Selling the Dream

Weds 17 June 2015, 6.30pm

The power of simple narratives in shaping perceptions, politics and the city is formidable. This debate investigates the role of storytelling as an architectural tool led by a panel of architects and journalists working at the coalface of narrative weaving.

In the 15th Century media and architecture were one and the same. Tales of God’s divine authority were writ large in stone, imposed on parishes via vaults and spires unfolding over decades of construction. In the centuries since media has become completely detached from building but the power of stories still charges the fabric and business of building the city both though subtle symbolism and literal text carved into facades.

When Renzo Piano declares the Shard as a ‘vertical city’ or Thomas Heatherwick talks of his Learning Hub in Singapore enabling teachers to be ‘partners in the voyage of learning’, they create simplistic but influential brands – tools for manipulating media coverage and public perceptions of their work.

Writer Crystal Bennes has criticized a culture of development in which marketing narratives have come to dominate design decisions culminating in anodyne projects. But elsewhere firms such as Studio Weave and Egret West are able to tap rich seams of folklore, which resonate with their clients and sites creating buildings which consolidate the complex identities of their contexts.

For some, architectural story telling is at the heart of great place-making, connecting communities across history though building. For others it is a cynical exercise in wrapping big development with cuddly brands which may breathe new life into built heritage but do little to address wider social concerns. 

In this contested territory where could and should narrative-making sit in contemporary practice? Should architects embrace the muscle of story telling or proceed with caution?

In this debate we will dig into the story of stories and how they are shaping the city for better and worse with a panel of expert story weavers from across journalism, architecture and development.




Full Panel

Zoe Williams is an author and widely published writer. She is a columnist for the Guardian and critic for the Telegraph.

David West is cofounder of Studio Egret West, a whose mixed-use developments in outer lying boroughs frequently uses stories as a means of unifying large projects. The Old Vinyl Factory in Hayes is framed as an exercise in celebrating to heritage of a site that was once a record-pressing plant.

Maria Smith is cofounder of Studio Weave, a practice who are to architecture what Hans Christian Andersen was to fairy tales. Their Lullaby Factory for Great Ormond Street Hospital literally too the form of a gigantic machine belching out dreams for wards of sleeping children.  

Martyn Evans is creative director of Cathedral, property developers behind some of the most context-engaged projects underway in London including Modern Wharf and the Old Vinyl Factory.

Phineas Harper (chair) is Deputy Director of the Architecture Foundation. He is a designer and writer who cut his teeth at the Architectural Review as Deputy Editor.



Where: Studio Egret West, 3 Brewhouse Yard, London EC1V 4JQ
When: 6:30pm, 17 June
Tickets: £5. Free for members of the Architecture Foundation. Booking essential as places are limited.


This debate investigates the role of storytelling as an architectural tool led by a panel of architects and journalists working at the coalface of narrative weaving.