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Tailoring Camouflage
Understanding expressive camouflage as a form of inhabitation through the practices of the Huaorani people.

“Tailoring Camouflage” is a portal in the city of Quito to the Amazon rainforest. It is a project about the role of the body and the value of the Huaorani women as nurtures and constructors of the forest, transcribed through oral histories. Resulting in a parallel understanding of the chakra as garden of knowledge through performative occupation and the conflicting relationships between indigenous and Western world-views.

With its multiple fabricated realities, the Ecuadorian Amazon is approached through the tenuous and intimate dialogues of body and earth, learning from the self-sufficient practices of the Huaorani people to understand expressive camouflage as a form of inhabitation. The Yasuni Park is approached only as a knowledge bank while the project intervenes in Quito as the first form of interaction with a distant territory, engaging with a foreign heritage through observation and collaboration. In the direction of the amazon, the architectural intervention proposes an inhabited urban garden in the Andes, built upon the principles of achakra. A transcription of living methodologies based on cultural understandings of seasons, crops, rituals, and space. A communion between human and nonhuman, between natural and artificial and a performative frame for growth.

The work plays out the living methodologies based on close cultural and bodily understandings of seasons, crops, and space. The garden becomes a frame for coexistence, with the experience of cycles of our ownbody and those of nature; equinoxes, solstices, sunrise and sunset, birth and death, moments of harvest and storage, growth and transformation in the life of a living environment. A return to the cyclical forms of living only through repetition and setting aside time concepts as we know it. Yucca, chambira, plátano and cacao are the main crops used daily, providing the bases for nutrition, construction, leisure and spirituality Nurtured through corporeal rhythms or SASINA, this species characterize their daily life interconnecting the rituals of weaving with the role of transmission.

The project was developed at the Royal College of Art.

KOOZ What prompted the project?

CR The project originated from a personal struggle of questioning what it means to be Ecuadorian and feel foreigner to certain territories such as the Amazon forest. With this in mind and a deep interest in materiality and bodily experiences, I started the project by investigating the forms of self-sufficient living and the value of the forest as the provider of everything for the indigenous communities. Through sound and fibre documentation, site recordings, interviews and research, I understood that this is a region politically constructed around the value of its natural resources and has strategically ignored its vital source of knowledge, its inhabitants.

As a result, the project reflects upon the processes and values imposed by the western world in the Amazon forest and how they trigger not only climate change and deforestation but the loss of entire indigenous tribes and ancestral forms of coexisting and learning from nature.

KOOZ What questions does the project raise and which does it address?

CR Presenting it as a natural-made forest is false and problematic as this area has constantly been under human occupation, domesticated and developed by the civilizations who inhabit it. The project raise the question of how the indigenous worldview has been radically transformed within a spatial image of the west; exploring the misconceptions and inequalities caused by the colonization of its knowledge and the appropriation of its territory which has intentionally been presented as “reserves” or blocks of extraction.

Considering the Amazon rainforest an endangered ecosystem with the biggest biodiversity in the planet, it should be understood that this has always been a domesticated, inhabited territory and therefore the protection of it without a doubt should include and prioritize its people, culture and knowledge.
Based on site recordings, the design questions our role in preserving the amazon, for its valuable unwritten sonic resources and how architecture could allow encounters of conversation in which the western world could learn from the self-sufficient practices of the Huaorani people to understand expressive camouflage as a form of inhabitation.

The project addresses the importance of cyclical living by transcribing the chakra or garden in the forest into the city. From the Huaoranis, I’ve learned that one creates its living environment by what is offered by the environment itself. Hence within the city, the spaces adapt to the imperfections and contradictions it provides. This gathering of bodies in close contact with the floor is related to the ancestral forms In which there were no distinction between function and space.

KOOZ How did you approach the investigation of the site? What tools did you use?

CR In order to start the site investigation and documentation of the Ecuadorian Amazon, I first positioned myself not only as an Ecuadorian but as a foreigner to the living methodologies of the Amazon rainforest. Using the theory of opacity was the key and most significant strategy to approach this topic, hence the main tool of documentation resulted in conversation, oral histories and dialogue with indigenous Huaorani Women. Dealing with a right to opacity, no physical identities are shown, and is only through sonic tradition and transcriptions that this project aimed to understand the importance of indigenous people in the preservation of the Amazon biodiversity and questions our role as architects, for its valuable unwritten sonic resources.

