Architects’ Journal Student Prize 2020 Nominee
The RIBA Sussex Student Prize 2020 Nominee
The year is now 2040, 2 decades ago I set out on a task of democratising the sovereign landscape of the Ashdown Forest. Back then I realised it was trees which gave life and space to the world, the canopy as a shelter from the elements and the woodland floor a forgiving territory, my chair no longer having to churn through unpredictable groundscapes. I began on a hill with vast views across the forest, the clump of aged Scots pine trees sitting as an island, treacherous to reach but worth every moment. Its density was modest but it felt forever away from the outside world which swirled beyond its boundaries. From here I started my journey.
The community and many others initially supported my plans, the promise of a new woodland for no other reason than to be, we constructed a vast infrastructure floating below the canopy, preparing to set out on a journey to grow and learn. But once we’d finished, and I’d taken up residence high above the woodland floor, that year had progressed. less and less helped, less and less visited, I became isolated, perched in the trees and aching to move. I had not the physical ability, this structure was not built just for me, so I had to extend my ontology beyond my usual condition, a companion, another custodian, one who could not only embody my intentions, but it turns out, my fears.
Totemi. We took their name from the north American mythology of the Tote Road Shagamaw found in a book, which was gifted to me by one of the original volunteers, called Fearsome Creatures of the Lumber woods by William Thomas Cox. The folklore speaks of a bipedal beast with both hooves and paws who would not only switch between the two but make tracks with such along the forest floor. Totemi was born out of the technological advances that were being made in artificial intelligence, where outside in the world it had become an open-source way of re-imagining how we live, a world where our proximal relationships were no longer.
To me it became a way to bring life to them, an extension of myself to help us move forward, a seemingly irrelevant but essential quest. Their material being relied on any materials I could find around me. Many days I could venture no further than the clump boundary and my supplies were so few that the forest became my new source, and scavenging from vast autonomous robots, which were originally integrated into the structure. But despite this Totemi was bought to life, embedded with the conscious communication chip, my mind became a duality. From here we began, developing methods to conduct tasks that for me would be impossible, we needed to work the soil, incubate seeds, plant, shelter, water, prune, bend, coppice, expand and contract the infrastructural frame, each tasks required Totemi to evolve, navigate, learn; not only physically, but socially.
But somewhere between my mind and theirs occurred a glitch. I have no conscious fear of the ground, I understand its unforgiving nature, the depth of liquid soils and the entanglement of bracken, but I never thought I feared it, but Totemi does. A deep, unrelenting, unquestionable fear of the ground, which to this day, in 2040, they still have not touched.