THE BUILDING'S DIRECTNESS AND SIMPLICITY DEFIES THE OLD TOWN'S GHOSTS
Storytelling is an indispensable tool of the architect's trade; from the stories that are scribed to appease planning authorities and conservation groups, to the (often entirely unrelated) narratives which are spun to impress or to reassure collaborators and clients. There is, of course, a more poetic view. That architectural narrative is not simply an aid to seduction or coercion, but an end in itself; that buildings can encompass meanings which enjoy an independent existence from the tales which others tell on their behalf.
This apparently innocuous belief has been responsible for multiple sins, from the unfortunate excesses of Post-Modernism to the destruction of 'undesirable' buildings by political regimes.
At a more philosophical level, the Finnish architect and theorist Juhani Pallasmaa has argued that by 'imposing conceptuality' on a building we deprive it of 'its own eternity', since the relevance of the narrative will inevitably disappear over time. Edinburgh's Old Town suffers from the opposite problem. The significance which is ascribed to every nook and cranny is so zealously protected, the only worry for eternity is not that it will outlive the stories which surround it, but that it will simply become a parody of itself. Yet its new Storytelling Centre (pages 23-35) - potentially the most whimsical of building types - has been designed with a directness and a simplicity which de-es the Old Town's ghosts.
It suggests that the stories to be told are those of new perspectives and other worlds, creating an escape from - rather than a reinforcement of - the claustrophobic olde worlde charm.
In this particular architectural context, the absence of overt architectural narrative is statement architecture; a mark of recognition that the story is the storytelling itself. As Pallasmaa observes, 'The fact that certain things simply happen, take place, is an architectural narrative.' Architectural eloquence is about knowing when to be silent and when to speak.