Ireland - Biennale Architettura 2016

Losing Myself is the Irish entry to the Biennale Architettura 2016. The project is a collaboration between Niall McLaughlin and Yeoryia Manolopoulou, exploring dementia, architectural representation and the contrast between the architect's intention for a building and its subsequent inhabitation.

Our report is a reflection on the lessons learnt through designing and revisiting buildings for people with dementia. Visitors enter our space at the end of the Arsenale through a gap in the partition walls. The room is darkened, in contrast with the projected brightness on the floor. The floor accommodates a 4.8m x 6.4m animated drawing of the Alzheimer’s Respite Centre. The drawing is dynamic, with multiple projected hands moving across the plane of the floor as they create fragments of a plan. They merge and overlap. These hands represent sixteen individuals inhabiting a series of rooms at the Alzheimer’s Centre. The projection consistently labours towards the clarity of a completed plan but falls short of achieving it. Suspended speakers create a soundscape, consisting of the physical sounds of the act of drawing itself, layered with murmured conversations; sounds of rain and the sea; quotidian noises –a kettle boiling, children playing, people eating – and the bells of the Angelus. This installation is an attempt to communicate and interpret some of the changes to spatial perception caused by dementia. In order to understand these changes, we have read, researched and questioned. We have spoken to a broad range of people – neuroscientists, psychologists, health workers, philosophers, anthropologists, people with dementia and their families – about dementia, the brain, and the role of design in dementia care. 
We are interested in the social function of architecture: how it can improve the lives of people with dementia. Beyond this, we hope that our research into the impact of the condition on spatial cognition will equip us with a deeper understanding of how all of our minds interpret space. Our project has also highlighted the shortcomings of the traditional architectural plan: an inhabitant may never experience the building from the architect’s complete and fixed vantage point. This disconnect is particularly apparent if the inhabitant has Alzheimer's Disease, and has lost the ability to use memory and projection to see beyond their immediate situation and create a stable model of their environment. Our projected animation attempts to address this, by working to develop a technique for drawing the building from the perspective of inhabitation. 
The process has been collaborative, enlisting the skills of an animator, a composer, AV experts, graphic designers and many drafters. We have consulted people with dementia for feedback on the website design. We have been planning, testing and adapting our drawing technique with our drafting collaborators. At times, we have needed to design tools of production, such as glass tables for recording the drawing process. We have had to accept a certain level of unpredictability and uncertainty regarding the finished product, perhaps as a consequence of attempting to represent a cognitive state which is only partially understood, using a medium that we are developing through iteration and experiment.
The architectural drawing is an attempt to make a conceptual representation of something real, a space we have imagined or can imagine. To attempt to see through the eyes of someone with dementia is a further conceptual step, as we have no experience of how the condition might alter our understanding of our environment. Through our research, we have identified certain patterns in the way in which people understand and map out space in their minds. In the drawings we make, we are attempting to uncover or represent the way this spatial understanding gradually shifts as a result of dementia.These drawings begin to explore different methods of architectural and pictorial representation in an attempt to develop a technique that can describe the inhabitation of the Orchard Centre. 
The drafting hands embody 16 inhabitants of The Orchard Centre as they occupy parts of the building. The occupants draw fragments of the plan, because they cannot hold its totality in their minds. As the day passes, drawings accumulate and assemble a collective understanding of the building. As we navigate and orientate ourselves, the grid cells in our brain activate in hexagonal firing fields. These fields fire when a room is entered or observed.
The gardens blossom and change from spring to summer, autumn and winter. The four seasons are mirrored in quadrants of the daily cycle.
In order to project our animated drawing on the floor, we would need to suspend or support a number of projectors at a level above the ground plane. The strict loading restrictions on the old trusses of the Arsenale meant we couldn't hang much from them, but we knew that any standing support we designed to hold the projectors needed to meet the ground as minimally as possible, to reduce the visual impact on the projected image.Quadpods packed for shippingAs the design developed, our decision to hold every projector on its own structure began to feel like a logical one, and the repetition helped to establish a grid over the building. Each 1.92m high brass stand had four legs: we called them quadpods. Through numerous meetings and discussions with millimetre, we achieved a very slim profile for the quadpods in laser-cut brass. The material quality provided the sense of lightness we had hoped for and added potential for the legs to interact visually with the projected piece. The aim of this process was to design the legs to be as simple as possible, with the smallest of brackets to hold the projectors in place. Whilst it wasn't our initial intention, the quadpods have evolved into their own beings, slender and creature-like. 
The tracing floor became our workspace, as we took our shoes off and began to inhabit it. We used the overlapping and layering of drawings to create a sense of spatial depth in the drawing. The milky translucency of the paper allowed us to interplay blurred and sharp lines and colours. We set up a physical test bed on the floor and we created a parallel digital system made from twenty or thirty layers of opalescent tracing paper. By laying things out physically in the light we could achieve effects which were then photographed and used as reference images for the digital image. The eventual interplay between physical and digital was worked out in this discourse between the floor of the room and the screen of the computer. The cumulative drawing was eventually constructed into a 16 minute film representing a day in the life of the Orchard Centre.  Watch the full drawing at the end of the tour. 
Credits: Story

Collaboration: Yeoryia Manolopoulou and Niall McLaughlin

NMLA Team: Benni Allan
Eimear Arthur
Joanna Karatzas
Claire McMenamin

Realisation: Liam Davis (animation)
Kevin Pollard (sound design and music composition)
objectif (graphic and website design)
ArtAV (audiovisual production/installation)
Millimetre (quadpod production)
Emir Tigrel (additional animation)
Katherine Hegab (digital drawing)
Drawing: Benni Allan
Sandra Coppin
Hannah Corlett
James Daykin
Bev Dockray
Anne Marie Galmstrup
Emma Guy
Lee Halligan
Joanna Karatzas
Yeoryia Manolopoulou
Niall McLaughlin
Claire McMenamin
Ben Nicholls
Anne Schroell
Michiko Sumi
Simon Tonks

Text: Eimear Arthur
Yeoryia Manolopoulou
Niall McLaughlin

With contributions from: Katie Burrell, Tamsin Hanke, Alicia Lafta, St John Walsh (additional digital drawing)
Commissioned by You (drawing table fabrication)
Caro Communications (PR)
Know How Production (on-site/installation support)
Wendy Toole (copy editing)
Bryony Jones, Ruth Ryan, James Wickham (support)
Aisling O’Sullivan, David Stronge

Dialogue participants:
Professor June Andrews
Professor Sabina Brennan
Dr Sebastian Crutch
Kay Doherty
Desmond Donnelly
Aisling Guckian
Professor Tim Ingold
Professor Kate Jeffery
Sandra Keogh
Lesley Palmer
Helen Rochford-Brennan
Dr Hugo Spiers

With thanks to:
The Alzheimer Society of Ireland
The clients and staff of The Orchard, Blackrock
Culture Ireland
The Arts Council
The Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland
The Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht
The Bartlett, University College London
Neuro-Enhancement for Independent Lives at TCD
The Dementia Research Centre at UCL
The Jeffery Lab at UCL
The Dementia Services Development Centre, Stirling
The National Gallery of Ireland
The London Irish Centre
Online Reprographics
RTÉ Archives

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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