The Right Angle Journal - Fall 2017 - 20

ALLIED ARTS AND PROFESSIONS

LIGHT-COLOUR-DARKNESS
reimagining the birth environment through
aesthetics and phenomenology
by DOREEN BALABANOFF, PHD

ears ago, when I asked my own mother to tell me about my birth, she said,
"I don't remember anything, I was asleep!" Recently, during my doctoral
research, I read stories of the powerful drugs used to achieve this "sleep" and
the grey floppy babies that ensued. In the 1980s I had my own two children,
in two different Ontario hospitals. I was keenly aware, and critical, of these
two very clinical birth environments, because I was studying and then working in architecture at the time. There was an absence of architectural design in both spaces - no
features or affordances (space, form, light, atmosphere, colour, views out, places to
move or sit, bathing facilities) that could be experienced or felt as aesthetically pleasant, controllable, or even useful to me or my partner. There was one positive feature,
a skylight, in a delivery room I was transferred into, and which I remember as offering
great relief and pleasure - I could see the blue sky and early morning light. Today, I
find that we have not gone far enough in challenging the medicalization of birth, and
the related, clinical nature of birth spaces. Making them "home-like" is not enough.
We need to reinvent them.
Ro & Bermudez1 have noted that most architectural researchers "focus on the cognitive rather than the affective, and the behavioural not the psychological [...] anything
that could be related to beauty, emotion, or spirituality is perceived controversial,
'unscientific,' or 'subjective' and is thus avoided by professionals and researchers."
Roger Ulrich famously conducted a study showing that surgical patients recovered more
quickly in a room looking out to a view of a tree (rather than a brick wall).2 We seem
to need such studies to validate the value of nature, of art, of beauty, of emotional
design. In a 2008 review of evidence-based healthcare design research, Ulrich et al.
concluded, "It is now widely recognized that well designed physical settings play an
important role in making hospitals less risky and stressful, promoting more healing for
patients and providing better places for staff to work." How to achieve "well-designed
physical settings" is the question that now remains to be answered.
My own work is focused specifically on the birth environment, but has value for other
healthcare spaces. Aesthetic phenomenology, or how aesthetic experience impacts
our body - our mind/body - is a primary aspect of my research. In seeking out birth
environment literature, I found important new theory in Birth Territory and Midwifery
Guardianship.3 The authors seek to definitively reset our focus, turning attention towards
creating real change for birth by reconsidering the birth environment itself and how
its attributes might influence the birthing body. The important point they make is that
birthspace itself has impact on birth processes. Better birthspace could provide less
medicalized birth experience, and physical aspects of the space, including light, colour,
sounds, smells, privacy, flow, capacity to move, water, air, texture and sensuality are
valuable allies in this design work.

20 | Read The Right Angle Journal online www.therightanglejournal.ca

We seem to
need such
studies to
validate
the value
of nature,
of art, of
beauty, of
emotional
design.


http://www.therightanglejournal.ca

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of The Right Angle Journal - Fall 2017

Message from the Board
Introduction to The Right Angle Journal
Places
Allied Arts & Professions: Light-Colour-Darkness
Index to Advertisers
Locations
The Right Angle Journal - Fall 2017 - Intro
The Right Angle Journal - Fall 2017 - cover1
The Right Angle Journal - Fall 2017 - cover2
The Right Angle Journal - Fall 2017 - 3
The Right Angle Journal - Fall 2017 - 4
The Right Angle Journal - Fall 2017 - 5
The Right Angle Journal - Fall 2017 - 6
The Right Angle Journal - Fall 2017 - Message from the Board
The Right Angle Journal - Fall 2017 - 8
The Right Angle Journal - Fall 2017 - Introduction to The Right Angle Journal
The Right Angle Journal - Fall 2017 - Places
The Right Angle Journal - Fall 2017 - 11
The Right Angle Journal - Fall 2017 - 12
The Right Angle Journal - Fall 2017 - 13
The Right Angle Journal - Fall 2017 - 14
The Right Angle Journal - Fall 2017 - 15
The Right Angle Journal - Fall 2017 - 16
The Right Angle Journal - Fall 2017 - 17
The Right Angle Journal - Fall 2017 - 18
The Right Angle Journal - Fall 2017 - 19
The Right Angle Journal - Fall 2017 - Allied Arts & Professions: Light-Colour-Darkness
The Right Angle Journal - Fall 2017 - Index to Advertisers
The Right Angle Journal - Fall 2017 - Locations
The Right Angle Journal - Fall 2017 - cover3
The Right Angle Journal - Fall 2017 - cover4
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