Selected Entries 2018

Storytelling through Architecture: Building an Archive of Stories

Rewa Phansalkar
Rachna Sansad Academy of Architecture | Mumbai


We are inveterate storytellers: imaginative beings who are driven by curiosity, and ‘stories’ are often the molds within which we place signs, images and language to communicate and make sense of our world. Stories are formed, changed, told and re-told to gather layers of meaning, forming a collective consciousness of human wisdom. They become repositories of the circumstances that give birth to them, and the media for their propagation become the ‘Archives’ in which they are contained.

Historically, architecture has been the great book of mankind, from cave paintings and stained glass to legends carved on temple walls. Buildings like the Temple of Solomon and the Parthenon became crossroads for public gathering, serving as both the communicators of legends, through ornamentation or syntax, while simultaneously housing important manuscripts within them.

Even in the absence of a conscious intent to inscribe space with meaning, buildings have a paradoxical ability to be preserved through incremental change, and collect meanings and memories through time. Architecture that witnesses events, goes through functional change, and is touched by the imagination of its users becomes richer with time, attracting imaginative nicknames, to become landmark in the mental maps of places. The greatest glory of a building is not in its stones, but in the deep sense of voice-fullness which we feel in the walls that have long been washed by the passing waves of humanity.

Even when architecture is layered with meanings, avenues to read these may not be present. In the city of Mumbai, many historical precincts today are threatened with the tabula-rasa method of standardized development, affecting the richness of this archive and depleting the collective repository of meaning.

 

When space is a collection of stories, architecture has the potential to structure and curate it to allow the reading of these meanings.  It must become both the container and medium of stories, which stores tales, provides avenues to read them, and allows more imaginations to get attached to them.

 

This thesis aims at exploring the potential of architecture in storing and communicating the stories of our time. It investigates how denotative and connotative meanings get stored in buildings and cities, and how these may be read and added to, through discovery and imagination.  It establishes an analogy between the layers of a ‘story’ and the palimpsest-ridden fabric of old buildings that accumulate personalization by their users and traces of the past, serving as cultural archives that are threatened by the standardized trend of re-development today. By ‘lending a narrative to traces’, exploration and public imagination is promoted to re-kindle community attachment.  

An ‘archive’ is re-imagined as a typology that brings these ideas together in such a setting of history and ‘palimpsestous’ aesthetic. Ranwar Village, Mumbai, becomes the setting for the intervention: a three hundred year old East-Indian Catholic Gaothan which is presently threatened by redevelopment and gentrification, changes that would drastically alter the built-fabric of the locality, and the meanings that it has acquired. The proposed intervention is an archive for the old community in Ranwar. The Archive is fragmented, located in unexpected, disused and dilapidated structures spread over the fabric of the urban village, so as to opportunistically interact with everyday life, allowing it to serve community, recreational and sentimental needs. With programs such as a public library, records office, community space and media-house, the Archive aims to store and communicate past stories, create an avenue for these to be read and inspire new stories to form as a layer over the old, both programmatically, and through physical architectural expression.

It serves as both the teller and container of stories creating an environment that inspires people to form their own mental stories and imaginings. Through allowing slow wanderings, enabling chance discoveries and celebrating the magic in the otherwise mundane, the archive is a place of remembrance and wonder, and its purpose is re-affirmed by its architecture.