Narrative, metaphor and fiction serving architecture and design

Narrative, metaphor and fiction serving architecture and design

Vidali, Maria

Architecture, Contemporary Urbanism, DIKEMES, Athens, Greece

Narrative, metaphor and fiction serving architecture and design


This article explores the farming landscape and village life in Kampos, a village on the Greek island of Tinos. Tinos is an Aegean island with a long history of agriculture. In Kampos, one of the oldest farming villages of Tinos, boundaries created by low stone walls and alleyways primarily define the farming landscape that permeates village life and its structure. The landscape appears semi-artificial, through the construction of countless boundaries, rows of cultivation ridges and terraces. This article is about boundaries revealed through space, texts, movement and habit, Boundaries which represent areas -or rather situations- enabling different co-existing levels of interaction that are ambiguous and can be transformed through negotiation. Negotiation is not possible without language and narrative. Language consists of communal metaphors, stories and fictional beliefs that bind and connect a small community together in a farming landscape where the quality of life remains closely connected to nature, architecture, and  the interplay between private and public realm.

The presence, absence, and negotiation of boundaries in the village, as well as the life that flourishes between them and their relationship to men, women and ownership,  unfold through fictional and scholarly narratives drawn from interviews with the villagers from Kampos. Through these narratives, we see how a different situation of ownership and bonding arises when boundaries in space are obscure or create a liminal in-between space of negotiation and communication. 



Primarily through my PhD research, but also through material such as contracts, testaments, verbal history and narratives based on the idea of boundary and property helped me understand a small community’s perception of ownership and dwelling through the different metaphors and interpretations that boundaries and liminal spaces reflected on their lives. Phenomenology and hermeneutics helped me further understand and interpret spaces created by boundaries and actually existing through stories negotiated or narrated in communal or public spaces. Narrative, metaphor and fictional narrative were used in order to discover and reveal the truth through fiction/story/myth as argued by Ricoeur (2003: 27), through the “mediating role” of fiction as a weaving procedure of different things that make up life. It is this complexity of life that narrative tries to imitate.

An archive of verbal history was initially created. This consisted of the villagers’ personal stories on important issues in village life, old contracts of their properties and other testimonies. Acting mimetically myself, I then created eight fictional narratives based on a metaphor of the villagers’ own metaphors of their reality. The narratives were held together by my personal experience in the village and with a focus was on boundaries, liminality, negotiation and language. I imitated the villagers story-telling, creating fictional narratives out of their stories, their spaces, their life with animals, their collective life. 

The “spatiality of the stories” was put together and inspired by “the constructed space” consisting of a “system of rituals for the major interactions of life”, as Ricoeur (1996: 72) describes the exchange between the spatiality of the story and the temporality of architecture. However, the plot that was created was imaginary. This allowed me to fully appreciate Ricoeur’s (2003: 213) argument about how words in a sentence can reveal a discourse in the world, endowing language with the function of making images.


a. The role of Metaphor

Τhe stories shared by the small community of the villagers connect language with mimetic action, habit, which again connects our bodily and mental experience with the environment, but also place and space. I then became aware of the value of metaphor as a natural language of sharing a communal way of living connected with the natural and built environment. I was also aware of poetic metaphor connected to our  own body in the form of feeling and the act of reading that finalises the work, enriching it with new interpretations and allowing it to be reinterpreted in new historical contexts (Ricoeur, 2003: 27).

These people’s stories, which consisted of a series of metaphors about the nature of dwelling in this part of the world, in this specific landscape, was very important  to my project. Gadamer (1976: 20) claims that:

Ιn language and only in it, can we meet what we never “encounter” in the world, because we are ourselves and merely what we mean and what we know from ourselves.

This knowledge from ourselves also involves emotions, which is another way of connecting ourselves with space and environment through fiction.



b. The role of Imagination 

The fictional narratives that were created were based on collective narratives and narrations, but also on my personal experience in the small community of Kampos, combined in an imaginary plot. They were intended to function in a mediatory way through fiction, not by mimesis or duplication but as a creative reconstruction. Through this reconstruction, it became clear how Kearney (1989: 3-6), in connection to the work of Ricoeur, explores the ability of language to open up new worlds, not as a collection of the subjective, but through productive linguistic imagination, “the metaphorical imagination” (Kearney,1989: 15), as he calls it, which “not only combines the verbal and non-verbal, it also produces new meaning by confronting a literal with a figurative sense”. Pérez-Gómez, (1983: 187) also cites Ricoeur’s preference for a “linguistic model of imagination,” in which a visual model replaces the linguistic model, writing that “imagining folded into the function of metaphor.”

