Work Prix de Rome | No Innocent Landscape | total installation


Prix de Rome laureate: click here to read more
Type: multimedia installation, design and research
Media: sculptural objects, drawings, film, sound, light, smell
Year: 2022

What precedes:

On 17 July 2014, fifteen minutes after a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 took off from the Polder Runway at Schiphol Airport, a trailer with a BUK surface-to-air missile rode into the Ukrainian town of Snizhne, thousands of miles away. At that specific moment the two events were still unrelated, and would have gone unnoticed but for the fatal collision of the two within hours.

A point determined only by a radar seen from the ground, the aircraft fell from the sky like a foreign body and crashed into the forgotten mining village of Hrabove. Located in Donetsk on the border with Luhansk, two self-proclaimed independent regions in eastern Ukraine, it is a very isolated area struggling with several issues like human rights violations, geopolitical disputes, economic mismanagement and nature degradation.

Aircraft debris lay scattered across an area of 50 km2. The passenger plane became an instrument, a magnifying lens or radar, pointing our view towards non-human evidence, exposing traces of the many layers of this site, and binding together seemingly unrelated events.

The interconnected system of coalmines on both sides of the Russian-Ukrainian border seems to ridicule the very notion of ‘territory’, ‘customs’ and ‘control’. Yet that is what MH17 testified. It also drew attention to other disputes: the conflict arising from polluted water and methane released from mines, creating an ecological catastrophe beyond borders and extending to the rest of the world.

The area where the plane crashed is a counter form, a physical mould of our political and societal fractures, where intangible political negotiations within and outside the territorial borders materialize, turning the Donetsk region into a geology of political conflict. It is a place where geopolitics manifests itself vertically: up into the sky and down into the ground. The usual stratification of sky, surface and underground was unsettled by the crashed plane and mining.

Fossil fuels inscribe their infrastructural order as a mode of planetary organization and world political order. Resources are used as political tools or weapons. Owing to the war in Ukraine, the West, largely dependent on oil and gas, came under increased pressure to develop sources of renewable energy more rapidly.

The transition to green energy means not only a new industrial revolution, a new world order, but also new mines and new conflicts, largely connected to resources. Many current conflicts are impossible to resolve from a human perspective. What is good or what is bad for someone is always subjective.

Much of what actually constitutes politics is not addressed through our political institutions today. Could we invert our political systems so that they are shaped by the real world of actions and reactions, by all political actors beyond human ones, and thus adopt a more objective perspective? Could we create a true arena of political agencies that negotiates between sky, surface and underground?

In current conflicts, architecture can no longer assume control by relying on its normal tools and thinking. For that, a new language must be developed. This project embraces the chaos not as a distortion but as the only means to achieve insight. It proposes a series of new axioms to bypass the blockade of unresolvable disputes. Design here assumes the role of a mediator that produces a new lens in order to deconstruct existing dogmas and give shape to the crucial interaction of visible and invisible processes.

Bringing together global and local concerns, this project asks:

What does control mean? 

What are borders? 

How is truth also a fictive story? 

What is an institution? 

Where do politics start and 

where do politics start to fail? 

Where does your responsibility stop?

Fragment of the total installation, created by the interaction of sculptural objects, drawings, film, sound, light, smell (Prix de Rome 2022, Nieuwe Instituut, Rotterdam)

New Axiom:

the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, places of many abandoned dreams, unrecognised people, minerals, and disputed human values. 298 dreams landed on this territory and started to interact with the space and other realms. The territory became a ground of negotiation between sky, soil and underground, non-human and human.

On this specific site global issues are losing their abstraction, becoming a true political arena of political institutions. Here people rights became connected to the rights of the landscape. Geodesists, geologists, novelists start to govern the place through the landscape.

The tacit logic of this place is set free from its origins in the form of architectural projects. These proposals are no longer limited to the place of its situation. They become free to address the real issues, to shape the crucial interaction of visible and invisible processes.


Border Control Point – elevator that goes nowhere pushes methane outwards

What does control mean? The border control point, instead of letting people cross from Donetsk to Luhansk, started to move vertically. When you move down it pushes methane out from the shafts in another region. The methane cloud reaches the sky, and you meet the cloud of methane while travelling upwards again.

No Way Bridge – on the idea of the ideal in humanity

No Way Bridge is a balancing bar on top of the terrikon (the rubble excavated from the mine). It expresses the human idea of reaching for the sky or an ideal. Once inside, when one walks towards the end, to the sky, the bar eventually tilts down.

‘Close the sky’ / House of a Cloud – colonization of the air that crosses borders twice a day, releasing chemical rains on the other territory

‘Close the sky’ was one of the most prominent statements by Ukrainians at the beginning of the Russian invasion. It reflects the idea of human control of the sky. The methane cloud crosses the border twice a day, releasing chemical rains on the other territory. The most important human invention, the wall, loses its value in such a context.

The Burrow – Illegal miner

As men wanted to build the tallest border separation, they started to dig building material for it. The mining shaft is diagonal, so they are digging under their construction. The higher they build their border, the lower it drops under its own weight, pushing down on the mine. Eventually, the men meet their neighbours as their burrows cross each other underground.

