Materialising the void

Materialising the void; future of the homescape.

Year: 2020

Status: Ideas + Research

Program: Article/Publication

Published: KooZA/rch

Author: Beau Avedissian

“It is the defencelessness of breathing… To nothing is a man so open as to air… Air is the last common property. It belongs to all people collectively… And this last thing, which has belonged to all of us collectively, shall poison all of us collectively…” Elias Cannetti (1936).

The coronavirus pandemic brings forth a critical concern for the homescape of tomorrow: how does architecture play a role in human survival?

The homescape of today is a funnel that helps to spread disease and other life-threatening health conditions. This is caused by spaces designed to weaken our immune system and to allow for disease and other toxic particles to enter our bodies. The coronavirus pandemic brings to light how the spaces we live in, can act as an instrument to propagate disease. This occurs between the surface and the air – the void that we inhabit. Coronavirus can live in the void for up to three hours. It can live on the surface, such as copper for four hours, one day on cardboard and three days on plastic. The surface acts as a transitional point for the disease to be transferred throughout the void to further contaminate. Right now, more than ever, we’re aware of these conditions in the void, as we try to distance ourselves from it.

Until now, the architectural void has been this ‘empty’ space defined by walls and floors. The void is the space that we inhabit and move through. I claim that it’s no longer an ‘empty’ space of air, rather it is a body of matter; of particles. As architects, we design this matter, if we believe it or not. By this I mean, “materialising the void”.
The homescape of today is making us ill. The microbiome of our built environment consists of contaminated synthetics, pesticides and biocides. When these materials, such as boards, paints and carpets degrade, these materials release toxic molecules into the void that inflicts a threat upon our body.

Architecture is becoming cleaner: with anti-bacterial surfaces that remove the ‘good’ bacteria, making our immune systems weaker. We are spending more time indoor; hours spent working at desks in ‘clean’ offices, removing ourselves from the natural environment where we’re exposed to the ‘good’ toxin-fighting bacteria. The surface that is the mediator between the void and the solid, is a lethal place.

I recently worked collaboratively with Lydia Kallipoliti, on “The Life of Mars” exhibited at the London Design Museum. This project was to design a closed-loop habitation system for Mars. It took this notion of “materialising the void” to the extent where life was at the line. Recognising that the void was full of particles – an endless loop of circulating ecologies – we had to mitigate any attempt that these microscopic particles would kill humans. If these particles build-up: they can block systems, destroy filters, contaminate and eventually kill. As a result, we had to design in a tactical, systematic, ‘life or death’ way. It was about recognising the nature of how materials decay and what toxins they give off over time; what microscopic matter the human excretes; and how these microscopic particles flow through the void. With this in mind, we could design the void they inhabit to save their life, through the closed-loop system of systematic interventions, seals and material choices.

To protect our body from the coronavirus pandemic, we must have a stronger immune system. However, for many of us, our immune systems are not strong enough to fight off this virus. We are becoming weaker as a species, relying on the drugs of today to mask critical health conditions in our body. Architecture plays a role in this. The homescape of tomorrow looks at “materialising the void” to create a health machine to build up our immune system. What does the homescape of tomorrow look like? It isn’t a specific dwelling, rather it is a way of designing interiors; a type of mentality that pervades current architectural thinking. This way of thinking is about recognising that the “void” is a “material” that we can design with and for; as this will drive the design.

I previously mentioned how toxic particles are released from the decaying surface leading to serious long-term health conditions. New materials coated in varnishes and other toxic chemicals give off VOCs and other toxic particles. The materials used in the homescape would be analysed with rigour and seriousness to how they decay. This would result in having a natural material pallet, with less or no chemical reconstructions. This would be one way to decrease the risk of future health fatalities. We lack many different types of ‘good’ bacteria found in nature – from dirt, animals and plant species – to build up our immune system. We don’t spend time playing in the dirt of our surrounding bushland anymore. This begs the question: in an urban world, how can we be both indoor and outdoor? More importantly, how can we address designing for a stronger immune system? The homescape simulates elements of the natural environment, that we are profoundly attached to, into our urban interiors. We can design the air to introduce the specific bacteria that we are deficient in. We can surround ourselves in these bacteria, from plants and fungi or by integrating it into an ‘air system’. By designing the void with natural toxin-fighting bacteria, our immune system can be improved and strengthen, to fight diseases and pandemics.

We find it hard to think in the long term, stepping out of our emotional temporary box. The matter that fills the void is hard to visualise, as it is invisible to us, and the health effects are only visible in the long term. However, the coronavirus pandemic opens our eyes to the contagious materialised nature of the void; closer to home, as we can visualise the short-term impacts on our health. The homescape of tomorrow is a space that addresses the long-term; a health machine for the future. Like designing for Mars, we do need to design with a certain rigour, treated in a ‘life or death’ way. Each of our design decisions has a profound impact on our health that is transmitted through the void. As Cannetti states, the air is the common property to all. As designers and architects, we can utilise “materialising the void” to create a new homescape; the homescape of tomorrow.