Framing narratives in narrative environment design have a lot in common with framing narratives in textual and verbal storytelling, so here is the narratology definition to start off:
A framing narrative contains a second (or more) embedded narrative(s), for which it provides a context or setting. Sometimes the framing narrative will begin and end the narrative as a whole, providing book ends, other times it will simply be present at the beginning of the narrative, acting as an introduction, sometimes it reappears as a linking device between a series of embedded narratives. The framing narrative “sets the scene” for the embedded narrative(s), giving us a context in which we can read and interpret the text.
A framing narrative may frame a single sub narrative; “we were sitting round the kitchen table when D started talking in a low, fearful voice: “I was staying at X’s house many years ago when…” etc
Or it may frame many: The 1001 Nights
If in the first example D had said: “I was staying in this very house many years ago when…” and the whole narrative had been a story about the house itself (perhaps about persistent haunting, for example), then both the framing and the sub narratives would have shared to some extent the same focus and the same storyworld; when this is the case we say the framing narrative is a meta-narrative.
Often framing comes as a set of nesting (we say Matroushka Doll) narratives: The British Museum has a narrative of power and authority told through the architecture and and the use of external space; then inside, the collection as a whole tells a story of imperialism, adventure and scholarship, which itself is broken into many sub narratives of particular instances. Within this context, a particular exhibit may be framed by a particular curatorial discourse, and itself consist of or contain sub narratives emerging from the objects themselves or the way they are related to each other.
In narrative envionment design, as this example suggests) the framing narrative may not just be of a different order from the narrative(s) it encloses, it may be of an entirely different kind, in a different medium: a curator will create a framing narrative around a collection of object or images, which in themselves tell stories, or are curated to imply stories through ordering and juxtaposition. This framing narrative may be dispersed through the exhibition in texts on display, and/or contained in the catalogue; it might be told in part or entirely through sound or lighting or the use of space; all of this is already framed by the physical characteristics, volumes and location of the building and the stories they tell.
Or landscaping may tell a framing story about the buildings it contains, e.g. Scarpa’s Brion Vega Tomba, where spatial layout, acoustics, borrowed landscapes and soundscapes weave a story around the narrative of the key architectural moments, http://www.greatbuildings.com/buildings/Brion-Vega_Cemetery.html
Or a city brand narrative may contain or frame a multitude of localised sub narratives.
Here is an example of a series of nesting narratives
Floating Numbers at the Jewish Museum Berlin
The museum building tells through its architecture a story of fragmentation and destruction. In particular, the bird’s eye view shows it as a broken and unravelled Star of David.
The exterior looks as if it has been attacked and slashed
even the memorial garden looks off kilter, and in winter, bleak
The interior is often bare, sometimes looks abandoned
ans sometimes the sense of being only inhabited by fragments and memories of pain is explicit and refers explicitly to the death camps
On the other hand, the exhibition content is typically joyous and full of life. One particular exhibit uses narrative, symbolism and ritual to draw us into the arcance world of numerology, which is a very important part of both the Torah and the Kabbalah.
You enter a room which contains a long table round which visitors stand.
This evokes the Jewish traditon of eating together on every Shabat, and in particular at Pessach (Passover), when people stand to eat. Anyone who is Jewish or watched Woody Allen films will know that jewish people love to talk during the meal, typically arguing, gossipping and telling each other stories.
The table is covered with numbers instead of food
as people reach for the numbers (food for the mind)
the numbers open up and tell their story of their relationship to Jewish learning and culture.