The concept of dignity recurs often in the discourse of healing design. The theory of supportive design names dignity explicitly in as part of its formulation. Recent work on the concept of healing - as opposed to curing - also identify dignity as one of several as defining qualities.
And the meaning of dignity itself deserves some attention.
It was a discussion about design and dignity that launched my decision to create this forum. I will share elsewhere how I think these overlapping subjects can address so many different audiences, caring practitioners and participants, in new ways.
So here’s where it all begins. Please enjoy:
Do you have about half an hour?
Take some time with these two videos on healing architecture. They are TED Talks by architects calling for an ambitious vision in their practices.
John Cary tells the story of accompanying his wife to a poorly designed birthing room - the description is harrowing - and when the nurse ruefully commiserates, “I wish I could be an architect and design rooms like this better, “ he has to admit to her, “But an architect did design this room.” And that’s the problem.
Cary diagnoses this problem as a failure to design for dignity. He points specifically to disparities in racial and gender representation in the profession. Perhaps a more diverse field would more deliberately address the human needs of its end-users. He backs up his case with excellent examples: a free clinic in Arkansas by Marlon Blackwell, and a cottage community for 50 chronically homeless people in Dallas by buildingcommunityWORKSHOP.
Design is to dignity as justice is to law and health is to medicine…. Architecture can make people feel valued, honored, respected, and seen.
A second talk by Michael Murphy of MASS Design Group explores the way architecture can heal, and not just in the creation of healthcare environments. Architecture can promote civic health, including healing from historical atrocities.
He outlines a fascinating project to build a new hospital in Rwanda, incorporating the best insights on evidence-based design, but also adapting to conditions in the field. The practice of “local fabrication” demanded a reliance on local materials, local craft techniques, and local labor, all in the interest of ensuring the dignity of laborers as well as future patients. The development of a mixed-tribe labor force - both Hutus and Tutsi - contributed to the project of post-genocide healing.
And perhaps you’ve heard about the recently opened National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama, a project of the Equal Justice Initiative. Michael Murphy tells the story of its development and outlines the design intent of an inspiring architectural intervention, whose long-term programing makes claims on every county in the U.S. where a terror lynching took place.