Corpo-real#6 From a Novel to a House

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Report: Report from Corpo-real #6

Corpo-real/ArtEZ Master Interior Architecture

Nov. 2022


am curious about what architecture can learn from

Report from Corpo-real #6

November 2022

From a novel to a house

literature. Starting from my interest in the literary narrative, I discovered new insight into architecture through the lens

of literature. In my theoretical research I investigated how literary narrative relates to memorial architecture. Of the four categories of rhetoric, as Nigel Coates described in his book Narrative Architecture (2012), narrative is no doubt rooted in, and thus most relevant to the domain of literature1.The earliest literary theory related to the narrative can be traced back to Aristotle’s Poetics (350 B.C.) in ancient Greece. In his book Narrative and Time Volume I (1984) Paul Ricoeur defines narrative as ‘the organization of the events’2. In narrative works, he states, there is a certain structure and approach on how events are organized and constructed into tellable stories3.

Enriching the meaning of architecture from a narrative perspective

Literary Narrative When Shlomith Rimon-Kenan in her book Narrative Fiction (1983) raises the question what a narrative is, she juxtaposes two texts, and qualifies only the first as a narrative.

By Ting Yang There was a young lady of Niger Who smiled as she rode on a tiger. They returned from the ride With the lady inside And the smile on the face of the tiger. Roses are red Violets are blue Sugar is sweet And so are you.

In narrative works, there is a certain structure and approach of how events, the ingredients of the story, are organized and constructed into a tellable story. The development of critical studies of modernist literature contributed substantially to the formation of narratology, which addresses the studies of narrative device and narrative works. Tzvetan Todorov (19392017) first adopts the term narratology4 in Grammaire du Décaméron (1969). In an earlier essay, Todorov argues that a narrative work has two aspects: histoire and discours5. Histoire [story] refers to the story and events, real or fictional, which are narrated in the work. We could learn about the same story by watching a film or through the oral account of a witness. At the same time, the work is told by a narrator in a certain way. Therefore, the second aspect of narrative is discourse. ‘Histoire’ is a ‘what’ question, discours is a ‘how’ question. The first half of the twentieth century Europe and the United States witnessed a significant turning point in the field of western literature. Modernist writers revealed increasing interests beyond written language and the moral value embedded in traditional literary works (e.g. how does the work educate its readers). In response to this literature critics and theorists posed more efforts on studying other aspects of literary works, such as arrangement of story lines and the point of view of the narrator. Consequently, the development of critical studies of modernist literature contributed substantially to the formation of narratology, which is concerned about the studies of narrative device and narrative works. As described before, Paul Ricoeur defines narrative as ‘the organization of the event’s’. A series of delicately organized events constitute the plots of a story. In short, narrative is concerned with what is the narrative content itself, the branch of story, and how it is narrated, the branch of discourse. Specifically, in narrative works, there is a certain structure and approach to how events, the ingredients of various materials, are organized and constructed into a tellable story.

Architectural narrative Opposite to the situation in literature, narrative is quite foreign in the field of architecture. Due to the pioneering educational work conducted in the 1980’s at London’s

Architectural Association (commonly known as the AA), the

positions of these two architect’s, both of their works have

Inspired by this narrative structure, I designed a house, which

notion of narrative has become prominent in the discourse of

frequently been associated with narrative architecture.

accommodates a writer and an architect.

contemporary architecture since the mid-1980’s.

I turned the house 90° (vertical-horizontal) to realise two

In Narrative Architecture, Nigel Coates, one of the leading

“It is quite evident that space matters in architecture while

perspectives. I wondered: can people live in the same house

contributors who introduced narrative in architecture,

time matters in literature.” – Ting Yang

with different perspectives? In one perspective, two inhabitants

discusses how narrative can be applied to architecture. He

meet with each other; in another perspective, they do not. From

notes that there are different configurations of components

Time is generally acknowledged as the most fundamental

within architecture. But there is one architectural situation that

component of literature. Many literary works narrate events

remains the same. This situation consists of ‘a set of essentials’