Moving from description to interpretation, it became clear to me that imagination was seen more as a “language” rather than a form of “vision” as Kerney  (1989: 4-6) claims citing Ricoeur, and imagination is a “semantic innovation”, an indispensable agent in the creation of meaning in and through language. Then, bringing together the meaning of narrative, imagination and interpretation as experienced in the small community of Kampos through its public and private realm, but also its landscape, I experienced how “semantic innovation”, in Pérez-Gómez’s sense (2016: 19) as “linguistic (hermeneutic) imagination” allows us to examine the relationship between “tradition and innovation”, an indispensable element for the “proper social functioning of architecture.” Imagination appears common both in language as narrative/ fiction/ story and architecture. 


c. The role of Fiction

The aim of using fiction through a phenomenological and hermeneutical approach, was to reveal another architectural dialogue based on language, words and narrative as a new “space of experience”, as described by Pérez-Gómez (1996-1998, par 5):

 Α cosmic or historical world, whichever may be the cultural inheritance of the architect) and a “horizon of expectations” (a project that is construed by means of the architect's imagination as a better future for the common good).

The fictional narrative in this article uses metaphor and imagination to reveal a different version of reality and is also followed by an interpretation based on spatial organization, with a hermeneutical intention of  bringing forth another reality of the village life. 


Excerpt 1 from fictional narrative: My water 

This time of year, three weeks before Easter, at the edge of the village, at the boundaries of the garden areas and the village core, down the wide steps, which lead to the peripheral street, the “new well,” as they still call the place where the women of the village do their washing, one hears echoes of splashing water, female voices, and  the sound of heavy pieces of fabric being moved and dragged. It is time to clean the carpets that kept the houses warm and dry. In the vaulted space of the new well, in the middle of the back wall of the room, the faucet is set against a layer of marble, covered with sporadic mold. On the right and left sides, there are cisterns made of stone surfaces; layers of marble on each side form the space where burlap is washed by hand. White powdered soap lies sprinkled on the stone slate floor. The smell of the new soap blends with the traditional green olive oil soap that the older women still use. Clean fabrics, soap, rings and watches are usually left on the marble surfaces next to each sink. Female hands, red, rough and blistered by the heavy load and the cold water, work intensively scrubbing the large volume of fabrics. Water flows down the conduits into each basin. Fragiska and Zozefina are chatting in a friendly tone. New stories of the village are always welcomed with eagerness and curiosity, despite the stress and discomfort. 

Lenio stepped down into the wide stone slate surface. She was carrying some koureloudes over her shoulder. Her husband had forgotten to carry all the carpets and duvets used during the winter when he drove to the washing basins earlier this morning. At the time when the first rays of the sun filled the space early that morning, Lenio stopped at the threshold of the washing room and called out, “Good morning.”

“Good morning, Lenio. What are you washing today, didn’t you finish yesterday?” Katerina asked her.

“Eh, do we ever finish? Today, I brought the small carpets that we have in our bedrooms. Yakoumis carried the bigger koureloudes for me. In the summer, we usually lay them over the concrete benches that we have in our courtyard.” 

As Lenio was settling and putting her pile of patchwork throws, carpets and fabrics by her side, Fragiska and Zozefina continued their discussion about Antonis, Mathios’ son, and Petris’ niece, Petrina. Marcos, Katerina’s husband, had seen them in the fields together the other day and rumours had spread in the village that something was possibly going on between those two.


Excerpt 2 from fictional narrative: My water 

Lenio, although she had arrived later than the others, managed to finish her work earlier than Zozefina. She started to lay her clean carpets and patchwork over the stone walls that formed the boundaries of Katerina’s house opposite the washing room across the peripheral street. Soon, the colourful fabric was covering most of the rough surface of the stone wall between Katerina’s house and her garden. The sun was very hot and right overhead, so the carpets would take no more than one or two days to dry. 

