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THE ARCHITECTURE OF KETOSIS
The Royal College of Art

The thesis project of a two year master's programme

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Project overview

Is it possible to restrain our current culture of excess and shift our attitudes about the indispensable nature of our resources?

“The Architecture of Ketosis” challenges the conventions around the social practice of dining, questioning whether the increasingly universal perception of food as an abundant commodity can be transformed so that we can instead place more value in its role as a resource that is vital both fundamentally for our existence and as a tool for uniting communities.

In the early 1990’s, Yoshinori Ohsumi’s Nobel Prize wining discovery of autophagy – a cellular self-degrading and recycling process – shed light on the body’s innate mechanism for survival. This process (which literally translates to self-eating), is regularly employed by the body but can be maximised exponentially when undertaking a period of restricted food consumption.

To counteract a growing consumption crisis, this project seeks to reintroduce fasting as a societal norm, advocating for a culture that embraces restraint in everyday life. This intervention takes the form of a meticulously orchestrated "ceremony of abstinence," and explores how architecture can inspire society to perform everyday acts based on the qualities of restraint.

Participants in the ceremony adhere to a specific code of conduct and will be encouraged to consider the resources they consume to redirect energy back into stimulating cognitive and healing functions. Specifically, the project questions whether biological processes like ketosis and autophagy, triggered by fasting, can become the manifestation of the design.

Set in Houston, Texas – labelled the “dining out capital” of the United States, the project challenges consumerist rituals in a city built on abundant natural resources. By spatializing practices of restriction and precision, the project proposes an alternative platform for collective self-discipline and reevaluation of life's necessities, fostering a new energy for urban vitality.

Drawing from consumerist rituals across cultures, the fasting rites unfold in four stages, facilitating bodily acclimatization. To inform design decisions, a “chronotype” material experimentation focuses on transforming and adapting food by-products, normally deemed “inedible”. The “chronotype” inspires a new language for fasting rituals and challenges participants to consider the impact of their attitude towards the ease of disposal and reflect on resource usage and regeneration.

Ultimately, "The Architecture of Ketosis" aims to cultivate a society that values resources and collective interactions with greater consideration and mindfulness.

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Research film

A research film documenting the language of restricted food consumption (fasting) and precise consumer rituals. The performance of these ceremonious fasting rites has been informed by research into specific consumerist rituals in Asia, Europe and South America as well as the three premises, dieta (lifestyle), the refectory and Tamari-no-ma, the waiting room.

 

Performative Acts

The design of the tea ritual ensures guests achieve a sense of equality and virtue with both the host and guests are required to perform a series of specific movements and gestures (TEMAE) relating  exclusively to their role in the ceremony to create a profound bond between the participants.

The lifestyle of the monks of Mount Athos demonstrates an approach that considers food to be viewed as a communal rite. Through the strict governance of the fasting rule of the Eastern Orthodox church their attitude towards the act of conscious and controlled eating is shifted, as shown through the adaptation of local resources and communal workmanship.

Furthermore, the indigenous tribe known as the Ache, who reside within the wild forest of Paraguay, practice the simple hunter-gatherer mode of living and demonstrate the value of communal actions. They maintain a mantra of co-operative food acquisition as demonstrated by their focus on communal band wide distribution and as such highlight the importance of equality in consumerist rituals.

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Material Experiments

To inform the design decisions, a “chronotype” material experimentation focused on the process of transformation and adaption with experiments formed using by-products of food such as skins and shells, normally deemed “inedible”. By repurposing frequently wasted resources, the “chronotype” has not only inspired the new language of the fasting ritual but furthermore challenges participants to consider the impact of their attitude towards the ease of disposal and the concept of regeneration.

The chronotype experiments each present their own set of properties and specific environmental qualities which has been documented both digitally and physically. These documents such as the recipe cards, transformation drawings, 3D scans and digital bump maps/textures have thus informed both the form of the proposal as well as the spatial qualities and properties, such as dimensions, opacity, structural purpose and physical ambience to respond and adapt to the biological effects of the fasting process. 

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The proposal

This social ritual will be performed in four stages to allow for a successful bodily acclimatisation.

Reception

  1. Upon arrival all participating individuals will be received in the waiting chamber which, similar to the tea ceremony, is intended to be both simple and tranquil to ensure that guests will commence the ceremony in the right frame of mind.

  2. They will firstly be met individually by the host inside the first waiting chamber. This small reception room is embedded into the ground to allow for the face-to-face act of receiving the guests and discussing personal ambitions for the duration of the retreat.

  3. The floor is soft and comforting, like the soft fibrous nature of the banana peel in its early chronotype stages. The outer shell of the chamber is inspired by the flexible nature of the coffee grounds, demonstrating that the space is accommodating for all needs and requirements.

  4. Following the personal host consultation, guests will then proceed upstairs into a larger reception room where they will meet the rest of the participants. With each guest seated within a similarly soft and round floor space that provides both comfort and intimacy, the guests can collectively take the time to get to know one another before the ceremonious acts commence.  

