ARCHITECTURE DRAWN FROM THE GUT Socio-ecological design strategies to reposition toilets in architecture

Author: Manon Persoone


This research project is based in the field of architecture and ventures from the observation that socio-ecological aspects of waste are not fundamentally problematized or even considered in this practice and discipline. It specifically interrogates the fast and total removal of waste from our buildings, as this puts a heavy burden on our environment and infrastructures. With a specific lens on human (bodily) waste, the understudied architectural element of the toilet is here identified as a locus ideal to explore waste-inspired design strategies. Hereby, ‘Architecture drawn from the Gut’ intends to revaluate not only waste as a valuable resource, but also the element of the toilet as a tactile contact point between architecture and soil that holds us accountable for what we leave behind.

As urgent problem to be addressed, this doctoral research interrogates the current unsustainable centralized sanitation systems, causing a human unconsciousness and lack of responsibility towards our waste and waste treatment. Instead, this design-driven project looks for ecologically inspired toilets―and decentralized sanitation systems―not departing from an externalization of waste but by applying principles of ‘care’ for waste as a valuable resource.

In light of moving towards effective ecological living patterns, the following research questions are investigated: What would it mean if such waste would not be externalized as it is now, but instead remained a local matter to be addressed within the house, neighbourhood or landscape? What novel spatial practices and typologies would such ‘caring’ for waste bring to our buildings―leading to architectural practices that inherently incorporate and literally make room for recovering, cultivating, or even gardening living matter? And what new collectives could be forged―collectives that include species as microbiota, but even so collectives that explore new forms of neighbourhood collaboration?

As this project is positioned on the intersection of sustainable design and change in mindset, it will develop and test concrete architectural toilet-prototypes situated in an urban and semi-public ‘living lab’. More concretely, by following a design-driven approach, low-tech/off-grid toilets are investigated directly on a sensible level, aiming at an ecological uptake of ideas.

In preparation to the conference, I am creating ‘critical cartographies’ of the outdated and unsustainable urban wastewater cycle. These sectional drawings reflect a mapping of the contact points between architecture and soil, between the hidden underground and the visible urban environment. During the conference, I plan to give a performative reading of the urgent crisis represented in the cartographies by means of analogue drawings and digitalized videos.

Keywords: Architecture, waste, toilet, ecology, care