Collaboration of Palliative Care and Design

Is death become a foe to be conquered? Gellie et al. (2014) wrote:

“our views on death have been skewed…  We now primarily experience death through the lens of a camera… [but] ‘death as spectacle’ distort[s] our perceptions and leave[s] us ill-prepared for the reality”

Studio 07 took seriously the provocation that it is time for a shift in this paradigm. Sixteen projects interrogated the contemporary experience of dying and sought to challenge societal responses to palliative care.

Studio 07, a project of Melbourne School of Design was undertaken as a unique cross disciplinary collaboration with VCCC Palliative Medicine Research Group, and with assistance from Melbourne School of Medicine, Very Special Kids (the Melbourne Children’s Hospice) and Parallel Practice.

The results reflected the full possibilities from these interdisciplinary projects.

Ciara D’Alberto stated that space is a burden in the oncology treatment process: “corridor after corridor, waiting room after waiting room, scan after scan; these tasks become a rhythm, reinforced by the architecture of the hospital that desecrates any sense of control”. Her work searched for a third space between the real and the virtual, where a patient might “temporarily escape the burden of their condition”.

Nicole Tan and Krystel White provoked us to consider what it means to choose where you will die, and explored rural palliative care networks, asking what infrastructural changes and architectural solutions would be required to enable Australia’s “grey nomad” community to die “on the road” (White), and to enable indigenous people to remain “on country” (Tan).

Chelsea Doorne asked not where we should die, but when and who should decide? Her project assumed a future condition (2020) where assisted dying laws had been passed, enabling Victorians to redesign the rituals of death.  To consider a future where our ability to control the “when” facilitates the engagement of family and friends in actively, and positively, planning even the smallest of details.

A fitting title for Lilian Szumer’s work would be “Grief Goes on but Silently”. Perinatal loss is the term used to describe stillbirths, but it doesn’t capture the trauma of losing a child before having had the chance to meet them; a trauma exacerbated because stillbirths occur within maternity wards, surrounded by families rejoicing the arrival of a healthy baby. Szumer’s project states that this is not okay and explores what an appropriately reverent architectural response would be to the intolerable grief that is too seldom discussed.  The use of water, open horizons, and movement through tide and time, enabled those mourning opportunities to focus on concentrated grief, and also to place it in the broad context of life and living.

Interdisciplinary collaboration appears to yield opportunities for new ideas and offers rich insights to all involved.

Studio leaders: Rebecca McLaughlan & Anthony Clarke