Stories In A Building

A story in architecture is usually “a complete horizontal division of a building, constituting the area between two adjacent floors” (1). The same word though is used to refer to “an account or recital of an event or a series of events” (1). Buildings are divided in stories, in both senses, each floor frames a narrative and represents a unity within an edifice. When architecture has to house different uses, they are often organised in different floors, setting each purpose to a level.

This idea was represented by Bertall in his illustration of 1845 portraying the parisian social classes. The diversity of conditions of his contemporaries are depicted in a same block of flats, in the way of a social pyramid. Each floor stands for a level of the building as well as a social level. On the ground floor we could find the concierge and the kitchen, although the workers in those spaces weren’t wealthy they benefited from a decent space to live in. From the first floor to the third the different the social ranks are unfold from the more privileged to the less: the aristocracy lived in wide spaces with luxurious furniture and an embellished balcony and the poorest bourgeoisie occupied a more constrained space with minimum furniture and decoration. At the top, in la mansarde, artists and families with no means shared partition walls and bad conditions.


The document illustrates how the stratification of the 19th century society was conditioned by the space citizens lived in and vice versa. Nowadays, if we would do the same exercise to the same building we would face a completely different reality. Because our condition depends less and less on our spatial presence and more and more on our digital presence we wouldn’t find such a visual classification of the social status. Instead we would see inhabitants using technology to be detached from the physical world and entering in the digital one.

On the ground floor, the kitchen would be replaced by a take away restaurant that would speed our need to be fed so it doesn’t take us away from staying connected, and the conciergerie would be replaced by back end processors that would store the increasing database we rely on. Each other floor would tell the story of individuals seeking the way to access to the net no matter the room they’re in as long as they have a connection.

The way we occupy space doesn’t determine our place in our community as much as the way we are connected with the exterior. Paradoxically, although we are not anymore confined by the space we live in, we are becoming more dependent on its capacity to offer us connectivity, and at the same time we are trying to be liberated by our physical surrounding to reach the infinity of possibilities that the Internet is offering us.

(1) definitions from the Free Dictionary

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