Compassionate Spaces proposes a system of deployable mobile shelters to address the issue of abortion access in the United States.
Abortion is federally legal, but women in rural areas are losing access as clinics are closed down. As a result, many have to travel out of state to get the care they need, and are often harassed once they reach the clinic. Burdensome costs, hassle, and intimidation pose a higher barrier of entry to financially vulnerable women.
This project proposes a system of deployable mobile shelters to address the issue, framing its architecture as a site of radical engagement and practical activism. These shelters are covert, nimble, and responsive: nestled within the bulkhead of a ubiquitous beverage truck is a living, reconfigurable, soft space that anticipates and reacts to the needs of body it holds, comforting the traveler within while providing protection through safe passage and secrecy.
Compassionate Spaces aims to insulate a highly personal decision from outside political noise, while creating opportunities for comfort through interpersonal connection. By addressing large sociopolitical issues at a personal level, architecture can use its agency to create openings in otherwise impenetrable political, social, and economic systems.
Compassionate Spaces facilitates reproductive choice for poor and rural women through responsive, covert interventions, with the ultimate aim of returning choice to the individual. Keeping or terminating a pregnancy is a deeply personal decision, one fraught with emotion and outside pressures on both sides of the argument. External issues such as cost, stigma, and exclusionary laws further complicate the decision by exerting undue pressure on the individual.
Although Abortion is federally legal in the United States, certain states weaponize building code in order to shut down abortion-providing clinics. As a result, many women in rural areas are required to travel out of state to get the care they need, and are often harassed further once they reach the clinic. Burdensome costs, hassle, and intimidation pose a significantly higher barrier of entry to working-class women.
What can architecture do about this? Fighting this phenomenon head-on by designing a clinic that meets the newest standards is futile in a political landscape in which the goalposts keep shifting. In order for activist architecture to anticipate this ebb and flow of access and legality, the designs that address the issue need to be nimble and peripheral, addressing real-world concerns while remaining far enough in the sidelines to avoid notice.
This project proposes a system of covert, nimble, and responsive mobile shelters to provide travelers a place to sleep as well as safe, covert transportation to and from the clinic. Nestled within the bulkhead of a ubiquitous beverage truck is a soft, responsive space that responds to the needs of traveler it holds, comforting her while providing protection through safe passage and secrecy. These sleepable units create free shelter for people who would otherwise have to pay out of pocket, reducing a significant part of the cost-related access barrier.
A gel-filled membrane mediates between the shelter and the body. An array of sensors and allows the membrane to sense movements, temperatures, and body positions indicative of emotion. Tense shaking, heaving sobs, agonized stiffness, exhaustion — the body expresses emotion while the membrane responds, validating the traveler's needs via a change in spatial or atmospheric quality.
Through reducing logistical and monetary worry, as well as risk of harassment, these shelters aim to bring the decision back to the realm of personal choice. This project deals with the myth that one cannot be pro-choice and also struggle with — or grieve for — one's abortion, acknowledging the presence of conflicting feelings while providing an avenue to make a choice insulated from outside pressures.
Compassionate Spaces aims to empower economically vulnerable and rural women by lowering the barriers of access to reproductive health procedures. While conceptual, it furthers the idea that architecture can respond proactively when faced with social inequity, in a way that uses design to connect with and validate the individual rather than going head-to-head with policy. By addressing the issue at a personal level, design can leverage its agency to create openings in otherwise impenetrable political, social, and economic systems. In this way, larger power structures can be broken down to a scale that design can actively address in its own wheelhouse: addressing the needs of the individual through function, spectacle, awareness, and connection to context, while starting broader conversations about power relationships.