Non Sequitur 01: Charnel House
By Andrew Maynard
Architecture of the body. A necessary materiality in the future of architecture, building and production. With swelling populations and dwindling resources, in the near future our richest resource will be the human cadaver.
Reduce, reuse, recycle – our age is defined by our waste. It is estimated that by 2025 the human population will reach 8 billion, 9 billion soon after that. As our population increases, our resources radically deplete and our production of airborne carbon exponentially grows, the one resource we will have in increasingly reliable amounts is the human cadaver. In 2025, it is estimated, an average of 170,000 people will die everyday. If in reasonable condition, many of our organs can be harvested and reused, but what about the other parts? What of the decaying biomass? The ‘stronger than steel’ bone? The vast quantities of fat? Without limits on population and the onset of reduced resources, we will be obliged to reuse and recycle the human body. How do we make the most of this constantly renewing resource? What potential will this new materiality have for architecture and the building industry?
By 2025, over-population will reduce basic resources. This will result in:
Drastically reduced forests and timber;
Soil exhaustion and reduced food production;
Dwindling supplies of fresh water from increased water salinity;
Depleted stocks of plastics, related chemicals, pharmaceuticals and fuel from peak oil;
Mineral and ore depletion.
Your cadaver will become even more valuable, especially in building, for the human frame offers a fully modular construction type. In fact, building from human remains is nothing new, as wonderful examples such as Capela dos Ossos in Portugal, the Golden Chamber of Saint Ursula and the Sedlec Ossuary in the Czech Republic testify.
Your cadaver will be your richest commodity, but really, it already is. By some estimates, your body parts could be worth around AUD$604,000 in total. When one considers the complex make up of the human body, isn’t it a shame to put it in the ground or burn it?
Think of your body as an asset to be inherited by your family, with the value of ‘the product’ – your cadaver – dependent on the investment made during your lifetime. Over your lifetime, generate a medical record to ensure on-going maintenance. At death, your medical record becomes your product description.
Due to minimal freight costs, cadavers represent a low-embodied energy material. The more populous areas, requiring more resources, have the greatest number of cadavers being produced everyday – an opportune balance.
Lifetime maintenance and investment, for those that can afford to do so, ensuring your body is a valuable asset.
At death, following a brief mourning period, the cadaver becomes an asset inherited by the family or any other party purchasing rights to it. The funeral parlour becomes a factory for product handing, processing and quality control.
The cadaver is disassembled so that it can be broken down to specific elements, ensuring it is used in its entirety.
The separated elements are distributed for use throughout the local economy.
By contrast with the cost of beef, meat could be harvested from a human body and sold for around AUD$150. There are 40 litres of precious water in your cadaver; over 2sqm of leather. You could sell your corneas for roughly $6,000, your heart for around $60,000, a kidney for $30,000, your lungs for almost $100,000.