Narrative architecture


The term ‘narrative architecture’ has been used in many contexts. Two examples are discussed below.

  1. Narrative architecture: NATO

The term was used by a group calling itself NATO, an acronym for Narrative Architecture Today. Nigel Coates (1988), a major figure in NATO states that,

“Meaning and conventional function need not necessarily be linked. Buildings need to coax people back into working with them rather than against them … they need a time dimension, a mental dimension … or what we could call narrative.”

The conventional story or conventional myth (Jamieson, 2014: 27) about the founding of NATO runs as follows:

“A year earlier, the group had been marked out as les enfants terribles of the architectural profession by Architectural Association external examiners James Stirling and Edward Jones, who had considered Nigel Coates’s Unit 10 cohort of 1982-83 not worthy of their AA Diploma. Saved by the head of the school, Alvin Boyarsky, tutor Coates selected eight students (Mark Prizeman, Melanie Sainsbury, Carlos Villanueva Brant, Robert Mull, Catrina Beevor, Christina Norton, Peter Fleissig, and Martin Benson) to join him in forming a collective that would demonstrate a new mode of architectural thought – narrative architecture.”

Dissociating themselves from the discourse of the contemporaneous architectural press, NATØ sought to be part of the 1980s subcultural expression of identity in London, aligning themselves with a spectrum of emergent popular cultural modes, such as fanzines, lifestyle magazines, club culture, street style, pop videos, film, fashion design and product design. In particular, they identified with a specific post-punk expression which celebrated the abject, an aesthetic of entropy, and the provisional character of do-it-yourself (Jameson, 2014: 28). In one sense, the group undertook a strategy of subversion characteristic of postmodernism. However, in another sense, Jamieson argues, it was a strategy that cannot be contained by the conventional analysis that tresses the co-option of postmodernist architecture such that it becomes a corporate style and aesthetic of mainstream orthodoxy (Jameson, 2014: 28)

2. Narrative architecture: WAI Architecture Think Tank

The term ‘narrative architecture’ also features in the manifesto of the WAI Architecture Think Tank, an international studio practicing architecture, urbanism and architectural research that was founded in Brussels in 2008 by Puerto Rican architect, artist, author and theorist Cruz Garcia and French architect, artist, author and poet, Nathalie Frankowski.

In their Narrative Architecture manifesto, WAI state that,

“There is a form of architecture that aims at not getting built. An architecture on paper that should not be confused with paper architecture. An architecture based on pure statements in which real brick, mortar, and poured concrete are substituted by cut-and- pasted paper and narrative prose.”

They propose Narrative Architecture as,

“An architecture that through narrative texts and a vast repertoire of images (collages, photomontages, drawings, storyboards, comic strips, animations) – creates allegorical stories that aim to expose the impasse and misfires of architecture in theory and practice. This form of architecture is simultaneously both theory and practice. It is theory as practice; critique as architectural project.”


Coates, N. (1988). Street Signs. In Thackara, John, Ed. (1988), Design after Modernism. London: Thames and Hudson, 95-114.

Coates, N. (2012). Narrative architecture. Chichester: Wiley

Jamieson, C.A. (2014). NATO: Exploring architecture as a narrative medium in postmodern London [PhD thesis]. Royal College of Art. Available from Claire Thesis %28REDACTED VERSION%29.pdf [Accessed 4 February 2019].

WAI Architecture Think Tank (2008-2019). Narrative architecture manifesto. WAI Architecture Think Tank. Available from [Accessed 4 February 2019].