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ERINN SAVAGE – Performance
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An Architecture of Active Nihilism

The thesis scheme seeks to architecturally explore contemporary societal nihilism, beginning with a deep research period drawing from a breadth of philosophers, artists, and architects. The prime endeavour of the work is to act as a proposition upon societal relationships with death and being, and present a richly programmed scheme to conveying the arguments. This visualisation presents a gallery scene in which Bruegel’s ‘Dulle Griet’ steals from the gates of hell upon a vista of the decaying refineries of petroleum conglomerates past and present.

Site: Petroleum Zuid

Sitting 2.5km south of Antwerp’s old town, on the East bank of the Scheldt, Petroleum Zuid exists as terrain-vague, an overgrown relic of industry past. A thriving petrochemical in the early 1900’s, it is the oldest petroleum port in Belgium, and both the largest in Europe and second-largest in the world at its zenith. Long declined, with just a handful of petroleum companies remaining, the area straddles a unique landscape which affords key aspects and axes to the opposite bank of the Scheldt, and connection to central Antwerp.

Contemporary Passive Nihilism

Just 100 companies produce 71% off all greenhouse gas emissions, and pertinently lobby to ensure the undermining of real climate progress. Similarly, within the realms of technology, we are within the grips of private interest, our virtual presence bought, sold, exploited and entrenched through a socio-psycho cultural dependence, even in death. Technology’s ability for good is kept an arm’s length away, behind an ever-receding horizon of exponential advancement and capital. What’s the point?

Toward Active Nihilism

Expanding Nietzsche’s notions of passive and active nihilism, the argument is that we are societally entrenched within a state of ontological dysphoria. We innately struggle with the abstract finality of death: inevitably and infinitely us, and all, will eventually cease to exist. Society’s artifices of self-soothing, of death denialism, lead us to deeper entrenched passive nihilism, thus unable to globally contemplate the urgency of impending climate extinction. Thus, the programme seeks to act as memento mori, while exploring the ambivalence of meaning in a meaningless landscape of active nihilism, and the cathartic liberation of awakened sensuousness within it.

Contamination and Remediation

Historical leaking of underground pipes on-site resulted in severe contamination of the site’s soil and groundwater. An in-depth technology study was undertaken to examine the nature of the pollution and ascertain the best in-situ remediation strategies. Both bio and electrokinetic remediation are employed, however holistic phytoremediation through trees acts as the primary strategy. Through this method, remediation is effective, but slow, presenting a poetic allegory of the time required to remedy versus the nihilistic notion of time running out. Urgent, though perhaps futile while still in the grip of passive nihilism.

First Floor Plan

The scheme attempts to work within the natural geometry of the site, by carving a series of distinct axes, which themselves intersect with both existing fields and a large data repository. The data repository programme acts as a monumental memento mori, storing the online presences, or ‘virtual corpses,’ of the deceased, and preventing their potential exhumation; its form unapologetically divides the site, enclosing the petrochemical plants in counterpoint to the vast remediation field.

Orthographic Projection

Pulling key elements apart within the scheme, this projection assists in reading the individual programmatic components, their formal presence, and relationship with the scheme whole. The museum and bathing programme exist nested within the data centre and axes of the wider site, weaving and subsuming before a final sensuous elation in the remediation field. The crematorium acts as subtle and sensitive benign memento mori, a more considered reminder of death, in counterpoint to the data repository’s employment of raw scale.

Plan and Section (Excerpt)

Scale is a key tool employed throughout to express the monumentality of death spatially. This section shows a key connection within the bathing programme, which draws one along the sheer height of the data repository toward the more human and tactile scale of the bathing wings.

Thermal Baths via Data Repository

The perpendicular route to the connection shown within the previous section, it acts a clear and striking expression of active nihilism and the truth of death. One strides on in its face, finding freedom in its nothingness, toward elation and liberation.

Thermal Bathing

Active nihilism is relished in the absurd embrace of sensuous experience. An introverted awakening within extroverted and carnal public programme. The waste heat from both the data-repository and crematorium warm the pools and saunas; one literally bathes in death. Now awoken in active nihilism and liberated by its acceptance of inevitable extinction, we are charged with the ability to fight our existential woes, a glass of champagne in-hand.