Cities are complex systems, perpetually evolving and altered by multiple factors. Urban dwellers build habits around the built and dense environment of these cities.


To Lose the City
To begin with all of us are foreigners in London and so we noticed that these habits can be built in a very short amount of time. In just a matter of months, the city’s particular rhythms, socialities, forms, weather, histories, and people begin to shape and shift us. And yet the impact this relationship has on our psychology and our sensed bodies remained less seen. If we are this connected to the form, the spaces, the buildings and moods of a city [1], then we wanted to ask, what happens when we lose the city?

The Covid-19 pandemic, creating a lockdown scenario globally and limiting movement in cities, made us question and rethink our relation to urban space. It forced individuals everywhere to reimagine the way they live, to reshape their routines and habits to suit a new condition. As with many people, we were facing real and direct loss on a broader scale.We had lost the city. We faced personal loss of kin. We lost the coherence that physical space offers a research community. We realised that loss could be intimately connected to everyday life and to a city’s environment, in ways that we had never thought of before.


From the City to the Room
One of the definitions of loss is the fact or process of losing something or someone [2]. Here we faced the loss the city of London, its public space and its architecture. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, everyday life was reduced to domestic space. We faced a drastic change of scale and shifted our daily activities from an exterior public frame to an indoor private one. The question became then how to readapt to limited space when the access to the city was no longer possible.


Water and Ritual
Before the start of the pandemic, our research focused on the impact that different spaces in the city had on the people who live there. We got interested in when these involved the loss of natural spaces, and in particular the loss of spaces with water. We began looking at London’s lost rivers [3], exploring ancient rituals, sacred sites [4], and climate change in relation to them, and tried to understand how their invisible presence could still be seen and felt by Londoners. [5] No longer able to explore this specific city, and scattered around the globe due to the pandemic, the group shifted its focus towards grieving. We decided to keep water as an important element of the research and rituals as a method, as water is present in the rituals of different religions and cultures as a symbolic element of grief and renewal. [6] We asked questions about how rituals could be shaped and designed to respond to a specific situation.
Our group is not pretending to offer a solution, neither to explore all types of loss, but rather to explore how these feelings of loss become a reality even at the smallest scale for many, and how we respond to them as individuals in our everyday life and habits.


Rituals and Research Methods 
We started to reflect on our life habits and why particular actions were important or became essential to us to develop a new routine. [7] “Something that allows the mind to relax and focus on a task whilst the body can maintain some movement that can distract from any anxiety” say Vowels. [8] Then, how do we go from a routine we developed or a habit we noticed, to performing a ritual in order to overcome a loss? In our background research, we found that rituals are often associated to religious or sacred ceremonies. People and communities put together and practice rituals to deal with different level of loss. Rituals are needed to adapt and grieve what could be called the normal, as much as to step toward a new condition of life. They help navigate through difficult and challenging times. “What matters is your subjective experience. With rituals, you are fully engaged with a focus on the experience of the task, rather than its mere completion.” [9] What is this act of mindfulness that really makes the difference between a habit, a routine and a ritual and gives it a sense of the sacred, of power?



Habits and Rituals 
Benjamin Gardner defines habits as actions “generating an impulse to do a behavior with little or no conscious thoughts.” [10] A habit is almost automatic, you don’t have to think about it most of the time. A routine on the contrary must be deliberate. You have to plan it. The “difference between a routine and a ritual is the attitude behind the action. While routines can be actions that just need to be done—such as making your bed or taking a shower—rituals are viewed as more meaningful practices which have a real sense of purpose.” [11] It’s about acknowledging your action in real time and noticing each part of it and the way you engage with it. Simple everyday actions can become rituals. “Showering can become an opportunity to become mindful of your body and its connection to your mind. Focus on the sensation of the water on your skin and the way your thoughts seem to flow more easily.” [12]  

It was important for us to develop our practice as rituals, since they allow an expression of the feelings provoked by loss and the fact that grief was a necessary emotion. Grief is a natural response to loss, it is an emotional suffering that can be violent, overwhelming and paralysing. It can be experienced very differently from person to person, and vary enormously between cultures and religions, but it tends to be experienced through seven stages. The feeling associated with loss can be seen as a loss of control over oneself, and a safe place to express these feelings is rare. That’s where rituals are useful as they “facilitate the legitimisation of emotional exchange, (the) validation of loss.” [13] But they are also a way to have an “increased control over the loss.” [14]


Rituals in a Liminal Space and Time
To accomplish a ritual specific objects or actions can be used. They have a special meaning, related to our personal experience [15], culture [16] and needs. This makes the ritual highly subjective, as it becomes sacred and meaningful for the one performing it, but not necessary for others. Rituals around grief evolve and change with the evolution of the griever’s emotional state and needs. Hence a ritual is repeated but never reproduced. There is an ephemeral uniqueness within the specificity of the moment when the ritual is accomplished, that relies not only on its action but also on its relation to temporality.

