architecturally reflects the relations within a family, as well as the relations between the space and its inhabitants.

2.3 Exposing the Architecture Itself
As for the third category, we defined it as ‘Exposing the Architecture Itself’ when the narrative is presenting the distinct feature or the inner order of an architecture. It is very often composed via dealing with basic architectural elements, from just showing the fact of their intriguing materiality to challenging the common sense of a column’s structural mechanics. Sometimes it puts focus on the system: whether playing with the configuration of spaces, or manipulating the grids of structure and division, it creates a sense of peculiarity that makes this architecture fascinating. However, in some of the cases, it sets up a higher readability threshold, requiring certain knowledge to understand.
São Brás House in Porto is another renovation project by Fala Atelier. It was an old street house with two floors and a balcony, and it had to be transformed into four studio apartments. On the upper floor, there are two apartments with one room for each, one is facing the street, the other is facing the balcony; in between the two rooms, there are a shared staircase connecting two floors and two triangle bathrooms for each apartment. If we take the staircase as one unit, then the two triangles also combine as one; hence, each of the rooms is formed by four units; in this way, the whole floor is actually composed by a two–by–five grid. The gird appears to be a solution for the spatial requirements and at the same time becomes a new system over imposed on top of an original system.
“For us, it was super important to have this grid very clear.” To emphasise more on the structure, they added a central column in the centre of each room; the columns don’t even touch the ceilings as they are not structurally necessary. Moreover, the wood pavement inside the rooms rotates around the column in each room; in other words, the column in each actually divides each room into four units that make the grid obvious. On the lower floor, a corridor cuts through to access the backyard; a series of six columns are added to make the grid appear again, the rhythm can be experienced while going through the long corridor. One of the columns is actually in front of an original window, where a conflict between new and old systems shows up; “it’s usually a moment that has a lot of energy.” On the side façade, the new grid is also marked out with colours, and obviously, one of the lines is going toward a window. All these unusual ‘events’ happen within this house, compose a narrative of how the superimposed new system meet with the original one. “If we always erase these moments, it would be dishonest.”
In another Fala Atelier’s project, Building with Two Staircasesin Porto, a different exposure strategy is applied. This project includes two typical buildings that have to be renovated and transformed into several apartments. The back façade of the two buildings were severely rotten and they had to design a complete new one; it comprises new metal frames and glass curtain walls, which contrasts with the front one that is very solid and with just few holes. One amazing thing comes from its original condition of the structure is the beautiful tree–trunk beams. Although most of the building was well preserved, some of the beams are rotted and have to be replaced. Instead of using new wooden beams that would be rectangular, they decided to replace them with metal beams. In this way, the contrast shows up again as another layer, where the inhabitants could actually see the mass–produced sharp metal beams aligning together with organic tree–trunk beams. “There was some added value in the original structure, from there we try to expose it.”
Apart from those contrasts, Fala Atelier also plays ideas of ‘being one or two’ in this project. The two buildings are actually working as one building, and most of the apartments are actually spanned from one volume to the other. They are even making one common circulation within the entire group of buildings that actually had two original staircases separately. Everything is double in this project, whether being contrasting or not; the solid and the transparent, the sharp and the organic, being two as well as being one; these ‘scenes’ together form a clear theme that expresses a consistent order embedded in this architecture.

3. The Approaches
The narratives within the architecture are to be read via the action of experiencing the space. Each architecture has its own unique composition of ‘events’ to be read, which could be one or more. Thus the ‘Layout’ — deployment of the event(s), is one thing to discuss. Furthermore, since a spatial experience is something happens between an audience and a space, the ‘interface’ — the way that an event happens, is another interesting topic to explore. Speaking of audience, we can also think about the ‘perspective’ — which point of views the audience is taking in a narrative.

