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ADS3: Refuse Trespassing Our Bodies – The Right to Breathe

Michelle Sin

Michelle is an Architectural Designer based in London. Her work at the Royal College of Art revolves around translating narratives into spatial qualities; delicacy and subtlety often characterise her work. 

She completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Bath in 2018 before which she had worked for Colman Architects and Rick Mather Architects in London; being involved in various cultural and civic projects, including Cheltenham Ladies' College Masterplan, Centre Point refurbishment and a range of competition proposals. Upon graduation, she took the opportunity to work with Aedas Hong Kong, overseeing a boutique apartment block from conceptual design to early construction stages. 

She furthered her attentiveness to environmental justice with ADS3 at the RCA this year, with her thesis research project “Ruins of an Exhausted Landscape” exploring alternative productivities to the contemporary acceleration, where forms of collective care and night share are prioritised. Her project last year with ADS9 experimented with spatial conditions materialised through the aura of darkness and the choreography of a new construction material she experimented in relation to temporal and behavioural patterns. This proposal of an unfamiliar ground for learning was shortlisted for the RIBA West Awards. 

Speculating on the role of spatial design in mobilising social-political and knowledge agencies, her proposal for Reimagining Museums for Climate Action in summer 2020 was shortlisted; whilst another one for an international architecture competition addressing crisis of human trafficking received honourable mentions.

She wishes to continue her multidisciplinary practice into celebrating the ordinary every day of every extraordinary kind. She is keen to participate in design and curatorial projects that speak of environmental urgency in the UK, especially opportunities to carry on working with emerging building materials and methodologies, that would impact the industry’s environmental footprint, and racial representation.

The endogenous melatonin rhythm in humans and non-humans has been displaced by a new diurnality dictated by the same red-blue light that quickened the pulse of the planet. 

An accelerated growth has brought about irreversible material and labour extraction, setting in motion a slow violence upon bodies, and ecosystems subjugated to perpetual exposure along the production chain. They travel through a precarious landscape of melatonin disorder normalised by financial rhythms; their genome metabolised by flickering pixels and short wavelengths of increasing scales. 

Melatonin is the mediator between lifes’ inner and outer environment oscillations; yet in an overexposed world, one internalises unresolved hormonal fluctuations that for humans, leads to fatigue, higher chances of cardiovascular disease, cancer and obesity.  The effect of a disrupted Melatonin onset cascades down the body, through the bloodstream, disassociating the bodily temporal activities with geographical time, and space.  

Traversing the scales from our metabolic relationship with the dark, to the exhausted luminous landscape of Westland, Netherlands, the project operates on a shifting vision of agricultural and labour practice organised around rules of nocturnal social and ecological polyphonics. With Melatonin rhythm as both a corporeal operation and an abstracting agent, the proposal finds agency in carving spaces within which dark growth and rest can take place.  It dissolves the accelerationist practice through a series of interventions into existing greenhouse typologies, as well as temporal structures spread across the town, further expanding the notion of collective care, and night share into the quotidian. 

Experimenting outside the structured world of contemporary exposure, and beyond the limits of constructed reality, the design spatialises the highly present darkness as a space of growth. In the gradient between darkness and half-light, what could be an alternative approach to productivity through new waking up routines?

9600 hectares of luminous greenhouses line the west coast of Netherlands along the North Sea. This light represents the aspirations of hyper-productive horticulture concentrated in the region of  Westland.  It is the horticulture powerhouse of the transnational market, accounting for more than half of Netherland’s productivity. The proposal is located in ‘s-Gravenzande, the largest and oldest of the eleven towns enclosed by greenhouses in the region. It is a Cartesian landscape animated by round the clock container ships and conveyor belts.

The project engages with this geography, and proposes a routine of growth and rest in dark for the workers, dwellers, plants and insects as resistance to the light regime over labour and material extraction. It is a sequential darkening of greenhouse spaces, which gradually expands into the town and embraces everyday resident spaces in the form of temporal structures shared and co-inhabited by humans and non-humans. These structures perform according to cycles of dark growth and the homeostasis action of Melatonin of the different actors. Together they draw a new productive landscape that prioritises night share and collective care. 