De-robing Chamber

  1. Members will then be led in single file through to the disrobing room where they will remove all non-essential items and change into the simple ceremonious attire.

  2. Upon entering the discarding chamber, guests will gather around the central structure and will be offered the opportunity to donate any food-related items that they have not managed to use before the start of the ceremony.

  3. The design of the chamber reflects the  transparent yet sharp quality of the fennel. The act of donation represents a willingness to discard both social hierarchies and the repetitive pattern of regimented lifestyles in an environment that is both shared and open. This fragile moment is a poignant phase since it not only represents a personal rejection of the conventional and “comforting” social practices but also creates an intimate and liberating experience that ensures the guests can truly bond together

  4. As with the start and end of each chamber, the participants will also undergo a series of cleansing and purification rituals as seen in the Tea Ceremony. Both the individual cleansing station and collective bathing platform bolsters the sense of renewal and shared determination in an environment that is transformative like the coffee grounds, relaxing and soft like the banana peel and firm and secure like the chestnut shells.

Induction Suite

  1. In the second phase, participants will spend 24 hours within the induction suite in preparation for the core fasting rites.

  2. During this period participants may partake in any peaceful leisure activities . The space provides a chance to relax and unwind from the hectic nature of the everyday, a counter to the environment found within the city.

  3.  Having adjusted their diets to a much lighter selection of natural foods in the days prior to entering the fasting facility it is expected that some participants may feel lethargic and tired as their glycogen levels deplete. Therefore, the space is designed to, comfort and soothe guests who might feel intimidated and on edge by the prospect of unknown and undefined physical reactions.

  4. Voids filled with a soft cushioning floor absorb and ease tensions, whilst small enclosed spaces provide a delicate and intimate atmosphere for guests requiring more a collected tranquil moment to themselves, a parallel to the protective encasing of the chestnut shell.

  5.  The openness of the suite eradicates social boundaries and allows the guests to collectively encourage and quell any individual fears or anxieties around the prospect of stepping out of routine comfort zones. The purpose of the architecture is not to distract from the hunger or fear of the ritual, but instead provide a place to listen to it. Embrace it. Respond to it and fine tune it.

  6. Around noon preparations will begin for a final communal light meal. Participants will collectively share the task of preparing the meal in the communal kitchen using any unwanted food items previously donated. With the essence of the orange peel channelling strength, encouragement and unity, the collective nature of this task solidifies the and ignites a common identity and purpose, a similar feature of the Ache Tribe.

  7.  A toast of collective thanks to the group will be made before dining. Members are encouraged to consume their food slowly and quietly, reflecting on the importance and significance of this final intake of food, and of the shared experience, taking a moment to pause before they enter the most transformative and profound phase of the ceremony.

Fasting Chamber

  1. Within the fasting chamber, participants are advised to embrace this period of time, ensuring they relax and allow their bodies to successfully adjust to the fluctuating energy levels, reflecting upon their purpose and motivations for this experience

  2. During the first stage of the ceremony activities should be extremely minimal and sedentary. Since glycogen levels will rapidly plummet during the initial 24 hour period, participants may find their hunger levels extremely discomforting and distracting. During this challenging period, members are encouraged to engage in communal light activities together, such as public reading and meditating to encourage and support their fellow participants.

  3. The fasting chamber is designed in a similar character to that of the induction suite. The curvaceous and wrapping nature of the ketogenic architecture, inspired by the qualities of the chronotypes, not only reacts to the physical biological responses of the participants, but also promotes a unified and impelling energy that morphs and unifies the guests together, providing for an enriched and more meaningful experience.

  4. Following the testing experience of the initial 24 hour period, participants will soon notice a decrease in hunger, known as Gluconeogenesis. At this point participants may increase their activity levels or engage with more challenging tasks. Work stations are provided to encourage members to take advantage of their clear and rejuvenated mindset, whilst open spaces around the building provide areas for communal exercise or other group led activities.

  5. As energy levels increase, the collective urgency for transformation and rejuvenation will also be amplified.

  6. At the 72 hour mark members should feel fully re-energized and refreshed, reaching the desired state of ketosis. At this final stage the cycle of autophagy will be underway. Participants should feel a sense of achievement, exhilaration and determination which they should readjust and drive the boundaries of their everyday lives following this fasting retreat.

​Debrief

  1. In the final stage of the ceremony members shall once again collectively repeat the process of preparing their first light meal within the debriefing suite. 

  2. A communal buzz and enthusiasm will enrich the atmosphere as each member thrives on their new-found ketogenic energy.

  3. Following this enriching and challenging transformative experience, the first meal will embody a much more profound meaning for each of the members, once again inspired by the strength of the orange peel. The collective support network and shared experience undertaking during this retreat will strongly bond the participants together for life.

  4. At the end of the abstinence ceremony members will gather round and take it in turns to each share a word of thanks or a positive output of their experience to the rest of the group. Following this experience, it is expected that each member will thus radically transform their own personal lives, taking the time to reflect on the fundamentals of life, living with a fervent drive created by the ketogenic energy.

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