Combobulation Station: Uncanny Architecture for Uncommon Projects

Nicole Teh

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Axo 3

Earth has long staged a hospitable host to humans. However, insatiable consumption has damaged the future of its hospitality. As a new ecological equilibrium unfolds, not only does a physical transformation occur, but so too must a cognitive transformation.  Combobulation Station proposes a cognitive re-orientation of the ecological visions at neighbourhood scale architecture. Taking note of the prevalent and imminent imperative to incite structural shifts in our material culture, this is a theoretical investigation represented by a series of object experimentations and architectural projects, where the transformation of everyday domestic objects are re-portrayed.

Combobulation Station emerges from the position that, supplementary to the thoughts of green thinking or eco-friendliness, architecture's approach to climate discourse should equally consider its cultural and historical relationships to create the most meaningful consequence. This project pursues a process that values creative power, fusions, reinterpretations and the thrill of the unexpected, not only as a way of designing but by becoming a way of thinking in the new climate.

A focus on environmental effects through waste produced by human consumption of objects is encapsulated through a speculative community recycling station, west of Auckland's central city in Point Chevalier's village. Its role is to sort and reinvent domestic waste and re-valuate it as a valuable resource. The combobulated architecture avoids glorified monument for public spectacle; rather, it is an exploration of commonplace architecture where its existence is embedded in the everyday habits of the future.


I drew the concept of this thesis from the impending and surreal phenomena of the Anthropocene. An intersection of concepts:  second nature, surrealism, objects as the extension of the human, the everyday and dysphoria respond to architecture's role in climate discourse.

The discombobulation and dysphoria which accompany climate change and its representations at overwhelming macro and micro scales - observed at the 2019 climate strikes and other cultural responses - drives a search for new climate representation in architecture. This resulted in a series of drawing and model explorations of various mediums where elements repelling and intersecting were a cognitive process for understanding emotional responses beyond the nostalgias of the environment. Media and representation are essential modes of storytelling for communicating cognitive and tangible notions.

Parallel to this, an investigation and revival of Andre Breton's conception of the surrealist movement as a new representation for climate change, where an orientation to the everyday informs the sur-realities within the environment. Devoid of stylistic fads and grand utopian or dystopian displays, an uncanny everyday reality is employed as a tool reflection on climate change discourse. Henry Lefebvre expresses, "Banality? Why should the study of the banal itself be banal? Are not the surreal, the extraordinary, the surprising, even the magical, also part of the real? Why wouldn't the concept of everydayness reveal the extraordinary in the ordinary?" 

The exploration of objects initiated the idea that human relationships with them foster more than their superficial instrumental value, and can instigate with intrinsic value the emotional interconnectedness to our daily lives. Surreal object models in this project are a tool to integrate the ecological subconsciousness into a more tangible consciousness. Objects through history have given us glimpses of our human behaviour,  socio-cultural patterns and the surreal models explored to describe the potential of the uncanny habits in the Anthropocene.   

Line Drawing 2 Nicole Teh
Lines repelling, intersecting, studies of the ecology
Line Drawing 3 Nicole Teh
Line Drawing 4 Nicole Teh


The micro and macro scales at which climate change and ecology operate respond through compound, object, architectural and urban scales. The development of this project engaged surreal drawings and model making with found objects. These objects defined a representational and architectural language of the Anthropocene dream through disassembly, reassembly, juxtapositions, the thrill of the unexpected, uncanny familiarity and unfamiliarity.

Among these models were the Frankenbenchette, Carbonmeaureneld and the Refridgepollenerator, all with imagined functions to aid the future climate. The term 'combobulated' is used as a noun and adjective encapsulating these associations. A term just as absurd as its environment is a grounding for the acceptance of the irrational, strangeness and extra-ordinary, which imagines a new dream for society in the Anthropocene.

Subsequently, an architectural manifestation of combobulation practice ensued, investigating spolia and adaptive reuse with their application indicating a change in the priorities of society. Similarly, in the Anthropocene dream, there appears a changing priority for the climate. The resourcefulness of obsolete architecture and architectural elements would construct a new everyday community typology. The Anthropocene dream would be established by an urban plan for community recycling centres throughout Auckland where uncanny objects would be assembled, becoming part of the local building fabric alongside dairies and bakeries. 

Object Drawing 1 Pesticide Nicole Teh
Surreal object drawings, imagined tools for the Anthropocene
Object Drawing 2 Pollinator Brush Nicole Teh
Surreal object drawings, imagined tools for the Anthropocene

Finished Product

Van Gogh Thru And Frakenworkshop Nicole Teh
Van Gogh Thru and Frakenworkshop
Curious Cabinets Nicole Teh
Curious Cabinets

Culminating as the ‘Combobulation Station,’ an uncanny Anthropocenic re-interpretation of community recycling centres facilitates the processing, sorting and transferring of inorganic waste. Situated west of Auckland’s central city, down the main stretch of Point Chevalier village, the Combobulation Station imagines new quotidian habits that humans adopt in the future, where obsolete domestic objects transform into tools for climate change. The architecture also represents reassembly by the adaptive reuse of the former fossil fuel and fast food typologies, when the demand for these building formulas becomes less desirable in the Anthropocene.

This adaption of architecture simulates the gradual transformation of all gas stations across urban Auckland, servicing their suburbs and providing a connected network of locally available resources. These stations are a typology where machines become a part of the natural metabolism when economic success is not only measured in monetary value but by the growth of ecological diversity. At the Combobulation station, the display boards no longer describe the cost of diesel per litre but rather, they display values of air quality, energy usage and bird populations.

By reconceptualising the climate future of Auckland, Combobulation Station, neither dystopic nor a utopian prospect, instead, an uncanny marriage of both, accepts and embraces the sur-realties of the future environment.

Combobulation Station And Drop Off Nicole Teh
Combobulation Station and Drop off
Anthropocene Abode Nicole Teh
Anthropocene Abode
Axonometric across Combobulation Station site

Critic's Text

Some very real new revelations about ‘the natural world’ such as deep-sea geologies incorporating plastic waste played a significant role in the gradual evolution of Nicole’s thinking around her research on the Anthropocene. Musing on the ‘new normal’ and unfamiliar problems Nicole turned to making strange things. This became a weekly practice. The idea of an architecture which situated the making of transformative objects on the high street to replace three drive-in fast-food outlets with a community workshop is a political act. 

Nicole imagines a multi-stream neighbourhood recycling depot with workshops and studios cherry-picking in-coming materials and objects to be reassembled to serve entirely new functions. Her drawings describe a site of plentitude and individuality in which people we’d like to be unselfconsciously combobulate cool things to meet particular unfamiliar requirements. Making the best re-use it can of the pre-existing ephemeral car-oriented structures, Nicole’s architecture itself ‘stands back’ and sets the tone for a society which she knows needs, more generally, to transform the way it lives with the things it makes. 

It is Nicole’s personal theoretical position that in suppressing the role of the architect as a creator of bespoke objects, she can apply herself to staging the aestheticising of the ordinary-extraordinary as an urban event in which the actors are you and me.  

— Michael Milojevic, supervisor