The Cleaner Wheel – the returning polluted river

River Seversky Donets crosses the state border of Ukraine twice. It flows from Russia, bringing pollution into Ukraine. After entering the self-proclaimed regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, the river becomes contaminated by all the consequences of the ongoing conflicts. It continues to flow further into Russia, eventually spreading pollution into the Black Sea Basin.

The European Union requires that Ukraine improve water quality in its rivers and lakes. The ‘Cleaner Wheel’ does just that. It is a structure that takes in water, purifies it and releases it back, where the water becomes polluted again by the mines and returns to the area of Donetsk and Luhansk with the underground river.

The Florist – field of dreams that refuse to leave

Before taking the flight, two victims of MH17 made a post on their social media: “We will stay in a villa with a private pool with rose petals floating in it” […] “We won’t leave before all those petals have withered away.”

As humans we want to think of nature as a paradise, that place before Eve gave an apple to Adam. But real nature contains pollution in all sorts of different ways, including conflict. The area where the plane debris was scattered is flooded by underground water deposits pumped to the surface during lithium extraction and turned into a field of floating petals in lithium basins.

The Radar – truth detector (on the idea of objectivity)

There was a surveillance radar installed to find a man. As the man tried to escape his arrest, he attached his house to the flock of birds which was moving around the radar on the same wavelength as the signal’s. Flocks of birds can disturb the radar, creating blind spots. Birds symbolize different information that we receive in order not to find the truth.

* Still from a film No Innocent Landscape, co-directed with Dorothée Meddens



Lesia Topolnyk (StudioSpaceStation) is an architect, artist, researcher and film director. Raised within a constantly changing political environment and educated as an architect, explores how different realities superimpose in human behaviour and are manifested in physical space.

Through dialogue with different disciplines and mediums, spatial design becomes a language that gives shape to the crucial interaction of visible and invisible processes bringing together global and local concerns.

Founded to respond to the urgent societal and planetary issues, StudioSpaceStation operates across architecture, politics and art.

StudioSpaceStation is a satellite and invader simultaneously. It observes current and future affairs, manifesting resolutions through architecture as a solidified representation of dreams and ideas. StudioSpaceStation provides a vessel for discussion, emergent from critical thinking through perpetual evolvement and experimentation.

Honors & Awards

2023 - IABR Agent of Change
2023 - Financieele Dagblad Top 50 Talent 2023
2022 - Winner Prix de Rome (The oldest and most prestigious prize for talented artists and architects in the Netherlands)
2020 - Talent Grant, Creative Industries, Netherlands
2020 - Young Talent Architecture Award, nomination (by the Fundació Mies van der Rohe and the EU Commission)
2019 - Winner Archiprix Nederland
2019 - Winner Archiprix International
2019 - Winner Tamayouz International Award

Selected Exhibitions

2022 - Het Nieuwe Instituut, Rotterdam
2022 - Architecture Triennale, Lisbon
2022 - New European Bauhaus, Brussels
2021 - Dutch Design Week
2021 - Biennale, Venice
2020 - Dutch Design Week
2019 - Biennale, Santiago
2019 - Archiprix International
2019 - Archiprix Netherlands

Clients & Funds

Atelier Rijksbouwmeester, Gemeente Rotterdam, Rotterdam Maritiem Museum, Creative Industries NL, Mondriaan Fund, Archiprix, Stichting Oude Groninger Kerken, International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam (IABR), gemeente 's-Hertogenbosch

Portrait Prix de Rome 2022

'Lesia Topolnyk is an architect who focuses on a broader interpretation of her field. She is interested in the potential of her profession within our constructed reality – not necessarily in building things. 'It's about ideas that take shape during the research and design process which generate new typologies,' she says. For her, it's not enough to shape the world reactively, or in line with what already exists. She explains: 'Although architects are seen as people who design spaces, we also design relationships. Especially in these turbulent political times, it's necessary to look at how the world is designed to understand the larger context in which a project is taking place. I sometimes reflect on major problems at a global level, while other times I focus on the space inside someone's mind.'

Topolnyk grew up in Ukraine, and addressed the situation in Crimea with her final project at the Academy of Architecture in Amsterdam. She created a proposal for a building that consisted primarily of corridors – places where discussions and interactions occur that ultimately have the greatest influence on the decisions being made. Continuous mediation of the situation was central to this concept. The architecture symbolised and supported the mental capacity of those involved. In this endless network of hallways, which reference the agora, visitors could have endless discussions which allowed for a continuous debate; politics is an ongoing conversation. Similarly, her own vision of architecture and her process of research and design focuses on conversation, contributions from different positions, and the involvement of people with a wide range of expertise. She therefore frequently collaborates with people who work in different fields. Because 'you can learn from others and they bring valuable insights and viewpoints...'

Her current research is focused on the various crises humanity is currently facing, with a special interest in political systems and the significance of democracy, including its Greek foundations. She is exploring how this form of government was historically designed and how architecture supported and portrayed it. 'It's about how we can shape change and how we can manage the world better together,' she concludes. Architecture can play a role in that by offering design solutions that support the decision-making process.'

Text: Vincent van Velsen

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