3.1 Layout
Each narrative must have a theme to develop from and a message to deliver; and it is articulated through certain actions. In some of the cases, it’s simply done by a singular event, clear and straightforward, like one sentence or even few words. But most of the times, architecture has the capacity to allow multiple things happen simultaneously in various ways. In the later situations, it always requires an organised structure to determine the relations between each event. For instance, you might have several events that are juxtaposed together with suggestive relations expecting imaginative associations to form a clearer narrative; alternatively, you would arrange a series of events that have causal relations, accumulating a continues and consistent narrative running through the scenes; or otherwise, you could set up several events with equal status under some overarching aims, so that the events all together compose a framing narrative.
In Green House by BIAS, it was a framing narrative including five subtopics under a theme of future agricultural lifestyle. And the spaces were to be experienced successively in a linear sequence, from a living space with fern garden, a dining table for families, a kitchen with a farm, a relaxing theatre with fungus, to a place for sunbathing with plants. As for the narrative in House for Three Generations, it is also a framing narrative with three clear identities; what links them all is the shared common space that embraces the three, only thereby showing the diversity. It is non–linear because of each one’s equal presence. The Without Number by Lanza Atelier has a similar way of organising the subtopics; the sixteen typologies of the police station have their own expressions differently and are combined with new interventions to form new ways of existing. It is worth mentioning that, when looking at them all together, it results in a realisation of urban infrastructure system’s current situations, and thus the focus is shifted to the narrative at a higher level. On the other hand, the narrative in Building with Two Staircases by Fala Atelier is different from projects above. The narrative in this project is presented as a contrast between front and back façade, and between two materials of metal and wood, as well as presented as an uncertainty of being one or two. These non–linear events are not causal and are different in terms of their formats; what they have created together, though implicitly, is an obscure yet rich theme of duality.

3.2 Interface
If there is information transmitted and received, there is always interface involved. With architecture being a medium having influences on us, there are numerous ways of how the influences could happen. The notion from Sophia Psarra [3] could give us a clue as a starting point to consider. In ‘Architecture and Narrative’, she mentioned that Umberto Eco had the interpretation of art works considered as ‘closed’ and ‘open’, based on information theory (1989, p.13) [4]. And Bill Hillier proposed the similar ideas of a ‘conservative’ and a ‘generative’ mode of space (2005, p. 98) [5]. ‘The former describes cultural meaning embedded in space to reproduce a cultural pattern. The later captures a rich potential of meaning generated by the spatial arrangement’ (Psarra 2009, p.13) [3]. The two modes are possibilities co–existing whether they are identified in different layers or as a collage. But it does provide a viewpoint to understand the two sides of a spectrum: being clear and conventional is on one side, and being undefined with possibilities is on the other side.
Bearing that as a premise in mind, we could start with distinguishing between semiotic meaning and impact from bodily sensations. A thing being semiotic means it always refers to something to be perceived and understood. Between the signifier — the medium of a sign, and the signified — the meaning of the sign, there are different relations that lead to three types of signs, which are ‘icon’, ‘index’, and ‘symbol’. An icon is a sign appearing to have a resembling relation; an index is a sign happening in a causal relation; and a symbol is a sign established on a conventional relation. In contrast, the impact from bodily sensations is the ‘immediate perception’ comes from the bodily experience. It is worth highlighting here that, a sign could be various media representing meanings, but a bodily experience can only be something specifically comes from the capacity of a spatial form, such as furniture, architecture, landscape, etc.
Green House played with semiotic elements through being an icon: the building itself is a typology of a commonly used greenhouse, recalling memories of the structure from a familiar agriculture landscape. In Building with Two Staircases, there is an example of an index: the tree–trunk beams give a hint of the original structure system, whereas the steel beams are obviously brought in by renovation. As for the bodily sensations, we can find it in Steps Table where people can only feel and experience the different heights of each table and chair through their own body. There are interesting combinations in São Brás House; the rotation of wood paving on floor might create an illusion that forces our bodies to follow unconsciously, and the columns in the corridor are making a rhythm that we can perceive while walking through it; on the other hand, the column and the window that are overlapped together, are actually signs of new and old grids of that building.