along the flow of time: the beginning, the development and the

I first extracted the contradictions in architecture: ownership of

that are ‘significant to the subject’. It is the configuration of

end. In 1945, Joseph Frank introduces the idea of spatial into the

space, circulation, and function. From the writer’s perspective,

those essential situations that makes architecture step into the

literary discussion in his classic essay Spatial Form in Modern

the inhabitants have their own space without interacting with

territory of narrative. Coates also argues that narrative is ‘an

Literature (1945). The notion ‘spatial form’ does not refer to

another. When the house is turned to the architect’s perspective,

approach to practice’, a process of translation from abstract

physical space (e.g., a room), but instead, a certain structure

the exactly same divided space becomes a common corridor;

idea to tangible, physical form, which we call architecture. He

of narration . Specifically, Frank observes that the writers of

there are even common areas shared by the two inhabitants. After

adopts the word translation, which suggests that there is a

modern literature break down the sequence of events and thus

assigning functions to the different rooms in two perspectives,

gap between the intangible and the tangible. Following Coates,

disturb their chronological order. They replace sequence with

I juxtaposed some selected rooms from one perspective with

we can think of the architectural narrative as a grammar of

simultaneity. The juxtaposition of multiple fragments works as

their counterparts from another perspective. It is interesting to

architecture. This grammar allows communication between

collage, dissolving the sense of temporal discontinuity.

see that the inhabitants do either similar or completely different


one perspective to another, I reshape the inhabitants’ life.

things in the same space.

the architect who invents [writes] the intangible ideas, and the public that apprehends [reads] the built works. The significance

This collage of fragments has also been recognized in the field

of architectural narrative is that it shows us that architecture

of architecture. For example, in Transparency: Literal and

“I concluded that the value of narrative for both literature and

does communicate.

Phenomenal (1963), Colin Rowe and Robert Slutzky define two

architecture is to create stories and thus meaning through

types of transparency: the literal and the phenomenal . They

organization of events.” – Ting Yang


In his book Meaning in Architecture (1969) Christian Norberg-

pair Walter Gropius and pre-cubists such as Moholy-Nagy

Schulz argues that architecture concretizes ‘values’6 . It gives

versus Le Corbusier and post-cubists such as Fernand Leger.

Indeed, architecture has become different when I apply a

visual expression to ideas that brings meaning to its’ inhabitants.

Like Moholy-Nagy’s composition of geometrical planes in his

literary structure to it. For the two protagonists in my project, I

Then what is the role of narrative in communicating meaning?

paintings Gropius’ Bauhaus building is one example of literal

preset two ways of living in their house: one is living separately

According to Coates, narratives can engage with the medium of

transparency in its use of reflective material (glass) to create an

and another one is living interactively. How can these two

space, and form the basis on which architecture can be given

interesting interaction with light. Contrary to literal transparency,

modes be possible in the same house? What I did is changing

meaning’. Sophia Psarra, in her book Architecture and Narrative:

perceived seeing-through is not the prerequisite of phenomenal

the perspective by turning the house.

The Formation of Space and Cultural Meaning (2009) also agrees

transparency. The authors find similarities between post-

that narrative facilitates architecture to communicate meaning.

cubism paintings and works of Le Corbusier. The former, such as

Turning the house – it sounds only workable in fiction. By

Her publication is a more recent work discussing narrative and

Fernand Léger, juxtaposes multiple planes on one single painting,

designing a house with multi-perspectives, I realized that the

architecture with a strong interest in investigating how spatial

generating a sense of ‘shallow space’, which is termed as

same spatial structure has different temporal dimensions. Two

configuration contributes to the creation of cultural meaning.

phenomenal transparency. Regarding to architecture, the authors

modes of living cannot happen at the same point in time. But


observes that Corbusier deploys the principle of frontality in his

it could be realised at different points of time. Metaphorically,

If we agree that architecture conveys meaning, it could be

design of Villa Garches. He confronts visitors with pre-set planes,

architecture seems like a template with multi-perspectives.

