Storytelling communicates facts, but it also builds upon real-life accounts to enrich public expectations and elevate beliefs. To these ends, it is worthwhile to get reacquainted with the children’s story. Although regarded as a vehicle to escape reality, the children’s story, and in particular the fairy tale, could again help to elucidate larger social and political storylines. This issue of Volume responds to the global crisis, continuing a series of inquiries started in Volume #9, Urban China 31, Urban China Bootlegged by C-Lab and Volume #19. Here, we present storytelling as a means of understanding our time and constructing a narrative of response.
Crisis creates confusion. It is a situation in which all avenues of recourse fail. Actions taken to remedy catastrophe have little tangible consequence. There is no discernable correlation between cause and effect, and as a result disorientation arises. In some cases the environment may continue to look the same, yet because its behavior can’t be grasped there is a perplexing disconnect. A crisis is when space can’t be explained.
After the immediate shockwaves, when the unpredictable events ebb and the climate regulates, there is much that is left to be explained. Gathering information and forming it into descriptions is the first step towards regaining bearings. Narratives explain space.
Stories are important to architects because they form the foundation of architectural proposals. It is through these episodes that a project’s general challenges and constraints are outlined and an architectural strategy and formal outcome are determined. For this reason, we need to know how tales are told. Journalism experts Nicholas Lemann and Jay Rosen lend a helping hand by discussing the particular challenges of writing stories about our precarious times. Lemann notes the inherent contradiction involved in analyzing facts and constructing a coherent narrative, while Rosen describes data collection resources and our social obligation to explain. Both encourage us to engage stories with indulgence and scrutiny. They offer practical suggestions for crafting timely stories while remaining skeptical of received reporting and conscious of actions an account may provoke from its readers.
Storytelling could involve writing a new public script about space. In addition to the classic narrative elements that Gustav Freytag observes on page four – including the statement of a problem, an exposition of its context and a proposal of resolution – such a script could make probable complications known through disclosure and qualification. As interest in new infrastructure grows and as cases for its realization take shape, now is a good time to create a planning narrative that borrows lessons from earlier, problematic propositions made in the name of technological advancement and urbanization. With the help of Christopher A. Scott, Stephanie von Stein and Jiang Jun, C-Lab breaks down general claims made for the implementation of large-scale technology.
In professional contexts there is little incentive to disclose a project’s cons along with the pros. Instead, there is almost an expectation that a proposal makes unqualified positive claims. In ‘The Technostrich’ and ‘The Technology Narrative’, we contend that it would not be so bad to make the potential problems of new technologies publicly known. It may behoove proponents to come clean and to build trust by divulging technology’s limitations. Moreover, it would be opportune to write a script that avoids grandiose promises and instead solicits experts to help solve problems that may arise along the way. The disclosure of possible complications, conflicts and the particulars of the decision-making process may in fact contribute to a project’s realization rather than its demise.
In the following pages, C-Lab shows the ability of the children’s story to make sense of hard-to-describe events, given that its format addresses emotionally difficult, morally complicated and ethically charged issues with concision. We argue that such constructions are especially relevant today since simple public narratives set the tone for actions in response to the very events (like crisis) which challenge our ability to distinguish fact from fiction.
While truthfulness has it value, the same can be said for fantasy. The children’s story is well suited to counteract the resignation and incapacitation that often accompanies trauma, since its fantastical plots aim to summon the imaginative potential of the reader’s captive mental state. Rather than try to discern reality from fantasy, contributors like Lewis H. Lapham, Neil Denari, Catherine Hardwicke, Dave McKean, Tom McCarthy, Smiljan Radic, Lucia Allais and Roger Dean would encourage us to cycle between conscious and unconscious states, work-life and dream-time, desire and disappointment, material reality and history because to do so is essential to an enhanced experience of the physical environment. For good reason, people say a story isn’t worth telling if it can’t be told to a child. A simple, distilled story that clarifies the crisis, and that aids the formulation of policies to better understand and animate the physical environment, is definitely worth telling.