Lenio cleaned up the area where she was washing the carpets and got ready to leave. Zozefina was waiting for her husband to help her carry the carpets and lay them out over their terraces and the sunny parts of their courtyard for them to dry. 

While she was waiting, Katerina showed up, walking hastily towards them. “Good afternoon. Whose carpets are hanging all over my wall?” Katerina asked. 

“Lenio’s carpets, Katerina. She left a few minutes ago,” Zozefina replied, relieved that she hadn’t chosen to dry her carpets on Katerina’s wall. Katerina, without any further comment, walked back to the village centre, passing by her house and her colourful garden walls.

Lenio had just reached her house, when somebody knocked on her kitchen door, at the side of the house that overlooked a narrow alleyway. Lenio had started to set the table for lunch waiting for her husband, Yakoumis. When she opened the door, she came, to her surprise, face to face with Katerina, “Good afternoon. Come upstairs.”

“No, Kyra Lenio, I will not come upstairs. I just wanted to ask you why you laid out your carpets on my walls. Would you like me to wash all my carpets and come and hang them in the courtyard of your house? There are so many walls all around that do not belong to anyone. Please come and move them somewhere else,” Katerina said and immediately went back down the concrete stairs that led to the street. 

Lenio answered casually: “Eh, you know us, the older women…” putting her hand on her waist “I will go now to collect them. But why are they bothering you? These walls face the communal street, too.”

“They bother me because they are in front of my house,” Katerina was upset and walked nervously and pensively.  On her way back home, where the main street of the village meets the alleyway, which leads down to her house and the washing rooms, she came across Iosif talking with Marcos, but she didn’t stop. She could see Marcos was upset because he was shouting at Iosif. “Tell your father not to bother me again.”

“And when do I have water?” Iosif complained. 

“You do not have to tell me which day I am supposed to take water from the spring.  I have my contracts. Do not tell me that Tuesday is my day,” Marcos was furious.

“I will do so, since you are taking my water!”

“You don’t know anything about the water or your own contract.” Marcos said and turned angrily his back at Iosif. The two of them separated, setting out for their homes without saying goodbye.   

Fig. 01, 02. Map/ figure ground of the village (scale a, b), Fictional narrative, My water, 

Well/ Plystres on the right.

Source:Maria Vidali


This narrative takes place in the present. It demonstrates how water is used and distributed in the village, the meaning of communal spaces and the sharing of life events. In Kampos, there is private, communal and public water. As a boundary, water creates a different situation each time. 

Private water is reflected in the villagers’ contracts as ownership of the flow of water from the village’s local spring on specific days and for a specified period during the week. There is another form of private water, which involves owners of private wells in their fields. Communal water is the water that the villagers share in communal spaces of the village, such as the laundry rooms and small water reservoirs, where they allow their animals to drink. Public water is the water that the villagers use in their houses, provided by the island’s water supply network. Conflicts about water and ownership issues do in gene  ral arise, opening up various areas of negotiation for the villagers of Kampos.  At the same time, romance and weddings as life events have a dominant place in gossip and discussions in the village. 

Fig. 03, 04, 05.  Image of  the Well/ Plystres in the village of Kampos.

Source:Maria Vidali


The well

Water in this fictional story first appears as a communal good in the village, at a place where today women still wash their carpets or heavy fabrics: the laundry rooms or plystres. The laundry rooms or the so-called well of Kampos are located in the north, at the outskirts of the village, next to the gardens and fields. One hundred meters farther north along the path behind the well, towards (the village of?) Tarampados, we come across the old well, the source of one of the village’s springs. A few meters away from “the well”, as  it is called, at the west andclose to amaxotos, there are other plystres called Kyrmark. These were used in the past by the women at the west end of the village when this section was far more populated. The plystres used today are next to the street that circles the village and connects it with the main road street of the island. This new street has been a great help for the villagers, because it allows them to connect with the core of the village from every direction. This recently constructed street also allows them to carry heavy loads closer to their houses without having to pass through the core of the village where they would have to  carry them. 

