Suburban Ark

Rotterdam Architecture Biennale 2005: the Flood


Rotterdam Architecture Biennale 2005

The Suburban Ark is a pontoon with enough space for its own water recycling system and energy production, a chicken coop, a goat, a fish hole and an apple tree. During the Biennale, the Suburban Ark is serving as an operational base for expeditions into Rotterdam’s sewer system, for design workshops about innovative water technologies, and for lecture evenings about unpredictability, complexity and the flood.

It is an installation with an Ark, 2 water cookers, 2 electric toothbrushes, 2 toasters, ... two of everything you can‘t do without. And a composting toilet, a wood-stove, old paper briket-press, 16 apple-trees, a vegetable garden and a windmill. Shown on the International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam 2005.

made possible with a grant from Dutch Art Foundation, sponsored by Philips.

De Suburban Ark verzet zich tegen de op comfort gerichte voorzieningen die woningbouw op het water gelijkstelt aan woningbouw op het land en onderzoekt nieuwe verkavelingstypologieën voor woningen op het water.

De installatie richt zich tegen de dwangmatige verkavelingsgevolgen die door de aanleg van infrastructuur worden opgelegd. Als oplossingsrichting is een reeks meubelen ontwikkeld die zelfvoorzienend zijn en zelf los van bestaande energiebronnen, kabels en leidingen kunnen werken. Een composteringstoilet, een koelkast die werkt op een ijsblok, een aanrecht waar de waterafvoer een champignonkwekerij is, een oventje en een keukenkast met een geïntegreerde kippenstal. De kippen leven er volgens de norm voor scharrelkippen, inclusief scharreluitloop, broedbak met gordijntje en eieropvang. De brandstof voor het oventje wordt geleverd door de oudpapierbrikettenpers. Het ongewenste reclamedrukwerk wordt in de pers tot briketten geperst en daarna in de oven verbrandt. De op de ark aangeplante boomgaard levert naast fruit ook hout om te stoken.

Vinex, 12 november 2004

Dear Tayou,

I suddenly realized why I wrote that letter to

you of all people; it’s because right now we’re

living in African circumstances here. There’s still

no electricity, maybe the power will be back on

tomorrow between eleven and three. Three power

stations were sold to China and shut down, causing

the entire power supply to collapse. They’re trying

to get it going again, divided over the country in

certain periods. Just like when I visited you in

Cameroon, where there’s no continuous power

supply either. I was so surprised back then when

I noticed that you hadn’t set your electric

equipment. Video, stereo, and microwave were

blinking because date and time hadn’t been set.

‘It’s no use’, you said, when I started fi ddling with

the buttons, ‘the power will be off again on

Thursday evening’. Every Thursday evening there

was a standard power failure. When you told me

this, I was so fascinated by the idea...

I tried to fi nd out when we last had a power

failure. It must have been a couple of years ago.

The insurance companies sent us forms to

complete after which they paid us money, by way

of compensation for things such as meat that had

defrosted in our freezers...

The Suburban Ark has given a new meaning to

the culturally defi ned need for security and

modern conveniences that has in our society led

to suburbanization and uniformity. In our day and

age, we have all been reduced to consumers in

the Global Village, and as such we are increasingly

often forced to make choices and decisions in a

process in which more and more certainties are

questioned. The ongoing process of privatization,

deregulation, and liberalization leads to an even

fi ercer degree of consumerism and the further

deterioration of collective facilities.

Who is going to deliver my energy? Which tele-

communications company can best meet my

telephone requirements? Who will deliver my

drinking water? Who will collect my garbage?

These questions date from a period before the

authorities put themselves in charge of these tasks.

In that period, the old-clothes man, the food

scraps collector, and the sewerage cleaner were

seen as private entrepreneurs because they held

jobs enabling them to make a living. Back then,

the structure of society was still transparent and

the debate about values and standards concerned

innocent issues. It is only understandable that the

ultramodern consumer falls back on this period

of cyclic systems thinking and the implementation

of natural processes in everyday behavior.

The project Suburban Ark is not inspired by

nostalgia for those days. It is not about

traditionalism but about the essence of ultra-

modernity in which the romance of the countryside

is intertwined with the level of standard facilities

in contemporary society. Suburban Ark is a project

exploring the facilities of the past, their scale,

and the extreme level of autarky. Sophisticated

time management and the contemporary urban

dweller’s high level of stress tolerance constitute

a surprising combination with the basic needs

of the countryside. Suburban Ark provides a line

of thought that on the one hand gives substance

to the search for meaningfulness and on the

other relativizes the technological dependence

controlling the Global Village.

The reinvention of the countryside is the source

of inspiration for the Suburban Ark. The country-

side is the area where a blown-down tree still

causes a power failure and where muddy dirt

tracks or frozen roads can put a severe strain on

both accessibility and mobility. The stress of

getting your children at the day care center on

time is relativized and replaced by the stress of

recognizing the high level of your dependence;

dependence on energy and water supply companies,

dependence on concerns such as Albert Heijn,

Shell, NS (Dutch Railways) and dependence on

authorities that are pulling out of the welfare

state. In a comfortable and certainties-based

living environment, the elements from the self-

contained countryside cause alienation,

Surviving in VINEX

Ton Matton