The relationship between place and narrative has strong roots embedded in sociological, phenomenological, and aesthetic contexts. That correlation has been widely reflected upon in theoretical terms, and manifested most evidently in cultural media: in art, film, and literature where well-crafted settings contribute to mood, theme, or plot. The assignment of critical value to place—to architecture—seems obvious: designed spaces are where stories unfold. But narrative can serve important roles in architecture directly—containing and generating meaning for both the individual and the collective. Stories often support identities, while affording room for numerous interpretations and change with time. Spaces that offer such elasticity and polyphonic presence allow communities to grow, adapt, and represent themselves: they become active places.
This research defines the terms by which narrative can shape places and their perception through the particular lens of the postindustrial, a built condition that evokes uncertainty and troubled reflection within critical theory of the Anthropocene. It examines three case studies tied to themes of aesthetic experience, environmental reform, and social engagement—in France, Germany, and Japan—that have developed or enacted narratives beyond the failure and decline typically associated with such places. Building from that analysis, the work then proposes a speculative framework for a fourth location: Harrisburg, Illinois, which, like many North American postindustrial communities outside the periphery of large metropolitan areas, has continued to struggle toward impactful forms of social, spatial, or cultural renaissance.