Vancouver, like many other global cities, is experiencing tensions over foreign investments, where local communities are losing sense of attachment over their built environment. Free Range proposes a new type of crowd funded architecture giving back the opportunity for inhabitants to subsidize architectural projects and, to a broader extent, strives to encourage an alternative and parallel economy. Inspired by the ability of certain living organisms to use their excretions and secretions to built their own shelters, Free Range explores a human organic waste cycle, from consumption to elimination, in order to generate architecture. Body waste produced within the microsystem becomes its own raw materials; hair collected in the salon, mixed with glycerine and sodium sulfite generate bioplastic. Urine, a coffee and beer consumption by-product enjoyed on site, is stored and mixed with basillus pasteurii; a bacteria feeding off urea. This process creates a calcium by-product, which results in a biostone with concrete-like structural capacities. The tower-like typology works as a marker in the city allowing a self-promotion. The light structure allows it to be built wherever a new architectural project is needed.
What prompted the project?
Free Range is the initial project I made when I first arrived to Vancouver for my Master’s degree in Architecture. Vancouver, like many large cities has an extremely low vacancy rate (± 0.7%), coupled with a high land price, this makes the housing market extremely competitive and hostile for renters. Finding my first room that would fit my student budget has shown to be an arduous task and resulted in a room far from the University and too expensive for 25sq.m in a damp basement. I became captivated and envious of this ability that certain animals and insects have to build their own shelter without the need of any external help, using as material only their secretions and excretions. Swiftlets are a great example of this as they only use solidified threads of saliva, stacked on one another, to construct their nest. I then started to fantasize on a way that I could make this kind of process possible for humans. The result is this tower structure.
What defined the language of representation of the project?
The perspective in architectural representation arrived in the early 15th century with Brunelleschi, which provoked a complete paradigm shift, moving from a theocentric to an anthropocentric point of view of architecture and the world in general. Most of the representations produced here are using oblique projections or more precisely the military projection based on a 3d model, which can be seen as a purely neutral perspective resulting in a viewpoint which moves away from the Western anthropocentric world view.
I then borrowed certain aspects of the Vaporwave microgenre giving it a form of dreamy melancholia. The whole project being a response to the effect of our late stage capitalist society, it tries to propose a new future base on a lost one. One where everyone can still fund architectural projects while moving away from traditional capitalistic methods to do so. In the same way that Vaporwave aesthetics lament a lost future, this project grieves one that, no matter how attractive it might be – let’s face it – will never come.
What tools did you use throughout the project?
I used Rhino for all the 3d modelling, Blender for the renderings, Illustrator for all the vector drawings, sketching for everything prior to the production phase and a simple X-Acto knife for the physical model.
That being said, the tool the most useful to me to this day is my everyday experience and the capacity of architecture to reflect, speculate, criticize and provoke through its materialization.
What mediums did you use for the initial research with regard to how other species use their excretions and secretions to build their own shelters?
The initial research was purely factual; I was not interested in the formal qualities of these animals’ and insects’ constructions but rather the technical and chemical processes which allow them to make their shelters, nests, etc. For this I delved through many encyclopedias and biology manuals which compile this type of animals and insects, and their singular chemical processes. In the end, this phase was mostly about listing preexisting natural methods to identify potential opportunities of transposing them to the human biology.
How was this research then processed to 'apply' to humankind?
It became quickly a research in biology and chemistry, listing all the of the elements that the human’s body produces naturally; from saliva to hair, from urine to nails, and from sweat to bile. Following this collection of humans’ byproduct, I then broke them into their chemical components. For example, hair is composed of keratin, lipids, minerals and pigment. Seeing the body as a producer of these chemicals made it easier for me to search through biotechnology and biochemical material engineering research papers that proved the potential for our human body to produce materials. Following this research it became clear that hair and urine where the two elements from the human body that could be used to create materials with structural qualities. Of course in this mode of thinking, the time frame for construction is uncommonly long for an architectural project, but nonetheless plausible.
What informed the choice of the tower as typology?
Bounded by the sea, mountains, and the United States border, the Vancouver metropolitan area is geographically contained. Vancouverism is the term used to describe the city’s urban and architectural response to these constraints. It is characterized, amongst many features, by high-rise and high density residential towers, and the preservation of view corridors.
I thus see this project sharing similarities to a flower. Much like flowers have evolved with displays of bright colors and complex forms to attract more pollinators than the neighbouring species, this tower, competing with other bars, cafés, and hair salons to attract its clientele, has evolved to offer what attracts Vancouverites when picking a location: the view. This subsequently allows the system to collect as much hair and urine as possible.
What is your take on projects as Broken Nature: Design Takes on Human Survival at the Triennale in Milan?
This discussion is without a doubt one that needs to keep happening in architecture, amongst and between many other fields. I think Milan’s XXII Triennale so far is doing a great job at provoking discussion and amplifying relationships that exist among designers, engineers, artists, scientists, and politicians under the theme of restorative design and the study of the threads that connect humans to their natural environments. Broken Nature seems to hold the potential for many fields to investigate matters of extreme importance for the world at large, and hopefully stimulate a desire to form and deepen past, present, and future relationships with the world around us.
What role do we as architects play in trying to re-establish a relationship to nature?
Prior to the architectural project, one must position itself in a world marked by years, centuries, millennia of human efforts; a world that has been extracted, manufactured and consumed; reduced, reused and recycled. Understanding this anthropological strata, I believe, is crucial for the architectural assignment.
It is critical for architects, today, to reposition human actions and transformation of the world in a reorganized natural paradigm, letting behind the dilapidated and polarized conception of human and non-human systems. We need to start anew, build novel ideas, new conceptions, new relationships, new subjectivities. New notions of architecture that would embrace the sphere or realm of human activity and the technologically modified environment not as a product of human forces but as raw matter on which we need to forge, create and generate.
We have become the manufacturer of the world.
Within this notion and perception of our environment as a totalized and designed artifact, it is legitimate to question: Where does architecture begins and where does it end? Where does nature begins and where does it end?
How and to what extent are you interested in developing the potential of nature to influence how we design and construct as designers?
If here nature is defined as the world that is our very human fate to be received into, then I would say that my practice has been so far about understanding this very world or worlds which compose and surround us and respond to it through critically inclined architectural projects. I see this as an opportunity for architecture to gain in complexity and coherence within our world(s).
Architectural designer and researcher based in Montréal Vancouver Berlin, Sébastien Roy received his Master of Architecture (2018) from the University of British Columbia’s School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture where he was awarded the Architectural Institute of British Columbia (AIBC) medal. He holds a B. ès Arts in Environmental design from the Université du Québec à Montréal.
He is currently pursuing a research/creation project in Germany as part of the 2018 Arthur Erickson Travel Study Award established by the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts (RCA), Arthur Erickson Foundation (AEF), and Erickson Family (EF).
To contact Sébastien Roy and to view more of his work, please visit his website: www.sebastienroy.xyz