Passage Rights: Reclaiming the Rite of Passage of Birth at Pier A (The Methodology and Theoretical Underpinnings for the Transformation of New York's Historic Pier A into a Freestanding Birthing Center and Multi-Use Commercial Hub) Open Access
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This thesis reclaims the transformative power and significance of birth through the transformation of Battery Park's long abandoned Beaux-Arts style "Pier A" into a freestanding birthing center and commercial multi-use space that is devoted to nurturing women and their families; inspired by the rituals and rites of passage associated with the act of natural childbirth, this thesis lays the groundwork for an architectural program that empowers women and offers a sustaining and redemptive alternative to the restrictive technocratic and increasingly medicalized model that presently dominates birth in the United States.The thesis first explores a variety of historical birth environments in order to retrofit Battery Park's Pier A into a freestanding birth center that makes an architectural connection with the right of passage of birth and motherhood. It examines the birthplace in both a historical and cross-cultural context. In different cultures people have cultivated sacred birth rites, rituals, customs, and ceremonies. In different parts of the world, midwives, doctors, and medical and non-medical personnel practice in hospitals, in homes and a variety of other milieu. In America, due in part to modernism being conflated with pain-free and sterile hospital births as well as an overly litigious society, this diversity of experience has been practically eradicated in favor of overly interventive hospital birth procedures with an accompanying disproportionately high rate of caesarians. The birth center is explored herein and offered as a safe, childbirth alternative to hospital and home.In order to design this birth center and commercial multi-use space, domestic and international typologies were researched, both urban and rural, to cull those qualities most needed for a commercially successful and aesthetically pleasing development. First hand accounts offered by recent mothers also guided specific design choices and informed the project. At its core, the research helped identify the factors that make a birth center a special place, worthy of a lifetime of memories and attachment to the site itself. Research was conducted on the functional requirements, the architectural programming issues and a range of architectural place-making approaches that symbolically link with the more practical components and needs of mothers and their families.The intent of this collection of information about childbirth and birth places is to be a useful resource to anyone interested in designing a maternity health care facility using architectural expressions in imaginative ways. More immediately, however, it is applied to the transformation of Pier A in New York City into a freestanding birthing center with synergistic mixed use development relating to pregnancy and family life - a development in which the process of change, from independent individual to mother, is reified in architectural form and intentionality.