Camille, what is your project synopsis?

Smells are everywhere around us. They affect our mood, perception, localisation, they are part of our everyday life, of sex, food, nature, industry, of others and ourselves, of birth and death. They are present from the womb of our mothers until our last breath; they follow us, intrigue us, bring back memories, seduce us, manipulate us. But in the experience of contemporary architecture, sight and touch prevail and the olfactory dimension of our built environment is often forgotten.

This project explores the interactions between the space outside of the body and the body itself, studying how smells matter from the scale of the molecule to the scale of the city. So what are the potentials of this somewhat neglected sense and how could it be used by designers and architects? How do smells affect architecture and the humans inhabiting it?

After studying the alterations of materials, construction techniques, spaces but also bodies and minds, the project aims at colonising a district of Lyon (France), through smells and architecture.

By means of seven interventions, the visitor visits a SmellTrail, trailing from the busy basilica to the calm bathhouse, alternating areas of rest, meditation, recollection, subtle scents or powerful ones, individual experiences or shared ones.

How did your fascination for this subject start?

In January 2019, my fellow students and I were asked to write a theory thesis on a subject of our choice. While I started researching the experience of space of the visually impaired, I was promptly led to the importance of the sense of smell for blind people.

The subject quickly fascinated me, as the more books I read, the more research I did, the more I realised how unfamiliar I was with this sense. Though scents are everywhere around us, I never really thought about them as a potential for my practice of architecture. So much so that I realised how little I used my nose in general. While there is a sociological aspect to why we humans don’t trust our noses anymore, I recollected memories of me not being able to smell moments others could. I remember going through the kitchen cabinet, sniffing and thinking “Oh no... It’s true! I have a terrible sense of smell!” This little fear I carried in me, this semi-joke about not being able to really smell the delicate scent of a flower or the stink bombs thrown in high school, was, in fact, true. So, the fascination became an obsession, which led me to train my nose by working with a perfumer, landscape designers, and gardeners, engineers, historians, and theoreticians, to challenge the way I was experiencing space myself.

What drives you to design?

I remember growing up in social housing in France and hearing my mother describe our home as a rabbit cage, making us rabbits go to work and then come back to their cages. During my years of studying architecture, I realised that while architecture could make us feel miserable and small, architects also had the power to bring joy and pride to the inhabitants. So this desire to change someone’s day through an object as elementary as a wall, or a floor, a roof, a door, a material used, a light, a shadow, or a scent is what drives me. During my graduation, the research on smells was particularly interesting for this reason; making people more aware of the invisible, of the little things we tend to take for granted and change the visitor through different experiences. And this concern is reflected in the choice of materials I made: more natural, and raw, they are sensorily interesting but also more sustainable than mere concrete. They engage with the visitor as much as she or he engages with it.

How would you relate your project to the theme 'Fiction'?

While smells are our discrete companions through life, we often fail to imagine the affect they have on our bodies, and, minds, but also our conception of space and matter. Stiegler explains indeed that one consequence of the humans’ shift to bipedalism is the “defunctionalisation of the sense of smell,” (Stiegler, 2005) emptied of its sexual role, removed from the earth’s surface where most odorous molecules travel, giving the eye the leading role. For decades, our noses were considered a primitive function of our bodies, but the myth of the human “bad nose” is being challenged by various researchers who found out that human beings can discriminate at least one trillion olfactory stimuli. This had me asking “Why don’t we consider smells as a primordial part of our lives?” So, I imagined a project in which for once scents are given the spotlight, where the visitor has the opportunity to reflect on new sensations driven by different scents, paths, spaces, materials, lights, and so on.

What (object/person) inspired you during this project?

I think this graduation process allowed me to meet brilliant professionals who all impacted both the project and my conception of architecture. I owe a lot to perfumer Fredrik Dalman, of the Amsterdam based Maison Mona Di Orio, a man of great creativity, talent and patience. He took the time to guide me through the rudiments of perfumery, to discuss the potentials of scents for designers - and gave me exercises to train my sense of smell!  Then, I must say that Stavros Kousoulas and Roel van de Pas had the greatest impact on the project, especially as the thesis took both an unexpected theoretical path (through texts of Deleuze & Guattari, E.Crosz, Malgrave, Massumi, Spinoza and more), but also an experimental path that challenged and completed my readings. With their help, I was able to discover aspects of architecture I knew little about.

Anne, what is your project synopsis?

The relations between us and food have become distorted, deviated from their origin and meaning in our daily lives. Where solutions are sought in consciousness, this research focuses on the subconscious level of our relation with food by changing our perception of it, using architecture as a medium between us, the subject, and food, the object. By researching within a phenomenological framework, nine speculative scenarios have been made with the goal to understand how to influence the public by storytelling in writing, drawing and architecture. The question posed is: "How can speculative design help architecture enable a meaningful relation between us and food?"

The tenth scenario askes the question: "What if our food runs out?" By deconstructing my own street in Rotterdam I propose a new way of relating to food. The streets will be dug up, buildings gradually demolished and materials used to build a new communal food system in the centre of the street. Upon the tram rails and sewer system we will build a new foundation made of the bricks of our former homes. This entails an open sewer for composting, a labyrinth of corridors for food storage, and an open wooden layer of functions; everything from a woodstove, an abattoir, a dry house, a water tower, a smoke tower, to a kitchen, greenhouse and wood workshop. All made by hand with former residents, it is designed to give food a more meaningful place in our lives. Whether this is utopian or dystopian, that is up to you.

What drives you to design?

The graduation thesis is the perfect opportunity to give room to your fascination. For me the combination between food and stories has always interested me; the process of following a recipe, the entanglement of the senses, the movement, the history and future of produce. We all learn to tell stories through a medium, but it took a long time till I found mine. During my bachelors program, I didn’t feel the freedom or opportunity, I even took a break from architecture all together. It was only until this master track, that I found out how powerful a narrative could be and how architecture gave me the tools to tell it. Explore lab has been the only studio able to guide me through my own thought process without damaging or diminishing my interest in the subject.

How would you relate your project to the theme 'Fictions'?

My research and design are based on the methods of speculative design and phenomenology. Speculative design is grounded on ‘wicked problems’, attempting to solve these problems needs a rigorous and totally mind changing approach. This type of design thrives on imagination and aims to open up new perspectives. During my research the aim was not to focus on the current and future needs of the consumer, but rather to imagine a possible future that reflects on the complexity of a current problem, in this case wicked problems concerning food. It gives you the chance to play with morality, and describe outrageous things which conclude that maybe cannibalism isn't that strange at all considering it is only dead meat. Thinking through speculative scenarios will make reality more flexible which can help address the problems of today by projecting them in their possible future. Hopefully this will help spot factors that may lead to undesirable futures and address them early on while their impact now is still (in some ways) limited.