Posted: 17 August 2017     |    

‘Architects aren’t really known for fiction, storytelling, narrative or writing. Architects often speak in numbers (square footage, budget proposal) or esoteric jargon (spatial impression and formal venacular get bandied around a lot.) But writing fiction could be a useful exercise. As the American architect Scott Maskin puts it, “we construct literal myths almost the way a filmmaker would outline an experiential arc. Science fiction has traditionally been a tool to help us imagine what the future may look like.”’ - Scott Maskin

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Credit: THE ISLE OF CATALYSIS, Richard Meade, Unit 12 (2016)

‘Fairy tales seem to be removed from society because they are fanciful, and they disobey the limits of space and time. In reality, however, the fairy tale format is simply a vehicle for addressing the most challenging issues that we face, not just as architects, but as a society. Architecture isn’t about a single building, it’s our environment and our future. It’s easy enough to design a building or a new piece of technology and call it revolutionary. Exploring visions of the future is much more difficult, and potentially more troubling, but ultimately could be much more fruitful.’ - Matthew Hoffman and Francesca Giuliani

‘Catalysis’ is a key concept in postcolonial studies, referring to the experience of several ethnic groups interacting and mixing with each other, often in a contentious environment that gives way to new forms of identity and experience. It is also a chemical reaction: a ‘catalyst’ accelerates a chemical reaction by forming bonds with reactive molecules, allowing them to react to a product which eventually detaches from the catalyst, leaving it unaltered and available for the next reaction.

Cape Verde is an island country spanning an archipelago of 10 volcanic islands in the central Atlantic Ocean. Located 570km off the coast of West Africa, the islands cover a combined area of slightly over 4,000 square kilometres, with maritime (sea territory) extending to almost 700,000 square kilometres. The islands were uninhabited until the 15th century when they were ‘discovered’ by the Portuguese. African slaves were brought to the islands to work on the Portuguese plantations. Today, most Cape Verdeans are créoles who have mixed African and European origins. European ancestors include Spanish and Italian seamen who were granted land by the Portuguese empire, followed by Portuguese settlers, exiles, Portuguese Muslims and Jews who were both victims of the Inquisition. A genetic study reveals that the ancestry of the population in Cape Verde is predominantly European in the male line and African in the female line. The genetic and ethnic diversity is the result of centuries of migration and assimilation. In this Major Design Project and Minor Dissertation, I am interested in bringing together two distinct and different ideas: science (fiction) and créolisation.

14°55’N 23°31’W – The Isle of Catalysis is the name given to the 11th island of the 10-island archipelago. It is a ‘fabricated landscape’, made up of conditions and components of the other ten islands brought together to form the whole. It is both stable and unstable; fixed and fluid; someplace and no place. It is both frontier and interior and it is the site for a number of architectural interventions and propositions that both draw on the history of Cape Verde but also speculate on its future. The phrase ‘paper architecture’ has often been used pejoratively to refer to architects making utopian, dystopian or fantasy projects that were never meant to be built. In Russia, it refers specifically to those architects producing avant-garde work following the clampdown of the mid-1950s that also abolished the Academy of Architecture in 1957. Alexander Brodsky, Ilya Utin, Nadia Bronzova and Yuri Avvakumov were amongst those named ‘paper architects’ who sought to produce work to critique the dehumanising nature of Russian architecture and the political oppression of the times. The group, who exhibited collectively under the title Paper Architects in 1984, turned to fiction as one of the few forms of agency left to those who refused to participate in what they saw as a bankrupt system.

Today, the choices facing architects are not as stark or as oppressive. Paper architecture is no longer seen as the last option for those unable to build. Indeed, as Matthew Hoffman and Francesca Giuliani state, it may also be seen ‘as a vehicle for addressing the most challenging issues we face.’ Identity can say to be one of the most complex and difficult questions of the 21st century. It is my intention to explore the issues thrown up by a rapidly globalising world in a piece of architectural fiction that gives material, geographical and programmatic ‘form’ to some of these rich and fascinating topics, in one of the most span hybridised societies on earth.

14°55’N 23°31’W – The Isle of Catalysis is sited 2km off the southern tip of Santiago Island, facing due west into the vast Atlantic. It is an island of approximately 10 square kilometres. It houses a viewing post that is also a statue; a guard house and a pillory; a laboratory, lighthouse and flag post. No one lives permanently on the island, yet those who visit are unable to forget it. It is both memorable and elusive. Trying to remember the island is like catching the wind.

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