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Unité de Sanitation

Part 2 Project 2009
Al Scott
University of Westminster | UK
As a response to wasteful processes, this project reconsiders existing preconceptions surrounding sewage, and proposes a new approach to urban domesticity: a community focused around faeces and food – a system of sustainable town living through a return to the sensitive, closed ecological cycles of nature. These cycles in turn drive a new form of social interaction through the occupational engagement with the system.
Early research and conceptual development centred on the process of composting faeces as a means of countering our hugely wasteful attitude to human excrement. The Unité de Sanitation intends to re-engage urban dwellers with a long–forgotten relationship with natural cycles, the aim being that through dealing with our waste on-site we may reject the energy intensive and wasteful process of sewage and instead utilise our waste through composting, harvesting energy in the process and culminating in the production of fruit and vegetables.

The proposal responds to the concept of certain cycles and is designed in strict accordance with their rules. After a rigorous study into the anaerobic composting process (including biogas production), grey water filtering, and fruit and vegetable production, it has been possible to balance the closed circuits of food, shit and energy resulting in a scheme that should be as accurate in delivering function as it is ideological principals. The Unité de Sanitation provides the potential for a cradle to cradle lifestyle within the city: eat- shit – compost – grow – eat (and so on).

The proposal is one that acts like a parasite, anchoring itself within a low-density, deprived housing estate in West London. The proposed scheme reassess long accepted wrongs through on-site waste recycling, energy production, reduced costs of living, reduced damage to environment, reduced dependency on the earth’s resources and conglomerates. The Unité de Sanitation aims to produce a new urban typology with inhabitants afforded increased individuality, increased space (as a result of reduced costs), a reconnection with natures cycles, an ecologically diverse environment, improved social connectivity, organic food on site, reduced travel requirements, overall: a healthy, cheaper, sensitive and inclusive lifestyle within an urban context.

Al Scott

Human waste: that most delicate and unmentionable of subjects, and the source of so much goodness which simply goes untapped. In Al's proposal, however, we find a new housing estate and collective farming zone in the shadow of the Westway flyover which prides itself on reusing its inhabitants’ daily ablutions. The design happily mixes together allusions to Russian Constructivist timber structures, Heath Robinson-style inventiveness, and the halcyon ideals of 'The Good Life'.

Al was an absolute joy to teach: he is bright, funny, keen and with bags of energy. Once he got his teeth into his topic, he pursued his research with admirable clarity and determination. The science of decomposition and the rate of production of faeces was all resolved with great precision, as were the principles of the construction of his scheme.

Along with the thoroughness of the research and design, what gave us most delight was the beautiful series of laser-cut and 3D-printed models that Al made to investigate his design. More than any other student we have seen to date, he adopted new digital fabrication technology not as a fashion tool or a means of escaping tough design decisions, but as a method to develop, refine and express ideas.

Al's project is above all upbeat. We had asked students this year to come up with radically different approach to ecological sustainability, away from the hair-shirt guilt tripping of those dreary designers who normally colonise the field. This scheme more than met the requirements of a project which could talk about science if needed, but more than that provides a lively and attractive place for young Londoners to live in. Only about 1-in-4 of London's population is now over 45 years old, so it is a young persons' city, and what they demand are better spaces in which to enjoy urban life and yet feel that the planet's resources are being better looked after. It's the era of 'iPlop': what could be a more fitting slogan for a housing scheme where you are not just what you eat, but also what you expel?


Prof Murray Fraser
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