Activities and traditions related to the chambira fibre (used in the design) were personally documented and tested as a building material, enhancing the opportunity to engage with this culture and to understand my position as a designer without following extractivist manners. Physical 1:1 models were made to test the material qualities of fibre and simultaneously understanding how an object can become a storage system of verbal encounters.

Sound, materiality and conversation resulted in the main tools to approach both the investigation of the site and the development of the architectural proposal. Oral communication is the medium through which the project approaches the modes of operation of cyclical living of a culture that archives history in sound. A collection of personal playlists used to test acoustic visualization of the Yasuni park, registering orality as frequencies over time. The ritual of resistance and the right to opacity of not revealing everything happens both ways. Until I have something to offer back to this community, I don’t have the right to ask or intervene. Keeping me learning from a distance in order to not follow extractivist manners.

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KOOZ The project is framed as a "portal" could you expand on this notion further?

CR Tailoring camouflage is an introspect look into the right to opacity and the multiple encounters that occur when transcribing and transmitting oral tradition through the domesticity of the Amazon rainforest. The Yasuni Park is approached only as a knowledge bank, while the project intervenes in Quito as the first form of interaction with a distant territory. Engaging with a foreign heritage through observation and collaboration. It is framed as a portal to the amazon and the relations between nature and ritual as it is situated in the city of Quito, at an intersection between a colonial valley and a residential urban area to enhance the dislocation of the amazon principles and emphasizing the fear for the obscene behaviour of western modernity. In the direction to the amazon, the architectural intervention proposes an inhabited urban garden in the Andes, built upon the principles of a chakra. A transcription of living methodologies based on cultural understandings of seasons, crops, rituals, and space. Therefore, Interpreting a chakra in Quito will produce different natures learned from the Amazon, for nature is not natural but a product of its manipulation and adaptation.

The Amazon performs as a fortress that hosts and provides both nature and humans in a symbiotic environment. The wall becomes a revisited element throughout the project, using it for an architecture of encounters rather than division. The Project could also be understood as a portal because it gathers fragments of the amazon’s domesticity through its temporal gardens and the planted species. The value of the selected species is the physical connection with the forest and the interactivity that takes place when coexisting with the city. Using these crops is the project’s intention to allow a greater understanding of the amazonic times. Learning from the cycles of a chakra, the floor articulates different stages of growth in a performative garden with an alternative view on the use of crops as part of a ritual of encounters. This allows nature to become the sense of orientation and the enclosure system of the building directing activities through growth and seasonality or in other words; a portal to cyclical living in the city.

KOOZ To date, the Amazon forest is one of the most delicate ecosystems threatened by climate change, how does the project position itself in relation to this?

CR The project understands the vulnerability and danger of climate change in the Amazon forest and the negative impacts of proposing an architectural project in this territory. With that in mind, and with the theory of opacity as the methodology of design, the project does not intervene in the Amazon forest, but rather settles in the city of Quito, in the urban centre, engaging with a foreign heritage through observation and collaboration. By understanding the value of oral tradition of local communities of the forest, the project aims to preserve their ancestral forms of caring for nature; cyclical forms of living that have coexisted with the forest for centuries, domesticating it but never threatening its diversity. This forms of inhabitation are preserved and encouraged through the proposed garden, understanding that the Amazon has always been in a symbiotic relationship of people and nature.
Bringing the knowledge of the forest to Quito is to question the methods of extraction and contact of the western world. Therefore, the garden becomes a space in which dialogue and conversation are encouraged and hosted by the architecture.

KOOZ What is for you the power of the architectural imaginary?

CR The power of the architectural imaginary in this project is to understand the right to opacity through the multiple layers of the research. It was very important to dwell in the moment through images that transcribe the human essence through music, voices, culture and tradition rather than physical characteristics that could easily be romanticized or considered exotic.

Dealing with a right to opacity, no physical identities are shown, and is only through sonic tradition and transcriptions that this project should become a space in which people can revisit the everyday that is often forgot in the city: Allowing the building to store traces of human interaction over time. By dwelling through a sensorial experience of color articulation, a different angle is approached from the constructed image of the Yasuni, focused on preserving the sensibility of the processes and production of the amazon itself through a predisposed growing system.

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Bio

Claudia is an Ecuadorian designer particularly interested in capturing quotidianity through the understanding of human relations. Working across multiple scales of intimacy, she engages in multidisciplinary practices with a focus in photography, fashion, and exhibition design. Her international background includes studies and profesional practice in Quito, the Galápagos Islands, Urbana Champaign, Wroclaw Poland and her Ma in architecture at the Royal College of Art in London.

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Published
11 Aug 2021
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10 minutes
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