Natural Birth Midwife Training Centre

Design in brief:

If we are to truly support a saner future, we must work together to build the essential facilities to replace the crumbling infrastructure of this ever more bankrupt and dysfunctional society. Likewise to refuse its brutal, deadening ugliness by incorporating beauty and conscious geometry to enhance the functionality of public or consecrated spaces such as these. Care taken in design and construction is repaid many times over, from the pride and self-confidence of all those creating the building, to the focused energies manifesting in the space, especially with such an intense and crucial experience as birth. Our arrival in this world must be managed safely and sensitively, but also celebrated. Temples where once centres of learning as well as worship. If we seek wholeness then surely a training centre for natural midwives may also honour She who births all?

With this in mind, the groundplan uses the egg, as symbol of birth, protection, femininity and nourishment. Anciently utilised in the shape of amphorae and ice houses, the main stone chamber, the pool within, and the overall footprint all follow this pattern, with other spaces, library, kitchen etc nestling under the extended reciprocal roof. Using traditional techniques, the Guadalfeo river stones are laid and mortared with locally dug red clay mixed with chumbo cactus juice to strengthen the bond. The main columns are from huge eucalyptii felled right behind the site, some of them taking eight men to lift.The cente of the twelve metre reciprocal can be opened up to let the sky and stars enter the central chamber directly, or closed for warmth during the winter months.

When required the centre of the floor lifts to reveal the birthing pool, formed in Tadelakt, a Morroccan waterproof, lime-based finish burnished with natural waxes to resemble polished marble. Shaped by experience to accommodate both midwife and birthing mother in maximum comfort, the water is heated by the wood-fired burner in the adjacent kitchen, whose flue also runs buried in a cob channel round the perimeter of the chamber, a simple form of hypocaust. Opposite the entrance is the hearth, both heating and an altar to focus some of the other activities this flexible space will be used for.

The library has large east facing windows for early morning solar gain, and can accommodate eight students, the kitchen is open on one side to the large shady veranda, floored with the plentiful local marble offcuts, where meals can be taken in comfort, essential in this region where summer temperatures can easily reach 48o C. The students will live and study together, sharing this space and the bounty of the surrounding landscape, overflowing with fruits and herbs, all watered by the ancient aquecia system which brings the high Sierra meltwater in small channels built of rock and earth for miles across this stunningly rugged terrain, filling the pool at the heart of this temple. A centre which may serve as inspiration for many similar endeavours as we reclaim responsibility for our own well-being, and lay these much needed foundations for our children by helping them first draw breath in peace, beauty and reverence.

The Site:

Da A Luz Birthing Centre is being built in Cigaronnes, a previously abandoned pueblo by the Guadalfeo riverbed south of Orgiva in Andalucia. Located in the next valley to the one featured in the book Driving over Lemons, it stands in a fertile landscape watered by the astoundingly sophisticated and ancient acequia system. Oranges, lemons, mandarins, olives, pomegranates, prickly pear and all manner of wild herbs grow in profusion all around.
In full summer, the heat can be extreme, making the central stone chamber a refuge from the blazing heat. Work on construction is therefore suspended during the main summer months and will re-start in the beginning of September 2014.

 

Approximate Schedule:

Building and weather is notoriously unpredictable, even in Southern Spain, so bear in mind this can only be a rough guide. The erection of the roof early on in the build helps a lot!

October:

  • Central Chamber~ clay mortared stonework including fireplace
  • Other rooms ~ construction of stone founds, upper walls to be straw or cob
  • Main frame~ column bases, erection of large egg-shaped reciprocal frame from local eucalyptus
  • Roundwood Prep ~ mostly completed, but will still be some to do
  • Undef floor heating etc. ~ installation of channels and supports for hypocaust, water feeds for birthing pool, etc.

November:

  • Birthing Pool ~ construction of pool shape, benching etc in preparation for tadelakt coating (waterproof, marble like lime finish)
  • Reciprocal Roof ~ completion of roundwood sarking, straw, liner & and weather proofing
  • Stonework ~ completion of chimney
  • Floor ~ joists & floorboards
  • Outer Walls ~ construction, prep for render
  • Windows ~ framing for strawbale, glass fitting

December:

  • External Render ~ Hot Lime, preparation & application
  • External Finishing ~ Hot Lime washes
  • Internal Render ~ clay or lime finish (TBC)
  • Internal Finishing ~ decoration, floor finish, kitchen installation etc.

January:

  • Anything we haven’t finished yet!