Armelle Breuil @ Diploma, ENSAPVS, Paris
Description: Oslo 2016. Heavy drug users -main- ly heroin- are gathering around a shopping mall called Gunerius in Oslo. They have been moving accross the city for the last five decades, pushed by the police. Norway has been for a long time the most repressive state in Europe – with up to 21 years of jail for consumption of illegal products. Now the mall is planned to be destroyed and replaced by a luxurious program developed by Thon, one of the major actor of Oslo.
The written part of the thesis establishes a link between the shift of architects part of the counter-culture in the sixties, and absorbing the “care” culture today – and the evolution of our societies, through the example of psychotropics. Aimed as a critical gaze upon our profession, it is a processed of research, interviews and visits.
Methodology: The first part of the year consisted of research, both theoretical and on the field. The first idea was to trace a narco-atlas: the wandering of drug users in the Norwegian capital. Several visits to associations taking care of the drug users – such as the FHN- lead to a better understanding of their situation. Visits to consumption rooms in Oslo, Copenhagen and Paris revealed the urge to get more of these places, and update their functions. Indeed, first planned to house injecting users, they are now mostly used by smoking users. Often working as loop, they track every single movement of the user, forgetting the importance of intimacy. Architectural solution start to emerge, to offer a consistent space. The semester ended with a first proposal: reuse the Gunerius, the spot where they meet, and keep it’s consumerist purpose, but turn it into a “hospital of consumptions”.
Building: The Gunerius was built in the seventies, and was partly refurbished in the 90ies, and extended with a parking – which was supposed to be temporary. The design of the future building requires demolishing half of the quarter. What if instead of using energy on destruction, we could built on top of the existing building?
The relatively simple structure and its flat surfaces could support different additions. Places to keep are mapped, both thanks to the archives found at PBE and mapping on site. It is a strong position, regarding the politics of growth in Oslo, with a tendency for “tabula rasa”
Conceived as a 2.0 public space, where the activities generating revenue such as shops, could give a certain percentage of what they earn and produce – heat, energy- to sustain the “counter-culture”, an upside-down world where every type of consumption would be allowed, from coffee to heroin, in different spaces.
Instead of punishing, blaming, and creating a culture of “fear”, the building would be the reflect of a yet to come evolution. An article of the sixties, Dope Academy, first published in “Outlaw”, an extra of the World Earth Catalogue, mentionned in Felicity Scott’s Outlaw book is the base for the program. Showing briefly that the cause of death from drugs is often unclear, it proposes a “dope academy” split in three categories: Ashram, Hard Core and Pharmaceutical.
How important was the initial research phase for the understanding and developing of the project?
The initial research phase took an important place, as the diploma was intended to be the beginning of a broader research on architecture and drugs. The research focusing on Oslo itself, and the drug use of Oslo had started a year before, and I had been in contact with local association to seek for a program for the site.
The written part -not focusing on a particular city, only on the occidental part of the world- was almost as significant as the project itself: first the idea was to explore the links between imagination and architecture (how some architects used drugs in the past to develop ideas, or as psychomimetism), then the effects of psychotropics in the counter-culture and how the architect became the leader of the “care” nowadays, taking the example of the consumption rooms. Therefore I spent time in the drug consumption room of Paris and Copenhagen, as they had radical different approaches, and at the office of the architects who designed them, to do different interviews.
How was all the material in terms of analysis & talks recorded and then translated?
I ended up with about ten or so interviews, which I translated and made a transcript of. They were helpful to catch a lot of different points of views: the user, the employee of the room, the manager of the room, the architect of the room. A goal emerged for the project: design a “Drug Academy”, a place where all kind of -different- consumptions would have their spot. The project became a mix of a lot of different spaces, with a combination of programs all about consumption. The drug academy was divided between Pharmaceutical, Ashram and Hard Core -based on an article from the Whole Earth Catalog of the sixties. Different questions I had about the heavy drug consumption room were solved by talking with the users: should it be open or closed, flexible or not, connected to other parts of the project or autonomous.
What defined the format of the ‘comic book’ how does this relate to the project?
How important was the aspect of narrative as sense through which to reveal the project to an exterior audience?
The comic book came from the model and the material for the presentation. The project had to be read as path, since the deambulation into that maze was a key for it. So instead of making a single model, I choose to represent the consecutive spaces, next to each other, and therefore ended up with an exploded model. The paths were represented in axonometric too and I choose to go further with two of them, which I represented as a first-person-view comic. The reader become the one living the experience through Psychotropia.
Also, comic-book are an easy way to communicate architectural ideas to a broader audience. Since I wanted to send back the material I produced to people I interviewed I thought it would be an easy way to do it.
What is your take on colour- how does this inform the reading of the project?
Colors were really important for that project, because of the subject. Especially some drugs lead you to see amazing colors, such as LSD, which is what the character is taking in the comic. And I choose to go all in with it, starting with soft ones. It also refer to the program, with a color for each function.
What role do the silhouettes play? what is their role within the created imagery?
To help the reader to orientate himself into the building, some zoom off and in required the use of silhouettes. They represent the main characters of each parcours.
What were your main tools when developing the project?
I used a bit of everything. I took a lot of pictures in-situ, did survey of every little trace of meeting in the mall, gathered them in books. I took pictures in clubs, cut off some in old fashion magazine, gathered textured, and mixed hand techniques and photoshop. Rhino, Illustrator were my friends for the axonometric and hand-model were simple, made with laser-cut. And as I read a lot, I would say books were a main tool as well.
Of course, as you can guess with the title and the subject, some other tools were used, directly ingested. I understood while reading Preciado – Testo Junkie, that our own body can become part of our study. How can you describe a psychotropic experience if you never had one? So I jumped into another world, to come back with another take on the old one.
To be continued… what are your next steps?
As I’m just coming back from a five month travel in South America, I am looking for another job in architecture. And hopefully I’ll have time to continue on that research on the side!
Armelle Breuil is an architect, who graduated in 2017 at ENSAPVS in Paris. After working on masterplans for an Oslo-based office and sailing in Patagonia in the last months she is now looking for opportunities to work with sustainable design, floating architecture and socially engaged projects, in the continuity of her practice.