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A Future Uncertain: R&Sie(n)

The latest controversial project by French architectural practice R&Sie(n) moves from nature and science to explore the past and the future via transformations and mutations

Founded in 1989 by François Roche and Stéphanie Lavaux, the French architectural practice R&Sie(n) (pronounced as “heresy” in French) has been pushing the boundaries of architecture, experimenting with modern forms and shapes. Moving from extreme aspects of nature and human psychology, R&Sie(n) developed organic, biological and critical work, attempting a mutation of geographic landscapes through technological experiments. The Isobiot®ope - a fragment from the practice’s latest project entitled “thebuildingwhichneverdies” commissioned by the Zumtobel Group and created by Roche, Lavaux and Kiuchi Toshikatsu - was exhibited in the 2010 International Pavilion of the Venice Biennale of Architecture.

The Isobiot®ope installation featured a nocturnal research laboratory of light employed to analyse “the dark adaptation” to reduce urban light pollution. Soon after the Biennale opened, part of the installation was partially removed for safety hazards, since the Isobiot®ope also included a uranium stone controlled by a Geiger counter used to indicate the degree of ozone degradation at the origin of some human pathologies.

Dazed Digital: What does the radioactive element in the installation represent?
François Roche:
Through our work we tried to explore the transformation of the Isobiotrope and the mutations of the environment while detecting the degradation coming from the post-industrial economies. The installation contained a natural uranium stone at the level of 0.88 micro sievert/hour with a Geiger counter. This is not uranium coming from treatments but from a natural mine, so it just produced Alpha rays that do not cross more than 15 cm and are filtered by human skin. The stone’s luminescence directly came from the intensity of the UV crossing the stratosphere. Its glowing effect increased if the ozone layer disappears, so the radioactive element is conceived as a pollution marker, indicating how the effects of post-industrial economies are destroying the ozone layer in the stratosphere.

DD: In which way does this project articulate the dangerousness of nature and the uncertainties of our future?
François Roche:
While the installation reports to us about the evolution of the degradation of the planet focusing on science exploring and using nature in a negative way, developing also new diseases and causing uncertainty in our future, it is also connected to the barbarity of the past. Uranium is directly linked to the brutality of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, tragic events that prove science used nature to produce barbarity. This is why the installation is an articulation of the past and the future.

DD: What does architecture represent to you?
François Roche:
I think architecture is not about designing buildings and conceiving them like “still totems”, but it’s something that should be used to articulate knowledge and knowledge is complex. Architecture shouldn’t produce buildings, but scenarios that can implicate or reveal the condition of specific living situations. Capitalism produced paranoia and to de-alienate ourselves from paranoia we must create projects that can tell us the truth through speculations or hypothesis and reveal the contradictions in our society. With this project we tried to infiltrate paranoia through absurdity: the structure becomes indeed more beautiful when it glows, but this happens if and when ozone weakness increases the UV intensity on the Earth surface, which is something totally contradictory and absurd.

DD: Can you tell us more about the connection between this installation and director Andrei Tarkovsky?
François Roche:
In Tarkovsky’s 1979 film Stalker, a meteorite falls to Earth, decimating a town and creating a mysterious area known as The Zone. According to the stories, in this area there is a chamber called The Room that grants one’s deepest wish. The installation is connected with the story of the Wish Room in this film. Reaching the Wish Room is conceived as a sort of ceremony that helps a group of people to meet themselves. When they arrive in front of the Wish Room they decide to come back, they don’t want to know what’s behind it, they just want to try and understand how they could know. The installation is connected with Tarkovsky because it refers to this “ceremony of knowledge” where people meet through a risky experiment in a hazardous environment.

DD: What has been the feedback about the project in Venice?
François Roche:
Sometimes people don’t want to spend time reading, so you see them walking around the installation, consuming what they see very quickly. But, whenever I was around the installation talking to somebody, I was immediately surrounded by a group of 50 people intently listening to what I had to say and that’s been very interesting, because it proved visitors were genuinely interested.