Möbius Hospice

A collaboration with the Wellcome Centre for Cultures and Environments of Health at The University of Exeter, C2 (Connecting Communities) and the residents of Barne Barton, Plymouth (2019-20).

The Möbius Hospice is a new type of hospice that puts death and dying at the centre of a larger community.  Möbius Hospice uses the motif of a Möbius strip to talk about death and dying as a continuum. This refers to the cognitive scientist Douglas Hofstadter’s idea of the “strange loop” – an analogy for defining human consciousness as an emergent phenomenon of the brain, which has evolved a “user-illusion” capable of reflecting on itself.

Möbius Hospice includes:

My proposal is not to do away with the “real estate” of the hospice and replace it with a hub but instead to expand theboundaries of a hospice to a town scale and fold death and dying into the activities of the community as a whole.

Möbius Hospice is a rhizomatic approach to death and dying but also an architectural one. Perhaps in some ways the proposal is an attempt to domesticate the clinical?

I want to help normalise conversations about death and dying by removing euphemisms and by introducing new forms. The project aims to use architectural design, art and Virtual Reality to animate discussions around death and dying in a new way.

The hospice is secular. It is not supported by money from any religious order and it does not seek to proselytise religion.

The proposal features references to biological forms such as stem cells, kidneys, telomeres and centromeres (telomeres are the caps at the end of DNA strands that protect chromosomes). The design for Möbius Hospice also features canonical Walterian motifs such as cross-hatching and the Paisley Pattern, which enable me to address the subject of death and dying as part of a larger memeplex. This is something I’ve used successfully before in other projects such as Alien Sex Club and CAPSID – what seems to be extraneous information is actually a kind of memetic Trojan horse that smuggles innovation through under the radar.

My design is working against the Maggie’s Centres of architect Charles Jencks and the “healing architecture” meme of which his architecture is a proponent.

Dying in the context of genes and memes:

The architecture draws inspiration from buildings by Friedensreich Hundertwasser, especially his Bad Blumau spa in the south of Austria.

Like Hundertwasser, Arakawa & Gins argued for green roofs and folding nature inside and out of their buildings. The garden is the central motif of the Möbius Hospice reminding us that we are all nature as well as culture – we are animal and we are evolved – and Darwinism underpins the human conflict between culture and nature that we undergo during our lifetimes –but in dying we become nature again. I would argue that what gives peoples’ lives meaning is what they have replicated while they have been aliv be that genetic, memetic or both.

Antoni Gaudi is another inspiration. His buildings are authored from the largest down to the smallest design gestures. My reading of Hofstadter and my ambivalence about whether or not I am a self complicates my approach to authorship. However, for the purposes of human perception, which is human-centred, it can be useful to employ the fiction of the single author. This is manifest as a look that runs through everything in Möbius Hospice from choice of building shapes, materials and textures to colour schemes, patterns, cutlery, logos and so on. 

My proposal also potentially wrestles the discussion about death and dying away from current gatekeepers.

The project is supported by a Developing Your Creative Practice grant from Arts Council England and The Wellcome Centre for Environments and Cultures of Health, Exeter.