Beyond 12 steps: An Architecture to Enable Change in the Life of an Alcoholic

Bridget Jaggar

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Using an abandoned quarry site overlooking Lake Pupuke, in Auckland, New Zealand, I embrace the metaphorical journey of an alcoholic from isolation at “rock bottom” to the elevated perspective of sobriety, to enable and sustain self-growth and social reconnection in the community. This thesis explores how an architectural language can intertwine our senses, a site and architectural elements, to make a thought-provoking and persuasive life-changing experience. Furthermore, my architecture is composed of smaller elements that carry key essences and meaning of the overall architecture, and are intended to be portable, to be constant reminders in an individual’s personal environments of their journey through sobriety.

The first arena, Pathos, revolves around a deep pit of an unused quarry. It literally instantiates "at rock bottom", which is the common term, and AA's term, for the point at which a person with an alcohol use disorder is ready to start their journey.

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The low path through Pathos continues and is visually connected with a steep path formed by three sets of covered steps, each joined by a large open landing, which join together to climb the cliff face. 

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That higher route represents the best path traversed as part of a daily routine. It’s joined alongside the lower route at the start, but the paths slowly part as the left way drops away, representing the inevitable division between people on each path, for example how alcoholism separates the addict from family and friends. 

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Logos is the most important space on the site, and because it is the only part that must be frequently visited, the entire facility is called Logos. It is the utterance of truthful words that is the primary basis of all therapy, and the primary function of the overall facility.

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The third arena is Ethos, its focus is long term and upward, to give a direction towards the future and towards heaven. There is a direct connection with the community here also as the activities upon the lake are visible below. The outward-facing nature of the third stage of the AA steps is also addressed by this arena.

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When the person with an alcohol use disorder leaves the facility they are no longer as immersed in its architecture, and therefore not as connected to its journey. I wanted some way for at least part of my architecture to be portable. Keepsakes are reminders of a person, place or event, and I wanted to design some keepsakes to bring the Logos into their personal environment. I chose a chair, a candle, a small stone top table, a mug.

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