Losing Myself, Venice Biennale Architettura 2016

Our practice was chosen to represent Ireland at the Biennale Architecttura 2016 in Venice. We chose to collaborate with Yeoryia Manolopoulou. We created a large time-based drawing together. The drawing is an attempt to communicate and interpret some of the changes to
 spatial perception caused by dementia. In order to understand these changes, we read, researched and questioned. We spoke 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, memory and situation.

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Our installation for the Biennale was an unfolding drawing spanning over 24 hours that imagined 16 people inhabiting the Alzheimer’s Respite Centre that we designed in Dublin and was completed in 2010. 16 drafters were asked to embody each one of these people by drawing the building in the way it might be perceived by someone with dementia. All 16 characters move around the building, passing from solitude to gathering in certain rooms at key times of the day. Animation and time-based projection allowed us to represent movement and the passage of time.

Our project 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 was collaborative, enlisting the skills of an animator, composer, AV experts, graphic designers and many drafters. We 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 developed through iteration and experiment.

The installation at the Arsenale in Venice goes hand in hand with a website www.losingmyself.ie, which documents the many dialogues with people involved in dementia and follows the process of making the time based drawing.

To view the videos of the installation please click here