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Cultures, Communities and Design

Narrative and Sustainability: An Interpretation and a Case Study
D. Di Mascio & H. Darnell
12:30 pm - 2:30 pm


The following paper explores and reflects upon the relationships between narrative and sustainability, and proposes and encourages the use of an interpretation of narrative towards more sustainable ways of living. Nowadays, it seems that in several design proposals for sustainable ways of living there is a skewed focus on pure function and practicality. To create urban, architectural and interior spaces that provide meaningful experiences for the occupants and provide a human connection with place there needs to be something other than functional considerations. Buildings and places can be functionally efficient but alienating and uninhabitable for many human beings, and this has been further highlighted during the COVID19 pandemic. The paper explores a few standard definitions of sustainability and the narrative underlying them, and proposes an interpretation of narrative based on direct experience of buildings and places. It argues that narrative provides meaning, which in turn encourages people to truly buy-in to a sustainable way of life, as opposed to merely occupying spaces that pay lip-service to the concept. This paper also suggests that walking is the best way to explore and experience spaces of different scales (including settlements, neighbourhoods, streets, buildings, parks, squares and interiors) and hence discover the narratives that they hold. Thus, it becomes ever more important that our local surroundings – those places that we walk through, in and around daily – provide a richness of experience, including vegetation that should play an essential role in our urban environments. The paper then applies these reflections to rethink the narrative behind a selected case study, a neighbourhood in Huddersfield, United Kingdom. As for many other post-industrial towns and cities in England and around the world, the future of the town should be reimagined to embrace a more sustainable lifestyle, and this narrative approach to sustainability could improve the daily life’s quality of its inhabitants.


Dr Danilo Di Mascio is a Lecturer in Architecture, researcher and registered architect (ARB). He joined the School of Art, Design and Architecture at the University of Huddersfield on September 2017. Before that, he was Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Northumbria University (Department of Architecture and Built Environment) and Research Associate at Open Lab, Newcastle University where he worked on a multidisciplinary research project funded by the EPSRC. Before, during and after his PhD, Danilo has undertaken several research projects related to the documentation, comprehension and analysis of tangible and intangible features of architecture and places in five different countries: Belgium, England, Italy, Scotland, and the United States. During his research projects, he developed theoretical approaches and methodologies and used various tools, both analogue and digital, including CAAD, 3d modelling, Image editing software, BIM, game engines, semantic web technologies. Danilo participated, as author and speaker, at various international conferences in Europe, the Middle East and the Far East. During the CAADRIA (Computer Aided Architectural Design Research in Asia) Conference held at the Chinese University of Hong Kong in 2010, he received the Young CAADRIA Award for his research.

Helen Darnell is an Interior Design educator, researcher and practitioner. She graduated from the Manchester School of Art at MMU with a BA(Hons) Interior Design and then with an MA in Design, in 2002 and 2015 respectively. In between these periods of study, she worked as an Interior Designer in a commercial studio practice, specialising in workplace design. She witnessed the huge shift in the way people work in offices, and designed spaces to support and promote these changes. Her MA thesis explored themes of narrative, identity and value through the personalisation and adaptability of domestic furniture and spaces, focussing on 21st Century ‘home-working’ practices. She borrowed research methodologies and approaches from design anthropology to propose a customisable table-come-room, with the hope of shifting the narrative away from ‘house as commodity’ and towards the experience of home. She has since worked on a number of small collaborative research and design projects, and her current research continues to explore the relationships between narrative, space and human experience. Helen has taught at The University of Huddersfield, and is now a lecturer on both the BA(Hons) and MA Interior Design programmes at the Manchester Metropolitan University’s Manchester School of Art.