All around the village, there are water reservoirs along the pathways leading to the fields for passing herds. Further on from the core of the village houses and the plystres, there are hoses along the pathways connected to the gardens and the fields. These hoses are connected to the village’s central spring and establish a temporal relationship with water for as long as the connection remains. This expresses the private use of water in everyday life. The washing rooms are also referred to as ‘the well’, as opposed to the old well/washing rooms located by the pathway at the northwest of the village. 

However, water from both wells comes from the same spring. Women gather at the well in the middle of spring to clean the carpets and heavy fabrics that were used during winter. They will be cleaned and stored until next winter. Some of the women ask their husbands to carry them to the basins by car. Women, whose houses are in the centre of the village, carry their heavy load on their backs and shoulders, descending down the wide steps which connect this end of the village with its centre. Just like rooms related to the female domain connected with cleaning and reproduction, dark and humid sections of the house such as the kitchen and the storage room (Bourdieu, 2006), the laundry rooms at the edge of the village let  in sunlight only from the open vault and the main entrance. The laundry rooms are women’s communal spaces mainly used in the mornings, where women cultivate and  engage in a part of their social life connected with the nikokyrio, the cleaning and purification of objects and the maintenance of an overall image of a well-ordered house. It is the place where village life is discussed. It is also a place where women will compete against each other for their diligence, effort and cleaning methods. However, the laundry rooms still remain a communal space for all the villagers connected to the communal use of the water. 

From my personal experience, gossiping offers a type of connection in the village, a sharing of common “ground”. This network of relationships creates stories, the village’s stories, sometimes more or less fictional, prolonging and extending the village’s social network within everyday life. From a different perspective, Dubisch (1986: 202,205) claims that:

the result of the continual battle between secrecy and curiosity that is waged between the various families, for where there is a high value on secrecy, any attempt to violate this secrecy is seen as a manifestation of hostility,[…] 

The ‘well’ becomes a space where the village’s stories are reproduced, without however referring to stories of the families present in the space of the well.


The communal wall

Leaving the carpets to dry on one of the walls that delineate the house of Katerina becomes an element of conflict. Katerina moves to the core of the village and stands at the bottom threshold of Lenio’s house, at the point where the street of the village joins the first steps leading to Lenio’s threshold and kitchen - a boundary between the communal world of the village and the private world of the family. This is a dual perception of the wall as both a private and communal space/object.  The wall’s properties are fluid and may change depending on whether they are covered by Lenio’s carpets or empty: the wall becomes a boundary delineating Katerina’s property. 

This is when con  flict and negotiation begin, both as nikokyres, women who are “concerned with maintaining boundaries and mediating between realms” as Dubisch (1986: 208) explains, but also “transforming substances suitable for one realm into those proper for another” as they usually do into their kitchens. According to Salamone and Stanton (1986: 98) “the nikokyrio - its perpetuation and aggrandizement - is the organisational focus of the nuclear family,”however “women’s social prestige, like that of their husbands, rests on the public recognition of the household’s success.” We can see clearly in this daily conflict Salamone and Stanton’s (1986: 99) claim that: 

Τhe concept of public prestige, as realized through the ideal of nikokyrio, is no longer applied exclusively to males, thereby affirming the real influence of women in village life and the fact, especially recognized in the small community, that women too gain public prestige which is often equal too, and sometimes greater than, that of their husbands.





Fig. 06, 07. Image of  the core

 of the village and its allies.

Source:Maria Vidali




The proposal in the present paper is that a village can be understood and perceived through the different versions of reality and that the role of architecture can be perceived behind/through the built work as a result of the complexity of life.

The village of Kampos reveals a different way of life and spatial understanding in an age when architects, planners, and design professionals are focused on ecological and cultural or architectural sustainability while struggling to find novel and ever more efficient solutions. Despite changes that devolve from external imperatives, these ways of life and spatial understanding in the village, dating to a time long past, continue to contribute to a physically and psychologically healthy and fulfilling lifestyle that extends from the private sphere to the public realm. 

