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Other Tangents

Channeling Experience: Storytelling in the Spaces We Design

Although we humans have invented new ways of sharing knowledge beyond the sharing of stories to one other over the firepit, storytelling is a key part of our culture. (Who doesn’t love a good story?) But beyond the stories we tell out loud, there is storytelling in spaces we design, too.

June 4, 2018

I’m a storyteller. Anyone who knows me has likely seen me stop in the middle of one story to dive into a side story triggered by some memory. Aside from my never-ending admiration of superlatives, digging up a story is one of my favorite things.

For me, the experience of life feels like a contest to fit more in. FOMO, the Fear Of Missing Out, is a serious affliction of mine. Each lackluster meal I have feels like a lost opportunity. Every line I wait in that ends up being longer than the adjacent one makes me want to analyze lines better in the future. Every bit of the built environment I see gets me thinking of how I could improve upon it. In short, I’m a collector of experiences, and I use that to build the base upon which I function.

Every little side story is really just a retelling of a lesson learned: each is an experience that comes with a potential lesson. (Well, some side stories exist just because they’re damn funny; that’s fine too, lesson or not.)

In the field of architecture, I’m constantly hit with stimuli that get me thinking, and I'm always wondering how I can apply my experiential knowledge to the work that I do. For example, I’m writing this on a plane after returning from New York City for a conference, and I have a phone full of notes and pictures of things that I want to file away for future use or, even better, improve upon what I’m working on now. I know many architects and designers who do the same, and for whatever reason, it seems to be a common thread across our industry.

As a species, we have evolved enough to no longer rely completely upon storytelling as the sole method of passing on information. Even so, there is still a ton of value in the oral sharing of experiences that have shaped who we are. What’s more, the sharing of experiences — storytelling — can occur in the buildings and spaces we design, as well.

A master bathroom may have elements of something I’ve seen elsewhere, or perhaps my love of densely-packed shelving in a retail environment comes from my experience living in New York City, where that wasn’t an aesthetic choice but a necessity. I’ve long realized that my love of travel and vacations isn’t just about unplugging from the day-to-day, but it is about refueling my interests, passions, and creativity. I’ve always found that sufficient time away from work is requisite to actually being good at what I do.

So, if you want some advice from me, it is take that vacation, book that trip that seems ridiculous, and talk to that new person that may be able to share something new with you. We’re nothing but explorers in this world, collecting experiences to better ourselves. It is why I will go out of my way to “up the experience,” or to do something just for the story. It makes for a richer life, and, I hope, a far better story for me to tell when I’m veering off topic, telling you some side story in the middle of a meeting, and to help inspire the spaces I design.

This post is part of the ArchiTalks series originally spearheaded by Bob Borson of Life of an Architect. Historically, he has selected a theme and a group of us (architects who also blog) all post on the same day and promote each other’s posts. This year, the themes have been selected by a variety of contributors. This month’s theme was selected by Lora Teagarden of the L2 Design and is: "Experience." To read how others interpreted the theme, please explore the links below.

Lee Calisti, AIA - Think Architect (@LeeCalisti)
experience comes from experiences

Lora Teagarden - L² Design, LLC (@L2DesignLLC)
Gaining Experience As A Young Architect

Jeremiah Russell, AIA - ROGUE Architecture (@rogue_architect)
knowledge is not experience

Eric T. Faulkner - Rock Talk (@wishingrockhome)
That's Experience -- A Wise Investment

Michele Grace Hottel - Michele Grace Hottel, Architect (@mghottel)

Brian Paletz - The Emerging Architect (@bpaletz)
You need it to get it

Keith Palma - Architect's Trace (@cogitatedesign)
The GC Experience

Jim Mehaffey - Yeoman Architect (@jamesmehaffey)

Mark Stephens - Mark Stephens Architects (@architectmark)

Leah Alissa Bayer - Stoytelling LAB (@leahalissa)
Four Years In: All Experiences Are Not Created Equal (Nor Should They Be)

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