helpful to introduce insights from semiology (the study of signs

compresses their vision to shallow space. It is the retracted

It determines, to a certain extent, how we spend our time

and symbols and their use or interpretation). Italian semiotician

depth that stimulate visitors to imagine what is behind those

throughout the days. Architecture is a template with multiple

Umberto Eco writes in La Structure Absente: ‘The architectural

planes. Corbusier plays with real and imagined space.

perspectives, and I see endless possibilities there.

sign becomes the signifier X denoting a spatial signified–which

While juxtaposing the idea of ‘spatial form’ in literary theory

is a function Y that in its turn becomes a signifier connoting a

and ‘phenomenal transparency’ in the field of architecture, one

In short, there are great potentials for the narrative in

proxemic signified as a social value K’ . In his view, architecture

could find among writers, painters and architects the shared

architecture. Through this project, I realized that how to look at

is the symbol, the signifier. The signified is split into two levels.

interest in decomposing a wholeness into fragments. Narrative

architecture is as important as what it is, just like how to tell a

At the first level, architecture denotes ‘primary functions.’ The

is deployed to mediate among fragments, synthesizing the

story is as essential as what the story is about.


second level corresponds to connotative ‘secondary functions’ .

heterogeneous, balancing the paradox between discordance

He takes the cave as an example to distinguish architectural

and concordance, to achieve ‘followability’.


About Ting Yang, an architect with an open soul

connotation and architectural denotation, and argues that

Ting Yang’s journey is one with a few twists along the way.

the cave, the physical object, denotes a shelter function, the

Originally from China, the blueprint for Ting’s career changed

physical object’s primary function. Over time, it also connotes

Artistic Research

symbolic function, ‘a certain ideology of the function’, e.g.

Do we see architecture differently when we look at it by

to the country as a law student at Maastricht University.

family, group, security, familiar surroundings, etc.. According

applying a literary structure? In my artistic research, I followed

After earning her degree in law, she worked for a while as a

to Coates, narrative in architecture resides on the connotative

the two-folded ‘story-discourse’ framework and explored the

paralegal. She felt that she wanted to try something new and

rather than the denotive meaning of architecture. Therefore, we

how aspect in architecture. I chose Ryūnosuke Akutagawa’s

challenge herself. Interior Architecture was a subject she was

can argue more specifically that narrative facilitates to reveal

detective short story In A Grove as a narrative structure. This

interested in for a long time. Her interest first led to the pre-

architecture’s connotative meaning.

novel consists of seven chapters. Each chapter is a monologue

master in Interior Architecture, after which she enrolled in the

Besides the contributions from theoretical works on

of one of the characters that are independent from each other.

master programme. She graduated in June 2022, and recently

narrative architecture, there are also discussions from the

There are contradictions among their statements and the truth

started working at an architectural studio in Rotterdam.

practice of architecture. Architects do not hold the same

remains unclear to readers.

quite a lot after she moved to the Netherlands. She first came

answer to the question whether architecture can tell a story. For example, Daniel Libeskind’s Jewish Museum in Berlin is

In a Grove is written by the Japanese writer Ryūnosuke

regarded by many as one of the most popular examples of

Akutagawa and was published in 1922. It had significant


narrative architecture. Libeskind himself explicitly asserts

influence on the world of literature in Japan after it was


that architecture can tell a story . However, Peter Zumthor

published. Several adapted versions have been created from

Nigel Coates, Narrative Architecture, p. 15.


Paul Ricoeur, Time and Narrative, Volume I, p. 36.

disagrees. In 1993, Zumthor won a competition regarding a

the original story, and in different fields other than literature,


Shlomith Rimmon-Kenan, Narrative Fiction: Contemporary Poetics, p. 1


new museum that addresses the Holocaust on the site of the

such as film (e.g. the award-winning 1950 film Rashomon

Todorov Tzvetan, Grammaire du Décaméron in series Approaches to Semiotics–3.


Todorov Tzvetan. Les catégories du récit littéraire. In: Communications, 8, 1966, 125-

former Gestapo’s headquarters in Berlin. Zumthor indicates

directed by Akira Kurosawa) and musical work (Rashomon, the

that he cannot convince himself that it is possible to design a

opera by Alejandro Viñao). Furthermore, the title of the book

building to comment on such an impactful history11. Different

has transformed to an idiom in the language of Japanese

from the design methods adopted in many memorial projects

(藪の中) and Chinese (羅生門). It is used to describe situations

such as building something symbolic, Zumthor’s idea was to

in which the truth is not clear and different people have

build a pure construction without meaning, without comment.

different views.