Metaphor, narrative and fiction are presented as tools for the architects for a broader understanding of what the world that we design for really is, escaping from the preoccupation of what this world should be according to contemporary social and political commandments, as also urban rules that do not reflect a deep understanding of the village reality. Metaphor, narrative and fiction allow different versions of reality to emerge. They equip architects with a way to interpret the local tradition into a contemporary way of living and innovation, without responding to architecture and dwelling through form and fashion but forcing them to reveal the social and ethical function of architecture, a “meaningful regionalism” (Pérez-Gómez, 2016: 193) related with humans and the environment. For young architects it is extremely important to develop an understanding based on the different experiences that take place in the village structure because these can lead to interpretations of architecture and design closer to a human way of living and the actual complexity of life. 




Bourdieu, P. (2006). Η αίσθηση της πρακτικής, μετάφραση-επιστημονική θεώρηση Θεόδωρος Παραδέλλης. Εκδόσεις Αλεξάνδρεια, pp. 415-420.

Casey, E. S. (1993). Getting back into place. Toward a renewed understanding of the Place-World. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.

Crossley, N. (2001). The Social Body. Habit, Identity and Desire. London: Sage Publications.

Emmons, P., Fenerstein, M., Dayer, C. (eds) and Phinney, L. (assist. ed.). (2017). Confabulations: Storytelling in Architecture. London and New York: Routledge, Taylor Francis Group.

Frascari, M. (2011). Eleven Exercises in the Art of Architectural Drawing. New York: Routledge.  

Gadamer, H. G. (1976). Philosophical Hermeneutics. Edited and translated by David E Linge. Berkley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press.

Grassi, E. (1980). Rhetoric as Philosophy. The Humanist Tradition. University Park, London: The Pennsylvania State University Press.

Kearney, R. (1988). The wake of imagination, Ideas of creativity in Western culture. London, Melbourne, Auckland, Johannesburg: Hutchinson.  

Malpas, J. (ed.) (1999). Place and Experience: A Philosophical Topography. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Merleau-Ponty, M. (1962). Phenomenology of Perception, Smith Colin, (trans.). Routledge & Kegan Paul, New York: The Humanities Press. 

Pérez-Gómez, A. (1983). Architecture and the Crisis of the modern Science. Cambridge, MA, London, England: The MIT Press. 

Pérez-Gómez, A. (1997).’Hermeneutics as Architectural Discourse', History and Theory Graduate Studio 1996-98. Montreal: McGill University. 

Pérez-Gómez, A. (2016). Attunement, Architectural Meaning after the Crisis of Modern science. Cambridge, MA, London, England: The MIT Press.

Ricoeur, P. (1981). Hermeneutics and the Human Sciences, Essays on Language, Action and Interpretation Thompson B., John, (ed. and trans.). Cambridge University Press. 

Ricoeur, P. (2003). The Rule of Metaphor, The creation of meaning in language, Czerny, R., McLaughlin K. and Costello SJ J. (trans.).London and New York: Routledge Classics. 

Steinberg, T. (1995). Slide Mountain or the Folly of Owning Nature. Berkley, Los Angeles, London: University California Press.  

Papers in journals:

Ricoeur, P. (1979). “The Function of Fiction in Shaping Reality,” in Man and World, Vol. 12, Issue 2:123-141. 

Ricoeur, P. (1996). Architecture and Narrative, in Pietro Derossi, (ed.),  Identity and Difference: Integration and Plurality in today’s forms, Cultures between the Ephemeral and the Lasting.The Triennale in the city, the imageries of difference. Translated by Huw Evans, 67- 75. Milano: Electa, 1996.

Papers in edited volumes:

Dubisch, J. (1986). “Culture Enters through the Kitchen: Women, Food, and Social Boundaries in Rural Greece”, in Dubisch, Jill (ed.), Gender & Power in Rural Greece. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 

Kearney, R. (1989). “Paul Ricoeur and the hermeneutic imagination”, in Peter Kemp and David Rasmussen (eds), The Narrative Path. The Later Works of Paul Ricoeur. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.

Salamone, S.D. and Stanton, J.B. (1986). “Introducing the Nikokyra: Ideality and Reality in Social Process”, in Dubisch, Jill (ed.). Gender & Power in Rural Greece. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 

Ricoeur, P. (2003). “Life in Quest of Narrative” in D. Wood, ed., On Paul Ricoeur, Narrative and Interpretation. London, New York: Routledge 1991 and Taylor & Francis e-Library.