Project Daedalus: An Earnest Play of Building Between Storytelling and Metaphors

  • Anca Matyiku McGill University


Every place is built around shared values, norms, histories and myths that are assumed, implied, or tactfully left unsaid. Architecture is at its core an accomplice to the untidy matter of human stories and aspi- rations, even if the architect’s work typically results in concrete and measurable compositions. The making of architecture, in every one of its pleasures and difficulties, involves the crucial task of interpreting among tangible materials and the multitude of implicit forces that characterize a particular place. My proposition is that literature and storytelling can play an essential role in this interpretive task, and that they are especially fruitful for architectural pedagogy.
This article reflects on this proposition via examples of student work pro- duced under my guidance at McGill University.The work was the result of an exploratory design project structured around Daedalus, the prototypical figure of the ancient Greek architect best known for his craftsmanship and cunning intelligence. His works – amongst them the legendary labyrinth that enclosed the half-man half-bull Minotaur – were said to inspire a profound sense of wonder mingled with fear, akin to the presence of the divine. Project Daedalus was not a studio project that resulted in a building design but an elective course which, taking its cue from Daedalus, focused on architectural craft. It asked the students to concentrate on ‘building’ as
a verb rather than a noun, an action rather than an object. The final projects emerged through a series of exercises that required students to translate between tactile and literary mediums. With Project Daedalus, literary constructs suspended commitment to a final and concrete outcome, while opening up the opportunity for play.


Wim van den Bergh and Mark Proosten, ‘Narrative as an Educational Approach’, in Klaske Havik et al. (eds.), Writingplace (Rotterdam: nai010 publishers, 2016) 110-130.

Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method (New York: Continuum, 1975)

Robert Graves, The Greek Myths (London: The Folio Society, 1996)

Klaske Havik, Urban Literacy: Reading and Writing Architecture (Rotterdam: nai010 publishers, 2014)

Johan Huizinga, Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play-Element in Culture (Boston: Beacon Press, 1955)

Alberto Manguel and Gianni Guadalupi, The Dictionary of Imaginary Places (New York: Harcourt, 2000)

Alberto Pérez-Gómez, ‘The Myth of Dedalus: On the Architect’s métier’, in: Timely Meditations: Selected Essays on Architecture, Volume 1 (Montreal: RightAngle International Publishing, 2016), 1-21

Francis Ponge, Le Parti pris des choses (Paris: Gallimard, 1967); Francis Ponge, The Power of Language: Texts and Translations (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979)

Paul Ricoeur, The Rule of Metaphor (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1978)

Paul Ricoeur, ‘The Function of Fiction in Shaping Reality’, Man and World, vol. 12, no. 2 (1979), 123-141

Paul Ricoeur, Time and Narrative, Volume 1 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984)

Adrian Snodgrass and Richard Coyne, Interpretation in Architecture: Design as a Way of Thinking (London, New York: Routledge, 2006)

Author Biography

Anca Matyiku, McGill University

Anca Matyiku is a PhD candidate in the History and Theory of Architecture programme at McGill University. With a focus on architectural representation and design process, Anca’s research investigates how the literary imagination can effectively complement traditional tools of architectural design. Her work has contributed to a number of publications and has been previously presented in Montreal, Winnipeg, Hong Kong, Helsinki and at the Architecture Biennale in Venice. Anca holds a Bachelor of Architectural Studies from the University of Waterloo and a Master of Architecture from the University of Manitoba.


How to Cite
MATYIKU, Anca. Project Daedalus: An Earnest Play of Building Between Storytelling and Metaphors. Writingplace, [S.l.], n. 1, p. 59-74, apr. 2018. ISSN 2589-7691. Available at: <>. Date accessed: 22 jan. 2019. doi: