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Rohit Nandha reports back on AER Residency at Domaine De Boisbuchet 2019

Written by
Post-Grad Community
Published date
29 September 2019

Set up by Professor Lucy Orta UAL Chair of Art for the Environment - Centre for Sustainable Fashion in 2015, The Art for the Environment International Artist Residency Programme (AER) provides UAL graduates with the exceptional opportunity to apply for short residencies at one of our internationally renowned host institutions, to explore concerns that define the 21st century – biodiversity, environmental sustainability, social economy, and human rights.

Rohit Nandha (MA Architecture student at Central Saint Martins) was successful in being selected as the AER 2019 artist in residence at Domaine de Boisbuchet, Design Architecture Nature, Lessac, France.

Below is Rohit's report to the UAL Post-Grad Community on his residency outcomes and experiences.

Beyond Food: Exploring Future Food Scenarios

Every year, architects & designers from all over the world are invited, to give a week-long workshop at the Domaine de Boisbuchet in South-West France. The founder, Alexander von Vegesack wanted a place where design meets education, in a large sense. Some 25 years ago, he bought the 150 hectares Domaine de Boisbuchet. Since then, professionals and students come every year to experience how internationally successful professionals structure their work, and how they approach design problems all taking into account the inspiring natural environment of Boisbuchet, and crafting a theme for participants to build upon.

The workshop I attended this year through the AER programme was Beyond Food: Exploring Future Food Scenarios, led by Katharina Unger. Born and raised in Austria, Katharina is currently living and working in Hong Kong. She is described as a thought leader in the space of design for sustainability, food and agricultural innovation. Katharina, who co-founded Livin Farms with Julia Kaisinger, began investigating insect farming while studying Industrial Design at the University of Applied Arts Vienna after learning that the world grows more crops for the production of animal feed than it does for feeding humans. Also within Kathrina’s projects also consist of creating a process to cultivate edible fungi that digests plastic as it grows as well as table-top insect breeding farm that allows people to produce edible fly larvae in their homes.

What is food? Food is central to shape our bodies through its nutrition. It nourishes our minds through indulgence of its aesthetics, texture and taste. It shapes our natural and human-made surroundings by the way it is cultivated and distributed. It also shapes the political landscape, for example when it gets scarce through climate change or when humans start competing for resources of land and water in order to grow it.


On the first morning of the workshop, we were toured around the site, embracing the Vitra sponsored exhibition in the opulence of the chateau. This year celebrated the 100th year anniversary of the ‘BAUHAUS’ and an exhibition was dedicated to “The Children of Bauhaus” with selected pieces ranging from influential chairs to prominent furniture décor. Moreover, the tour continued with the rest of the park, meandering through the green landscape to the serine lakes and rivers.

On display were a series of small structures that were erected from previous workshops to bespoke traditional architectural buildings that were donated from around the world. less permanent constructions also adorned the site with projects utilising experimental and traditional techniques of building to material experimentation to sustainable elements.

The site felt endless yet inclusive and had many opportunities lingering, waiting to be explored in the coming days.

There´s seldomly a topic so diverse, complex yet so simple in its universal understanding of people everywhere. The workshop began in the afternoon, where Katrina gave us a brief insight into her practice and her background, followed by me and the rest of the 11 participants introducing ourselves and our interest in the workshop. My background is in architecture and I am currently finishing my masters at central saint martins. My project has been about speculating the future of the food system, by looking at the impact and problems that the meat industry plays and how adopting a plant based lifestyle will potentially be the answer to the majority of the wider concerns related to the issues. Throughout my master’s project in architecture, I have been involved in many workshops and have delivered many experiences – such as immersive tasters, using plant based cooking, and formulating recipes to help others. And through this workshop it was an exciting opportunity to further develop my interest in architecture and food in a new context, in an environment that is out of the city.

Our first collective task was to explore the natural edible landscape around Boisbuchet, foraging for a range of products that would be further examined and categorised into edible and non-edible products. Furthermore, being inspired by nature in all its complexity. The task was an opportunity to find new methods of shaping a unique and immersive food scenario that would later at the end of the week be displayed and performed to the rest of the group. The extensive samples displayed on the table was a constant visual and tactile reference for us to play and experiment with. We were able to categorise what we thought plants or objects were and if not – we could speculate what it could be and what might it be used for? Either food, tools or sensory objects.

As the process went on, we began to form micro groups – people with similar interests in objects would join together to venture and discuss series of scenarios.

Domaine de Boisbuchet as a community not only inhabits itself within the boundaries of South-West France. But plays a wider role within a global context. From networks all over the world, where designers and volunteers help to shape the environment and daily necessities of our stay. Breakfast, lunch and dinner played a key part of the day and was almost like a community ritual, with amazing food being prepared and served by respected chefs, to long tables of conversations being had with other groups and workshops. Moreover, events also took place in the evenings, from workshop leaders giving presentations about their work to evening bonfires and traditional costume parties being hosted at the Mill House.


The tasks involved for the workshop was a lot to do with speculating scenarios within Boisbuchet.

Subsequently, comprising of formulating a situation, finding a location within the complex and creating a tribe around this ‘future food scenario’. Initially my partner and I were interested in drinking methodologies and how water as a precious necessity would become even more scarce and treasured in the not so distance future. The landscape of Boisbuchet comprises of peaceful forests, lakes and rivers, hence water already has a prominent manifestation on the site. Our aim was to ritualise and enhance the importance of the pure matter by using the natural landscape to create a sensory experience of water.

Our scenario entailed three rituals in order to respect and appreciate all forms of water. The first being an altar, with a series of organic water purifiers we designed that would be hung, necessitating a slow dripping system through natural materials such as charcoal, sand and stone.

The idea of this first ritual was to begin the process by washing and purifying yourself as well as appreciating the slow drips of the water – to calm yourself as you walk into the threshold of the alter.

The second ritual involved evoking the other senses of smell and touch through a cleansing ritual. For this we made a series of natural incense from the herbs and plants located in the surrounded landscape. The idea was to create a cleansed holy environment that would also in some way flavour the experience of water as you consume it.

Finally, the third ritual was the idea of taking away an offering from the specific space. Using water in an all its three states – liquid, gas and solid. The third was about solidifying, hence we began to experiment by cooking and creating ‘edible waters’ shaped in an organic way, served on a leaf. The whole entire performance was an artistic installation piece, and every piece was thought out with care – from the location by the river to the specific logs place in specific spots.

The intensive week allowed me to think, create and deliver scenarios within a short period of time oppose to having years and months– and this skill I believe is key to performing in a professional practice.

The landscape of Boisbuchet and the transition from a cityscape to a landscape played a fundamental part in allowing one to practice and develop with nature. Speculative design, food design and architecture are practices which can be perceived as intrinsically different areas, however this type of workshop demonstrates that in reality the intersection between these fields are possible and are in reality all linked.


Related Links

Find out more on how to apply for an AER Residency*

*Open to UAL postgraduate students and recent graduates (within 12 months), applicants can choose from a 2 to 4 week period at one of the hosting institutions, to explore concerns that define the twenty-first century - biodiversity, environmental sustainability, social economy, human rights - and through their artistic practice, envision a world of tomorrow.