Alzheimer's Disease is a form of dementia, one of a range of conditions that progressively degrades the synaptic connections within our brains. It brings about a loss of those faculties that allow us to orientate ourselves and to remember.
Our report is a reflection on the lessons learnt through designing and revisiting buildings for people with dementia. It has two complementary components: a website that collates a mosaic of conversations, drawings, stories and experiments around the subject of dementia; and an immersive installation at the Biennale Architettura 2016 that uses drawing as a medium to explore the occupation of a building we designed for people with dementia.
www.losingmyself.ie documents the lessons we learn as we speak to a broad range of people about dementia. This website presents a series of interdisciplinary conversations with experts across a range of fields – neuroscientists, psychologists, health workers, philosophers and anthropologists – as well as people with dementia and their families. It allows us to collate stories of personal interactions with dementia, and is of interest to architects, scientists and those dealing with dementia day to day. The site is also a record of the process of developing our central Venice installation: drawing and making in collaboration with others. The design of the website itself incorporates creative advice from people with dementia.
The installation at the Arsenale imagines the Alzheimer’s Respite Centre in Dublin, Ireland as experienced by its occupants: people with dementia and their carers. Dementia erodes the ability to remember where you have come from and to plan where you would like to go. It becomes progressively harder to situate yourself and to navigate your way in the world: two capacities central to the experience of architecture.
The plan of any building is an architectural representation of the human need to be situated within an environment that provides orientation. Using time-based projection, we redraw the experience of this plan as collectively witnessed by sixteen people using the building over the course of one day. The coherent, fixed plan an architect depends upon can never be fully brought into being by the building's occupants: they cannot use memory and projection to see beyond their immediate situation and can no longer synthesise their experiences to create a stable model of their environment. This produces a fragmentary world; and, because there is still recourse to deep memory, a world that is filled with a phantasmagoric and unbidden procession of other spaces and times. The overlapping, perhaps conflicting, experiences of the inhabitants question the notion of the building as a singular conception, and by extension, those architectural representations that insist upon buildings as finite and whole objects.