— The melatonin rhythm of Insects, micro-orgasmic and residents around the facilities are disorientated in dissolving borders; glowing skies and street glare trespass into their habitats.
— The proposed alterations are ruptures from this pervasive luminescence, constructing a spatial experience that encourages an alternative routine of growth and rest.
— Vignettes of labour bodies along the 24/7 supply chain are put through varying thresholds of melatonin displacement, by extending the workday, and dismissing the night. They often internalise their fatigue and put up with unresolved hormonal fluctuations.
— The effect of disrupted endogenous melatonin production in the pineal gland cascades down the bloodstream, inhibiting temporal activities and entrainment of the body; one becomes more susceptible to higher chances of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and obesity.
— The decommissioning will also put a halt on the perpetual skyglow; after 6 seasons, fireflies and toads start to reappear where human-made ponds become miniature habitats for aquatic plants and animals.
— The proposed shortening in labour hours releases time for families to venture outside to search for spectacle and entertainment in the gradients between light and shadow.

First part of the proposal dissolves accelerationist growth by sequentially decommissioning existing greenhouses. The spatial interventions initiate a growth cycle in the dark within these spaces.   Parts of the glass ceiling of the rigid greenhouse typology are broken open for the insertion of metal discs that both filter rainwater, and collect organic matter from aerial animals to cultivate the soil beneath, where crops and herbs will be able to grow seasonally.

The discs also converge the slightest moonlight from above; together with sounds of dripping water and the stepping of birds against these plates, they suggest clues for navigation inside the new growing ground. The porous roof is reconfigured into different habitable spaces that provide momentarily respite for migratory birds such as red phalarope, local sparrows, and bats.

— The new productive potential of these fields is dependent on the slow accumulation of microbes within the soil dispersed by nocturnal life - when beetles migrate, or when foliage wither. Monthly around the full moon, when seeds are most plump and crops most ripe to harvest, the fields are open for 5 days as a celebratory event for the public to participate in the sowing or harvesting of food.
— Spontaneous vegetation and soil buildup soon overtake the rectilinear planters. The collective stewardship of the new growing grounds will be through progressive discovery and continuous interpretation of its shifting trails. As the city slips into darkness, the centre of the fields welcomes an assembly of local nocturnal animals to re-emerge, who orchestrate the town’s new rhythm of agriculture production.
— The notion of night-share expands into the quotidian of the town in the form of temporary canopy structures, providing for new habits that are made possible when aspirations for constant productivity down scales. Elements from the decommissioning process are reused to support this canopy. During harvest season, it is a place of exchange between growers and local residents, fostering a slow growth cycle with alternative food network.
— Other times, the canopy embraces moments of people coming together to rest, to share meals, barter, or exchange services. Starting from the periphery of the greenhouses, the tensile canopy stretches and occupies idle spaces that would become a potent place of gathering and resting. Through its construction, expansion, and experience, new social relationships emerge between those who were once divided by work-day schedules.
— Glimmering vertical structures sit on the westernly coast of the town, materialising an open theatre with sunset and sunrise. It is a space for large groups of people to gather, recline, in hours between after work, and just before dust. Its theatricality resembles the beginning stages of dozing - short, and twitching.
— To further perpetuate this shift in habit, is to re-associated the town with its geographical time and space. Two types of constant structures - one by the coast, and another spread across the town from East to West - anchor the nomadic street canopy, and double as pacemakers to the activities that happen in between its gradients.
— The twelve inland scaffoldings reflect and refract the illumination of the area, archiving the progressive darkening of the greenhouse landscape. This liminal space is used to negotiate the appropriate darkness of their neighbourhood with the proposed night access plan. The chambers root in between artificial landscapes where life is expected to emerge, inviting their presence at the roundtable.
— In its expansion, productivity shifts away from its accelerationist counterpart. Public health expenditure decreases as workers exercise their rights to the night; agriculture practice no longer drains body nor marginalises ecosystem in its vicinity, profiting on ripple effects of planetary care; the highly-controlled container typology dissolves to become temporary frameworks for collective participation, permeable to decentralised forms of food distribution, cooperatives, and new social relationships.
— The proposal expands from a singular greenhouse, to a cluster, to then the whole neighborhood and eventually expanding to adjacent towns. Knowledge of this process is shared by participants through mutual engagements. The structures can be adapted by the residents, and are reused to expand or decrease as the population fluctuates across locations and time.

The houses without view, landscape without rest, and growth without darkness now see agencies to their own metabolic rhythm through spatial organisation. As the town slips into darkness, new systems of producing and reproducing emerge out of a new metabolic order with melatonin; melatonin as corporeal operation: relating to cycles of the moon, the fall of night; and as abstraction medium: when familiar ways of knowing are not met in the dark, new apprehension could result.