by Anthony Clarke
Anthony Clarke of BLOXAS, an architecture practice for empathic and experimental architecture, was contacted by a South Australian woman with ME to design a home for her. His research led him to a screening of ‘Unrest’ and a friendship with Anna Kerr, who also has ME. Anthony and Anna recently presented at Emerge’s International Symposium about design for health conditions and diseases, including ME.
In the past 5 years or so my architecture practice (BLOXAS) has had the privilege of working on a diverse range of projects, however more excitingly we have been able to work and research a wide range of unique and specific ‘conditions’. These range from Dementia (Sound Field), Chronic Sleep disorders (Garden Pavilion) and Autism Spectrum Disorder (Hungry Hands House) just to name a few. An interesting overlap through all of these projects are the sensitivities to light, sound, smell etc, and how these are affected living in the urban environment.
Due to one of the projects we completed in Melbourne a year or so prior (for a client with a chronic sleep disorder stemming from childhood trauma) I was contacted by a woman in the Barossa Valley in early 2018. Her name was Taylor Ryan. Taylor sent me a very detailed description of her life before and after ME. This was by far the most incredible and powerful project email I have received to date.
I did not know much at all about ME prior to hearing from Taylor, however I quickly began researching. This research led me to a screening of Unrest at RMIT University, and is also where I met Anna Kerr my now close friend.
Taylor Ryan is an amazing young woman. I have had the privilege of flying over to SA to meet Taylor prior to starting the project. I have also spent quite a lot of time with her father Trevor. The project is currently quite deep into concept design. For me, this project has been transformative. It has really opened up my train of thought to endless research possibilities and how I, as an architect, can begin to look at the environment in a completely new way. I have been humbled by the openness and honesty provided to me by Taylor and her family, and am very excited about the continued stages of the project, and really seeing how the outcome may impact Taylor’s life.
“As a part of my ME/CFS, I have MCS (multiple chemical sensitivity). This means that I can have adverse reactions to chemicals and smells, exacerbating all of my symptoms including headaches/migraines, brain fog, general aches and pains, fatigue etc. It is of the utmost importance to select building materials (especially interior) that are chemical free, zero or very low VOC, no glues, no formaldehyde, limited plastic etc.
This disease essentially makes you allergic to the world around you. The most relief you can get is from a dark, silent room with no stimulants whatsoever. This gives your body the best chance of switching off and focusing on running your internal systems for recovery. Of course this is also an unhealthy, unrealistic and sad way to live, and certainly is not a cure nor an effective treatment, only a way to reduce the risk of pushing your body beyond its limits into a “crash”.
Architecture can make a huge difference to people’s lives. One thing I am really beginning to notice (and study as part of my PhD) is not just the outcome of architecture, but the process itself. Quite often the process, or the outcome of the process can be incredibly profound, and prove to be just as crucial as the manifested outcome itself.
I am also a masters level design tutor in architecture at Monash University in Melbourne and I’ve introduced my students to working on designs for diverse conditions, by having people with the diseases and conditions come to our lectures and answer student’s questions.
Generally, architectural students get taught to design for the ‘generic’ person, or people. They design galleries, museums, residential/office towers etc. Very rarely do students have the opportunity to really consider the specifics of people in their designs, or how these are presented/communicated. As lateral thinkers, architects have the capacity to think in a unique way about space, we just lack the anthropology side of our research. This is what is so exciting for the students about studying conditions such as ME. It allows them to really dig much deeper to try and understand how our ability to shape space can be considered through more of a medical, social science type approach and lens.
At the moment we have several interesting projects in the office ranging from public to residential through to more experimental installations. We completed a residential project last year (Hungry Hands) for a family with an Autistic son which I am incredibly proud of. My PhD is also keeping me very busy.
Emerge has proposed a health care clinic in Melbourne and I have the project in my mind all the time. The amount of knowledge I have gained in the past 18 months on ME (in relation to architecture) is incredible. I would love the opportunity to really delve into this project, and begin looking at how this may manifest. I hope to continue discussions with Emerge as soon as possible.
Watch the presentation from Anthony Clarke and Anna Kerr.
Our approach is led by research, experimentation and curiosity. These elements are inherent in our philosophy, and drive our interrogative and empathetic response. Specialists from a variety of disciplines contribute to our curative understanding of individual and collective behaviour, sensory perception, physiology and phenomenology. We investigate how people affect – and are at the effect of – our designs.