Rituals also happen in a limited space and a time, enhancing the power of each iteration. By designing rituals relevant to our personal needs, we are not only creating a practice set in time, but also in a mental space embedded in real space, in this context our home. [17] They could almost be related to those spaces Michel Foucault defines as heterotopias, or “other space.” [18] They are different spaces and locations providing a sort of contestation both mythical and real of the space we live in. [19] Rituals from this point of view are real but their reality is intimately linked to the meaning they carry for one specific person or group.

Finally, through rituals, we can get into a specific state of mind in order to accomplish a transition. A positive state of mind that “supports healthier feelings, attitudes, and behaviors for accepting the reality of the loss.” [20] Moreover, if rituals are “formalized patterns of actions for constructing meaning from a personally relevant event,” [21] they also have a social part to it. This inclusion of others in a ritual does not necessarily make it less relevant on a personal level but adds a layer of trust and social support to deal with the feeling of loneliness sometimes associated with a liminal stage – like loss or grief. By sharing rituals as some acknowledgment of a loss as well as some personal liminal space to overcome this loss, they become an invitation for others to witness it, support it or go through the same process. This dual dimension of rituals offering a place of care to others as to oneself, makes the practice even more relevant as studies showed that “a quarter of UK adults, have felt loneliness due to the COVID-19 pandemic.” [22]

Through this project we were able to explore rituals on a personal scale as providers of a liminal space in a time-limited context, offering a structure where feelings can be expressed and channeled, thus, to making sense of loss. The different levels of loss caused by the pandemic, more specifically the loss of the city, the loss of architecture regarding our project, will not be temporary. If the lockdown will end, our relation to the city, to its architecture, to its public space, will be impacted permanently, and the life of the city as we were used to it may no longer exist. In this frame of a future, we need adaptation and change, and so practice involving rituals may be important in the design of our future use for architectural space.





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Reference
1 - Some articles on how architecture impact us:    
° Hon AIA, and Peter H. Miller, “The Neuroscience of Traditional Architecture”, Traditional Building, (July the 24th, 2019)       < https://www.traditionalbuilding.com/opinions/neuroscience-architecture> [accessed 1 June 2020].     
° Michael Bond, “The Hidden Ways That Architecture Affects How You Feel”, BBC FUTURE, (June the 6th, 2017),           < https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20170605-the-psychology-behind-your-citys-design>, [accessed 1 June 2020]. ° Margarete, “1# ARCHITECTURAL PSYCHOLOGY: The Influence of Architecture on Our Psych”, Medium architecture        Analysis, (June the 1st, 2018).       < https://medium.com/archilyse/1-the-influence-of-architecture-on-our-psyche-f183a6732708> [accessed 22 June 2020].

2 - Lexico Dictionaries, Loss | Definition of Loss by Oxford Dictionary.        
< https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/loss> [accessed 22 June 2020].

3 - Some articles and webpages to know more about London’s lost rivers:        
° Kate Sumnal, and Tom Ardill, “Uncovering Secret Rivers: Creating the Exhibition”, Museum of London,            (May the 24th, 2019).  https://www.museumoflondon.org.uk/discover/uncovering-secret-rivers-creating-exhibition-docklands>,   [accessed 14 June 2020].         
° Jason King, “London: Barton & The Lost Rivers of London”, Hidden Hydrology, (January the 8th, 2018).          
< https://www.hiddenhydrology.org/london-barton-the-lost-rivers-of-london/>, [accessed 22 June 2020].         
° Helen Sinclair, “History of the River Fleet”, The UCL River Fleet Restoration Team, UCL, (27th March 2009).

4 - Some articles and webpages to know more about rituals and sacred places in London:        
° Hayley Dunning, “A history of burial in London”, National History Museum / Collections.         
< https://www.nhm.ac.uk/discover/a-history-of-burial-in-london.html>,  [accessed 23 June 2020].       
° David Furlong, Sacred Sites/London’s Holy Wells, (2013),          
<http://www.davidfurlong.co.uk/holywellslond.htm>, [accessed 23 June 2020].