3.3 Perspective
Shifting the scope to a larger scale with a distance, we can look at the narratives from different angles and on different levels. For example, there are narratives that are more experiential or more conceptual. It is about where to put the focus — the most enjoyable part of a narrative. Is the audience expected to spend more time in the immersive experiences that are relatively straightforward, or is he or she expected to make efforts figuring out the hidden meanings that requires further interpretations?
If we borrow the idea from narrative theory, we could push the exploration to the next step. In all narratives, there are at least two worlds: a storyworld in which the events take place and a world in which the narration takes place (Abbott 2008, p.169) [6]. In narrative architecture, there is an absence of typical ‘narrator’; the audiences always make narratives for themselves in the process of experiencing, hence one becomes both the narrator and the audience at the same time. In some cases, the audiences themselves are even forced or induced to be part of the characters within the narrative, therefore, the storyworld and the world of narration would be overlapped. If we reckoned the experiential level as the primary narrative, in which the audience were thus both the character and the narrator, we would call them an intradiegetic narrator [6]. For example, in Steps Table, people who came and interacted with the table became the characters and narrators of the experiential and primary narrative. But what could go further is, when they started reflecting on what just happened and what was the meaning of this series of actions, they suddenly came to the conceptual and secondary level, in which they are outside of the primary storyworld, being extradiegetic narrators [6]. Moreover, if the reflection brought more significances to the secondary level, the focus would be shifted to this conceptual narrative.
The conceptual narrative sometimes requires certain knowledges to develop due to its relative abstractness. To be further, in some cases it has to be read through an omniscient point of view; in other words, it requires audiences to look at it from an architect’s eye. Mostly the conceptual narrative would complement the experiential narrative, and each of them are as important as the other. In House for Three Generations, the distinction of three rooms with different shapes are seen clearer on the architectural plan; but there exists an unreplaceable experience of perceiving a curve, a right–angle, and a diagonal via body sensations. Same as the Competition for Bauhaus Museum, the slightly shifted grids due to the structural columns and the walls can be immediately read from the architectural plan, while the spaces, though being proposed only, present a series of intriguing columns as the hints. In this way, the experiential narrative plays a role of provoking the discussion, whereas the conceptual narrative provides possible answers.

Narrative as Knowledge
As the architects, we are responsible for ‘the expected experiences’ when we are in the mode of ‘narrative as behaviour’. We begin with intentions, and develop the contents with certain approaches for the narratives in any types and at any level. On the other hand, we are the audiences, too. We read, learn, and experience through everything we understand. The information is digested and reorganised through each one’s own interpretations, and it will be assigned a certain relationship with existing knowledge in order to be part of the system. The collecting and organising through everyone’s particular methodology compose a process of ‘narrative as knowledge’ ¾ an exclusive way that we make nutrients for the thoughts and the creativity.
FALA Atelier, being working as a studio for six years or so, has been reflecting on who they are for a while. “Our projects are not islands, they are like an archipelago,” Ana Luisa described their works as such. They have updated the browsing system of the studio’s website recently, where images of works seem to be displayed in a random order and reference to different things at the same time. However, one can notice that there are several ‘keywords’ stringing up the images and crossing over projects. In this sense, all the projects they have done are not completely independent from or irrelevant to each other. Ana Luisa continued saying, “after realising this, it became even a better tool for us.” It is not rare for one to produce creative works with certain consistency, but being conscious about their specific concerns contributes a lot more to their progress. Furthermore, “the entire production of the office becomes a project,” Ahmed Belkhodja added to the idea.
On the other hand, they have this statement of ‘architecture is an act of curation’, which means “we are not trying to invent new elements, we are just playing with the same cards with own techniques.” They appreciate those established knowledges by other architects with respects, and try to advance the ideas in their ways. In 2017 Chicago Architecture Biennial, FALA studied the ‘meaning spaces’ in some Japanese architects’ works, including houses by Kazuo Shinohara, Kazunari Sakamoto, Itsuko Hasegawa, and Toyo Ito. It was actually a genealogical study among these architects, where they all appeared to have the ‘meaning space’ in their works. The spaces had no determined traditional functions, and, in a way, they became symbolic as they aroused certain mental activities. It was theorised by Kazuo Shinohara, while he considered the house as a work of art.
In addition to this idea of symbolic meaning space, FALA’s devotion to basic architectural elements fuses with the spirit of a central column in Japanese houses as a hybrid. Among many of their projects, there are columns debuted with unique gestures, presenting the significances for the spaces. “You have to claim these architectural elements back, and try to inject new meanings in them.” By claiming back, it means to sincerely face and treat these basic yet essential features of architectural elements, so that the elements could have various physical or mental impacts on spatial experiences and create rich meanings.
LANZA Atelier looks at ‘what is architecture about’ in another way. They are interested in all sorts of things which they can detect any clue of inspirations from. It could be a film or a book, but mostly it appears to be on the street. “You can find wisdom, beauty, or architectonic knowledge in very simple things that is not done by architects.” Isabel Abascal explained, “if you look at things with the gaze of architect, then everything can be architecture.” This statement corresponds to her interest in urban environments, where shows a mix of constructions by multiple disciplines. In spite of thinking about architecture all the time, it is also important for her to engage with different professionals to discuss various topics related to the city.
Her other critical idea about architecture echoes an earlier part of this article, where the architects are expected to be responsible for what they contribute to the environments. “Architecture itself is exposing itself from the moment it is built.” She mentioned that, as an architect, you have to be aware of being exposed once the work is done. People will see it and it will be part of the urban or rural environment. This unique characteristic, comes with certain responsibilities, where she found it fascinating.
As for Chen–jung Liu from BIAS Architects & Associates, she shows firm passions of environmental issues, urban spaces and local cultures through their curatorial and architectural projects. She described the process of researching and reflecting on these topics constantly as “a process of self–comprehending.” Being originally from a town siting in–between mountains and sea and having a role in distributing products from both sides, she seems to, for a long time, have a strong connection with the mix of man–made mechanism and natural environments.The manipulation of light, temperature, and humidity to compose specific environmental conditions, like the one in Green House, had been applied among many projects since years ago.
However, “we actually have considerably weak relations to our lands,” she found this fact out surprisingly while researching on local stories. Although it is reasonable that we might neglect the valuable things while getting used to it, it will be a huge loss for the places and mostly for ourselves. What we are made of is based on the collective memories possessed in the social context. In other words, we are cultivated by the social and cultural environments, as well as the places we live in. “More than an architecture,” Chen–jung stated, “what we try to do is to build up the connections and memories with the spaces in the city for publics.” Taking the advantage of architectural capacities of allowing all sorts of things to happen within, what they propose are platforms for ‘events’ with possibilities. The ‘events’, again, could be either physical or mental activities that one can experience. This is an outward approach that encourages the publics to have wider and imaginative cognitions of urban spaces. Instead of focusing on one singular narrative of a specific architecture, this intention actually works on the cultivation of narrative demands and narrative comprehension for every one of us.

