• NATØ: Exploring architecture as a narrative medium in postmodern London

Jamieson, Claire, 2015, Thesis, NATØ: Exploring architecture as a narrative medium in postmodern London PhD thesis, Royal College of Art.

Abstract or Description:

This thesis is concerned with the way that architecture, (that is space, buildings, cities and urban environments), has been and continues to be speculated upon through a rich palette of narrative methods. Taking NATØ, the group of young architects led by Nigel Coates that emerged from the Architectural Association in the early 1980s as its subject matter, the thesis questions how architectural production is able to narrate and the modes and methods it employs. The research reveals echoes and resemblances between NATØ projects and a wider artistic, filmic and literary culture that emerged from the specific political, social and physical conditions of 1980s London.
Personal archives of original NATØ material – including drawings, photographs, magazines, ephemera and writings – are exposed for the first time. Combined with personal interviews with NATØ members and other significant individuals, the narrative traces the group’s evolution and development at the AA in Unit 10 in the late 1970s, to their active period between 1983-1987. The thesis also examines the key influences of Coates and his early work: exploring his relationship with Bernard Tschumi, the influence of a period spent in New York and his association with diverse artists and filmmakers in London. As such, the research presents the first detailed examination of NATØ and produces original insight into the territory of architectural narrativity.
The thesis contextualises this moment of narrative architecture with the evolution of narratology over the same period – a discipline whose changing consideration of narrative in the 1980s expanded from a literary basis to take in a broad range of media. Engaging with contemporary narratology, the thesis employs concepts and terms from narrative studies to develop an interdisciplinary understanding of how narrative functions in architectural production. The thesis also constitutes a history of postmodernism that represents an alternative to the dominant architectural mode, considering NATØ’s output as a subcultural form of architectural production that drew on techniques of bricolage, montage, fragmentation, polyvocality and defamiliarisation.
Framing NATØ’s work through an understanding of the way in which their use of medium evolved alongside their conceptual ideas, the thesis considers the material in relation to four distinct areas, each constituting a chapter: performance and video, the drawing, the magazine and the exhibition. Chapter 1 on performance and video exposes the influence of both Tschumi and a pivotal year spent in New York on Coates, and the development of his ideas from student to co-tutor at the AA in the late 1970s. The chapter proposes a move from the highly cerebral and literary approach of Tschumi, to one concerned with the presentness of direct experience via video. Chapter 2 takes the architectural drawing as its subject, showing how Coates evolved the drawing in his unit at the AA in the early 1980s, and how in turn NATØ employed the drawing as an
expressive narrative medium. Chapter 3 considers the group’s self-published magazine, NATØ, produced between 1983-85, drawing parallels with street style publications i-D and The Face, of the same era. The chapter proposes the graphic design of the magazine as a medium through which NATØ developed the explorations of the drawings into a more complex form – positing the idea of the mise-en-scène of the magazine. Finally, Chapter 4 examines the apotheosis of NATØ’s output: the exhibitions Gamma City at the Air Gallery (London, 1985), and Heathrow part of ‘The British Edge’ at the Institute of Contemporary Art, (Boston, 1987). Taking the ideas established in the previous chapter into three dimensions, the chapter proposes the installation as a microcosm of the narrative experience of the city that NATØ sought – evoked through an embodied drift through space, and the replacement of the architectural scale model with the auratic object or stimulator artefact.
Concluding, the framework of narrative architecture set out in the thesis is proposed as both a period preoccupation and a way of thinking about spatial narrativity more broadly. It critical assesses the potential for such architectural narrativity to be designed and built, finding the truest form of narrative architecture emerging from the city condition itself. Finally, the conclusion proposes a lineage of projects and ideas that have evolved since the late 1980s whose concepts represent a continuation of NATØ’s preoccupations.

Qualification Name: PhD
Subjects: Architecture > K100 Architecture
Creative Arts and Design > W900 Others in Creative Arts and Design > W990 Creative Arts and Design not elsewhere classified
Date Deposited: 12 Jun 2015 14:51
Last Modified: 09 Nov 2018 15:45
URI: https://researchonline.rca.ac.uk/id/eprint/1683
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