However, unlike the architect’s intention, people still interpret

This novel consists of seven chapters. Each of them is a

his design in relation to stories from the past. Zumthor learned

monologue of one character. Such a narrative method can be

that meaning cannot be avoided, although he is not interested

referred as to polyphony. Polyphony is a term originally from

in investing architecture with meaning. Despite the different

music. It means multi-melody at the same time.


151. 6

Christian Norberg-Schulz, ‘Meaning in Architecture’ in Meaning in Architecture, ed. Charles Jencks and George Baird, 223.


Sophia Psarra, Architecture and Narrative: The Formation of Space and Cultural Meaning.


Extracted from Nikolaos-Ion Terzoglou in Architecture as Meaningful Language: Space, Place and Narrativity, Linguistics and Literature Studies 6.


Umberto Eco, ‘Function and Sign: the Semiotics of Architecture’, in Rethinking


Lecture Edge of Order, School of Architecture and Planning, The University at


Peter Zumthor: Seven Personal Observations on Presence In Architecture.

Architecture, ed. Neil Leach, 179-181. Buffalo. 12

Joseph Frank, Spatial Form in Modern Literature, Sewanee Review 53.


Colin Rowe and Robert Slutzky, ‘Transparency: Literal and Phenomenal’, Perspecta, 45-54.

With this Corpo-real report we proudly present an excellent example of the diverse artistic expressions of our community. Corpo-real is a unique, international, twoyear full-time master programme in the field of Interior Architecture focusing on the endlessly changing relationship between bodies and space. In the title Corpo-real ‘corpo’ stands for bodies in general and ‘real’ for the reality that surrounds them. Corpo-real is located in Zwolle, where students and tutors develop a researchdriven spatial design practice geared towards an unknown future. The current reality of new unfolding societal and political structures, discrimination, gender issues, scientific and technological developments challenge us in profound ways. We invite our students to address recent and future societal changes, based on an Writer 1

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understanding that whatever has worked well in the past may not be sufficient in the future, and that many of these changes are too broad and complex to address using existing methods. Therefore, we encourage our students to make good use of knowledge from other disciplines, through collaborations within and outside ArtEZ. Throughout the programme, students are introduced to, and learn to work with, research methods from various disciplines such as anthropology, sociology, theatre, curating, or literature. Corpo-real is particularly focused on the connection between theoretical thinking, reflecting and the practice-based research. The fruitful meeting between these research methods in recent Finals projects shows that it leads to new findings and perspectives for the professional field. During the first year, students develop a theoretical research question, which they will then consolidate during the first half of

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the second year in the form of a written paper, while also exploring and challenging during this second year their theory through artistic and practice-based research. For their final thesis, presented during the final exam at the end of the second year, students are asked to demonstrate how the theory and the practice-based research are interconnected, and how this has led to new findings and insights. Ting Yang, as a practice-based researcher with a background in law, has in an admirable manner connected theoretical research with her architectural explorations. Her interest lies in the narrative, during her theory research she explored the role of narrative in literature. The structure of the short story was explored and analysed. Inspired by this structure she designed a house that accommodates a writer and an architect, including the two different perspectives on narrative by turning the house 90 degrees. Through this research she found the great

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potential of narrative in architecture. The synthesis of this thesis shows consistent research that has a solid foundation in both architectural explorations and theory. W E I corporeal.artez

Colophon Tutors Writer 4

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Mark Proosten, Paper supervisor Eric de Leeuw, Finals tutor Lucia Luptáková, Finals tutor Editor Ting Yang Ingrid van Zanten Roos Krootjes Photography (models) Nico van Maanen / ArtEZ Graphic Design

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Office for Desing, Loek Kemming Studio Damiaan Renkens, Arnhem Printing Drukkerij Loor, Varsseveld