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A Trigger Room for Grandma Death

Part 2 Project 2010
Zoe Webber
Oxford Brookes University Oxford UK
The project thesis, a trigger room for Grandma Death, hypothesises an architectural strategy for triggering cognitive stimulation in patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. The central character Grandma Death, through whom we explore the experience of the disease, is derived from the film Donnie Darko.

Born and raised on the plains near Reno, Nevada, Grandma Death lived in her ancestral home until the age of 93, by which point the disease had severely affected her brain. Upon discovering of the severity of her condition, her ex-husband escorts her to a site near Borough Market, London, where an experimental Alzheimer’s Research Lab is sited. Here the doctor in charge of the study is developing ‘trigger’ environments for his patients, based upon an intact memory, with the aim of stimulating the patient’s brain and re-establishing connections to a coherent reality.

Inside a shed Grandma Death’s remaining memory of the washroom in her Reno high school, is recreated. Outside the trigger room a dank London November day prevails, but inside conditions appropriate to a winter’s day in Nevada have been created. Parabolic mirrors direct intensified light though the roof windows, the air is heated, dehumidified and passed through a room containing desert plants, while the sound of metal lockers and chairs squeaking on floors seep through the walls.

As Grandma Death approaches and enters the trigger room, the doctor captures brain scans, which illustrate her experience of the space. In her mind the shed dissolves and a Nevada landscape appears. The trigger room stimulates remaining memories of paternal abandonment, incarceration in a psychiatric hospital and the loss of her only child. These evolve into a fractured landscape and eventually a series of grain tower structures in the Nevada desert. In this manner the patient temporarily establishes a coherent connection to her history and self, manifest as architectural form.

The project thesis aims to challenge the social stigma that surrounds Alzheimer’s disease and explore an engaging methodology for the connections between architecture and our increasingly ageing population.






Zoe Webber


This project is a form of revelation. The brief for the work is a vehicle through which to explore salient contemporary architectural themes: the importance of a moment in time, the recognition of the ordinary, the presence of a spatial and emotive absence, and the exploration of psychology and neurological techniques. This embraces the continual multi-disciplinary aspect of architectural design and the pursuit of other worlds as an antidote to reality. The work explores architectural space as both at hand and in a wistful manner.

This work revolves around a high quality of representation and a detailed level of substance. The programme is not a partial comprehension of the world of the sufferer with architectural aberrations attached but a complex interweaving of detailed research and experimentation on the fragility of the world of the sufferer that, with only a moment’s notice, can be triggered to here or there.

Each image is a beautiful equilibrium of delicate line weight, seductive composition, and varied orthographic illustration. This is tied to a visual interpretation of the substantive literature consulted on the subject of Alzheimer’s. The research at first took a sympathetic stance but over time a more ambitious and positive position emerged. The programme challenges the subject matter in a manner that projects for the conceivable future.

The edge condition, relationship of context, and proxemics are the architectural conventions addressed. You can visit this work of architectural endeavour repeatedly. The project is composed of extensive layering and numerous special moments.

The final portfolio is testament of an intellect with an enormous appetite for innovation, a passion to marry architecture with social concern and an extraordinary seductive graphic touch. The project projects the tenacity of this student to pursue, review, reflect, and commit.

Tutor(s)
Mr Matt Gaskin
Miss Abdolahi Abdolwahbi
2010
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