Seeking sanctum, a space for healing

Thesis / Dissertation


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Bearing witness to domestic violence and the crippling nature of trauma drives the interest in designing healing spaces for women and children. A person of inspiration and countless similar stories have resulted in the dissertation topic of a sanctuary, for women and children, as a space of healing and protection. The proposal is informed by research into feminist perspectives on space-making, phenomenology as a design tool to bring meaning to spaces, and responsive architecture as a way of deeply understanding and responding to site, context, and the community in an impactful and connected way. Two key issues are highlighted from the research and experiences of others, firstly that of needing to provide a space that feels homely and safe, not sterile and clinical, and secondly, that of providing access to facilitated healing and empowerment: with access to support, skills training, workspaces, connections, and nature. The resulting proposal is situated in Hout Bay, adjacent to a wetland, offering accessibility, access to nature, as well as an inherent sense of sanctuary. The design explores the juxtaposition between protection and openness by layering spaces to offer varying degrees of privacy, also using materials to explore solidity and transparency, heaviness, and lightness. Protective thresholds frame and enclose spaces, giving way to openness. Grounded programme is contrasted by the lifting of the most private spaces. More broadly the juxtaposition between public and very private is also explored, where the normative practice of radically disconnecting healing process from ‘normal' daily life is challenged. Important to the design as a whole is for the sanctuary to offer nurturing to both the inhabitants and to the landscape.