5 - Some articles and webpages to know more about projects on London’s lost rivers:       
° Oliver Wainwright, “The River London Forgot: How the Lea Is Being Reborn”, Art and Design | The Guardian,           (April the 5th, 2017).    < https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2017/apr/05/the-river-london-forgot-lea-valley-reborn-leaway-path>,          [accessed 22 June 2020].       
° Publica, Redisigning Marylebone Lane/Publica, (2019).         < https://publica.co.uk/projects-marylebone-lane>, [accessed 23 June 2020].       
° Tom Ardill, “Running the River Tyburn”, Museum of London, (August the 9th, 2019).         
< https://www.museumoflondon.org.uk/discover/running-the-river-tyburn-london>, [accessed 23 June 2020].       
° Nicola, “The Tyburn Angling Society”, Edible Geography, (June the 30th, 2010).         
< http://www.ediblegeography.com/the-tyburn-angling-society/>, [accessed 23 June 2020].

6 - Gaston Bachelard, Water and Dreams. An Essay on the Imagination of Matter, (Dallas, The Dallas Institute of Humanities       and Culture, 1994).

7 - You can have a look at the “Breaking News” ritual bringing forward water in the news relating to Covis-19 crisis    
 < https://architectureofloss2020.com/Eleonara-s-Ritual>, [accessed 23 June 2020].

8 - Laura Hampson, “Lockdown Is Making Existing Mental Health Issues Worse”, Evening Standard, (May the 15th, 2020)       < https://www.standard.co.uk/lifestyle/healthy-at-home/mental-health/lockdown-affecting-mental-health-issues-a4441626.html>,         [accessed 22 June 2020].

9 - Anne-Laure Le Cunff, “The Difference between Habits, Routines and Rituals”, Ness Labs      
< https://nesslabs.com/habits-routines-rituals>, [accessed 22 June 2020].

10 - Nir & Far, “Stop Confusing Habits for Routines: What You Need To Know”, Nir & Far.      
< https://www.nirandfar.com/habits/>, [accessed 22 June 2020].

11 - Op cit. “The Difference between Habits, Routines and Rituals”

12 - Ibid. 
You can have a look at the “Soaking Ritual” ritual using different soaking habits in the domestic.        <https://architectureofloss2020.com/Yunyun-s-Ritual>, [accessed 23 June 2020]. 

13 - Alina Coman (Transilvania University, Romania), and Corina Sas (Lancaster University, UK), “Designing Personal Grief        Ritual: An Analysis of Symbolic Objects and Actions in Grief Therapy”, ReseachGate, (August 2016).             <https://www.researchgate.net/publication/307922851_Designing_personal_grief_rituals_An_analysis_of_symbolic_objects_an_actions>, [  viewed May the 8th 2020].

14 - Ibid.

15 - You can have a look at the “Matter and Material” on our website where a drawing practice is used to develop the ritual,       < https://architectureofloss2020.com/Mathilde-s-Ritual>, [accessed 23 June 2020].

16 - You can have a look at the “Bur Meditation” and the “Drowning Marzana” rituals using traditions relating to two different        countries and cultures.       < https://architectureofloss2020.com/Ziad-s-Ritual>, [accessed 23 June 2020].      < https://architectureofloss2020.com/Joanna-s-Ritual>, [accessed 23 June 2020].

17 - You can have a look at the “Sonic Kitchen” ritual bringing forward water in the domestic space in relation to the stages of grief.      <https://architectureofloss2020.com/Blanca-s-Ritual>, [accessed 23 June 2020].

18 - Michel Foucault, “Dits et écrits 1984, Des espaces autres (conférence au Cercle d’études architecturales, 14 mars 1967)”,  Architecture-Mouvement-Continuité, n°5, Octobre 1984, pp.46-49.

19 - Ibid.

20 - Op cit. “Designing Personal Grief Rituals : An Analysis of Symbolic Objects and Actions in Grief Therapy”.

21 - Ibid.

22 - Laura Hampson, “Lockdown Is Making Existing Mental Health Issues Worse”, Evening Standard, (May the 15th, 2020).    < https://www.standard.co.uk/lifestyle/healthy-at-home/mental-health/lockdown-affectingmental-health-issues-a4441626.html>,        [accessed 1 June 2020].