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ABOUT THE WORK
Material: leather,upholstery ,timber
Ultima Thule is a project that interrogates the design landscape of childbirth within a hospital setting. The term Ultima Thule... Read More
Ultima Thule is a project that interrogates the design landscape of childbirth within a hospital setting. The term Ultima Thule is derived from a Latin phrase meaning ‘a distant unknown region’ or ‘beyond the known world’.
My own voyage into motherhood came into focus during childbirth, when physical sensations gave way to an interstellar experience. As my body lay supine on the delivery table, my mind became fluid, and I found respite through exploring the farthest imaginable place: Ultima Thule. This work captures my position as a designer and architect, but also as a mother who felt like a medical object during the birth of my daughter Stelena. These designs address the challenges that I experienced at that time. Through the project, I recognise that birth is not a universal or monolithic experience, hence the flexible nature of the designs that I am proposing.
Ultima Thule presents an alternative to the hospital birthing environment – a space that I feel has been designed to allow for certain harmful procedures and techniques. My research reimagines the technological and institutional elements of childbirth, and instead proposes a sanctuary-like environment for mother and child. In this space, the mother has greater control of delivery and reproductive health. Here, they can embody multiple roles, including that of parent, but also of partner.
Today, birth centres, labour wards, operating theatres and home environments seemingly aim for a non-clinical appearance to provide a calm setting for the expectant mother. During the primal period – which includes the foetal life, birth and a year after birth-giving – it is crucial for parent and baby to be in secure, private and human-centred surroundings.
Current hospital settings are devoid of many qualities that medical researchers have deemed necessary, such as privacy, sanctuary and comfort. Although they have developed techniques to hide the presence of technology and equipment, the spatial quality is not warm, womb-like, soft or female-centred. During my pregnancy, I yearned for a calm space, with a carefully chosen colour and lighting palette. I wanted to limit distraction and foreign stimulation, since researchers have demonstrated that doing so can lead to more melatonin discharge – otherwise known as ‘the darkness hormone’. This hormone works along with oxytocin to assist labour and delivery, and to reduce neocortical activity, which is key to physiological pain-reduction during labour.
While some women value giving birth in an open space where medical professionals are on standby, others value privacy. Through Ultima Thule, I have created a space that caters to this latter group. I have reduced direct lighting and encouraged warmer colours and materials. It is also crucial for the mother not to be cold, as warmth induces the release of oxytocin.
Ultima Thule provides a place where the mother and the baby can be together as one entity – their closeness remains for as long as they desire. Although some value the clinical nature of the hospital setting, where technology and medical devices have a strong presence, I have designed an alternative space that prioritises material softness for those who desire it. This spatial quality reflects the womb, with its atmospheric and cosmic merit.
The Labour Silla aims to empower those who are not comforted by the hospital environment during labour.
Through a combination of colour, texture and flexible design decisions, the chair provides tranquility and ease during this period of uncertainty and extreme discomfort. Its ergonomic and elasto-mechanic qualities respond to the multiple demands of the pregnant body, enabling the mother to prepare for parturition.
The Labour Silla can accommodate different mammalian aptitudes. It aims to be inclusive of all needs and is continuously evolving. It should be seen as a companion to the mother, one that supports and responds to their body. It encourages the pregnant person to assume a range of postures to find comfort during the most laborious and painful phase of childbirth.
The Labour Silla works as a cushion and an aid that allows the pregnant body to adopt any desired position in order to prepare for parturition. It is an accommodating element, which allows the expectant parent to sit, kneel, squat, rest, lean and crawl until they find comfort. It is a gradual element, where the mother could either take the journey on her own or be supported by a partner, doula or a midwife.
The material is an easily wipeable and robust vinyl. It has a soft, gradual contour.
Researchers have demonstrated that people are more likely to tear or bleed during labour if they are in the historic lithotomy position (in which the patient is on their back, with their hips and knees flexed and thighs apart). Adopting this kind of supine position (lying horizontally with the face and torso facing up) often results in forceps having to be used for delivery, as you are going against the natural pull of gravity. This position can also extend the length of the baby’s delivery.
Squatting on parturition stools is proven to encourage the baby to emerge. However, despite being more convenient for both parent and baby, obstetrics favour the supine position, as it allows for the intervention of the tools commonly used during techno-medical births, such as a vacuum or forceps. Consequently, it is the most common birthing position.
The Parturition Stool offers comfort without the need for anaesthetics. It provides support for the parent and respects their unique temperament and physicality. It also recognises the need for others to be present during the birth and has been designed in a way that allows partners, friends or family to join the experience.
Designed as a tandem, a midwife or chosen partner can embrace the mother. A supporting design element works around the mother’s physical and biological needs.
The Parturition Stool supports those in labour from the back. Space is provided for a second person to sit behind the birthing parent for leaning support. This collaborative act assists with both pushing and pulling. The back of the body is supported with a soft cushion. The partner’s armchair embraces the mother’s stool by design.
The Parturition Stool works in an upright position, which eases pushing, shortens the second stage of labour, and ensures fewer backaches and perineal tears. The advantages for the parent are positive for the baby too – they have higher levels of oxygen in the umbilical cord.
The final element of the birth suite is the Solace Chaise – a chaise loungue for postpartum use or recovery. It has been designed to create a secure cocoon for parent and baby to bond in comfort and privacy immediately after the birth. This inclusive element can be used after vaginal birth, through medical intervention, caesarean, miscarriage or post-elective abortion.
The Solace Chaise is an object that establishes an immediate bond between mother and newborn. Only a few decades ago, medical institutions announced that it is crucial for babies to have immediate contact with the mother after birth so that they can share the same bacteria, microbes and antibodies. It is the moment when the baby begins to learn about the outside world through initial skin-to-skin contact, as well as from the mother’s smell, voice and touch. It is also the most advantageous moment for the mother to start to bond with her newborn and develop her maternal instincts.
In the past, babies were taken away to be cared for while the mother rested and cleaned herself after giving birth. This separation could delay breastfeeding, even when mothers had decided they wanted to do so. For me, breastfeeding was a deeply healing and also political act, I felt it brought me closer to my daughter.
The mother’s instincts within the first hour after birth are crucial for prolactin discharge, also known as ‘the motherhood hormone’. The Solace Chaise, through its softness, privacy and serene qualities, allows new mothers to think about their biosocial decisions, their well-being and their needs.
The Solace Chaise offers an initial connection in a longer bonding process. It aims to have a relaxing effect on the maternal body after it has undergone the trauma of childbirth, miscarriage or abortion.
The Chaise is an empowering tool, celebrating the mother as a free entity, liberated to make her own decisions and to conduct her own procreativity as she chooses. The design of The Solace Chaise, through its materiality, form and function, honours motherhood.
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