4. Narrative — ‘knowing’ and ‘telling’
We make narratives many times a day, every day of our lives. And we start doing so almost from the moment we begin putting words together (Abbott 2008) [6].
If we go back to the word ‘narrative’ and review its basis, we will find more clues for that statement. H. Porter Abbott gives examples to explain the universality of narrative in his book The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative, referencing notions from some theorists, who describe the narrative or narration as “the central function or instance of the human mind” (Fredric Jameson 1981, p. 13) [7] and “the quintessential form of customary knowledge” (Jean-François Lyotard 1984, p. 19) [8].In this sense, the narrative does not refer to the art of articulations only, but it also plays a common yet important role in everyone’s thinking. After all, the word ‘narrative’ could be traced back to the ancient Sanskrit ‘gna,’ a root term that means ‘know,’ and it comes down to us through Latin words for both ‘knowing’ (‘gnarus’) and ‘telling’ (‘narro’) (White 1987, p. 215n) [9].
In a way, before we start telling things outwards, we establish the knowledge inwards first. We can borrow the idea of understanding natural surroundings by Christian Norberg–Schulz [10] as an angle to look at the ways of forming knowledges. He has mentioned that the first mode of natural understanding relates the ‘forces’ to the concreate natural elements or ‘things’. In this mode, the properties of the natural forces are to be perceived and recognised as various features of things, such as the inclusiveness of the earth, the imperishableness of the mountains, the incessantness of water, and the vitalness of a tree. The second mode of natural understanding involves abstracting a systematic ‘cosmic order’ from the flux of occurrences. This kind of orders is usually based on the course of the sun and the cardinal points, where they are grandiose and invariant with repeated cycles.
The two modes are spatial approaches and actually echo the narrative perspective that we have discussed — the experiential and the conceptual ones. The two distinct perspectives seem to provide a primary way to process and organise the information we receive. Inspired by From Space to Place: Learning a Maze [11] — an experiment about sight–blocked subjects finding their ways in a maze, the two modes can actually be applied in the understanding process both as an act of identifying key things that are meaningful to us, and on the other side, as an act of associating them to form a clear order. Obviously, while processing back and forth between the two modes, it fuses with certain self–interpretations, in which the narratives are formed automatically due to the fact that ‘understanding’ always involves social context, cultural identities, personal judgements, and commonly accepted conditions altogether explaining the ‘happened events’ and suggesting the ‘events to happen’. So, narrative, or in other words, the system of knowledge, is something will convert a neutral ‘space’ into a meaningful ‘place’ [11], whether in physical world or in conceptual sense; from there, we tell stories.