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The isle of Catalysis
Cape Verde
Drawings, plans, elevations
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Fairy tales are seen as outside of everyday concerns because they are seen to be unbelievable, disobeying the rules of time and space. In reality, however, fairy tales can be seen as a vehicle for addressing the most challenging issues that a society faces. Architects and writers Matthew Hoffman & Francesca Giuliani explain, ‘Architecture isn’t about a single building; it’s about 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 can be much more fruitful. Using the concept of a catalysis, the project address créolisation within the Cape Verde archipelago in the form of a fictional tale. ‘Catalysis’ in a biological sense refers to the experience of several ethnic groups mixing with each other, often in a contentious environment that gives way to new forms of identity and experience. In scientific parlance, a catalysis is a chemical reaction: a ‘catalyst’ accelerates a chemical reaction by forming bonds with reactive molecules, allowing them to react to a product that then detaches itself, leaving it unaltered and available for the next reaction. Off the bay of Santiago in Cape Verde, sits the isle of Santa Maria, also known as Leper Island. This is the siting for this project. Surrounded by the waters of the Atlantic, it can only be accessed by boat or by foot during low tide. In the mid-1850s, six houses were built in 30 hours and housed individuals who had leprosy; today, the buildings have been left in ruins. Through a series of drawings, models, photographs and film, the project portrays the story of a group of explorers returning to Cape Verde in 2050 with reports of an empty landscape that has drifted close to the bay. No one knows where its origin. Their objective is to map the terrain, record all observations of their surroundings and, above all, avoid being contaminated. Whilst this is very firmly an architectural proposition, containing many of the familiar elements of a design proposal – site, landscape, program, form and materiality. The project makes a number of shifts in the understanding of these conditions. The site is both real and fictional. The islands start to shift, some merge to become new landmasses, others drift off into isolation. The land is stable and unstable; fixed and fluid; someplace and no place. It is both frontier and interior. Small eruptions scatter the earth, revealing the underlying makeup of the terrain. The islet is connected to both the land and sea. It exists within, above and below this landscape. The mechanical parts that exist within the earth enable the structure to drag itself along the ocean floor. Leaving its original territory and entering new terrains. The islet is entirely autonomous; the movement of the sea below and the wakes that come from ships that pass by gives life to mechanical parts, which in turn, enables its existence.
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