To the Lighthouse

020 A0957
The washing line parts and the speculative street and its lighthouses are revealed. Image by Daniel Ho.

This thesis asks how might architecture protest, give visibility to, and offer hope and care in response to family violence in Aotearoa, New Zealand?

Aotearoa has the highest rate of family violence in the developed world. Every three minutes a call is made to emergency services. On average, one in two women will experience family violence in one form or another during their lifetime. This is an intergenerational issue that cuts across socio-economic boundaries, affecting people of all genders, ethnicities, ages, and sexualities.

It is clear that no part of life here is untouched by the pain caused by family violence. The architectural profession is in no way immune from this. Nor is architecture itself which bears witness to these acts. I am not suggesting that architecture alone can solve this issue. Instead, this work is intended as a provocation that puts forward an alternative way to think about how architecture could play a role in our social sustainability.

Rather than designing architectures that focus on the consequences of family violence, my intent in this project has been to speculatively consider shifts in community spaces that might influence the context in which violence occurs.

Being part of an academic institution gives me the privilege of examining this area at a distance. The work is a protest affirming the urgency of an architectural response. The work can also be seen as a wish to speculate on the nature of world-building beyond family violence.

Part I: design research

My design research has centred on the making of artifacts. This followed a particular approach I developed over my master's degree but finds added validity in Elaine Scarry’s book, The Body In Pain. There, Scarry describes the world-destroying dynamic inherent to pain. And how in pain-inducing circumstances, hurt is often unable to be articulated. Scarry talks about the creation of material artifacts as one way to give voice to what cannot be said. And that artifacts themselves can be found as a means of world-making – much like architecture.

I have researched extensively on the nature of domestic violence in Aotearoa with particular reference to first-hand accounts from family violence survivors, taken from the book See What You Made Me Do by Jess Hill and a sixteen-part New Zealand documentary series on domestic violence, Breaking Silence.

Rtifact drawing
Initial drawings of the four original artifacts.

My four original artifacts explore issues of family violence operating as an open secret (the Watch Tower), how survivors lose their identities (the Void), the layering of physical and psychological abuse over time (In the Bellows), and the shame inherent in family violence (the Pirouette Silhouette).

Leo BR02468 copy
Some of the artifacts and their counter artifacts (not to scale). From left to right In the Bellows, Pirouette Silhouette, Scrap Yard, In Tension.

To counter the heaviness of the original artifacts I generated what I have termed counter artifacts. These four counter artifacts represent the relief upon leaving a violent home (Scrap Yard), the resilience needed to rebuild one’s life (the House that Burnt Up), the difficulty in leaving but the freedom this brings (in tension), and the breaking free from family violence (Under Renovation).

My speculative approach to this research and the artifacts is grounded in a landscape taken from the film set of Dogville. The houses are stripped to their bear outlines revealing what is happening behind closed doors. This “Suburban Street” refers to a street I once lived on; the floor plans also reference houses I have lived in. A synthesis of fiction and truth.

Map modos
The street landscape later converted to a table top.
Table top
The street landscape and its artifacts and counter artifacts.


I felt a need to see past the heaviness of this all and I was drawn to alternative artifacts that were expressive of softness and care.

I did this through the making of quilts. To me, quilts represented a counter artifact to family violence – a caring and loving home.

As I was making these quilts, I was reading Alias Grace, a Margaret Atwood novel and learned how a yellow square in a quilt symbolised a welcoming light in one’s window. My quilts and their yellow squares are a nod to this welcoming light. They suggest a room of light amidst a sea of darkness. A lighthouse.

And it was this suggestion of a lighthouse that formed the basis of my architectural response.

Left: the backless quilts hanging on the washing line before they are twisted to reveal the speculative street behind. Right: a yellow room amidst a sea of darkness. Images by Daniel Ho.

Part 2: An architectural response

My lighthouses are again grounded in world making and the creation of artifacts as a response to pain.

I chose to base my world making in everyday care and beauty. Everyday care because one way in which nurses respond to pain, is by practicing everyday acts of care. Everyday things and routines.

And beauty because Scarry sees this as sitting opposite to pain. Beauty helps in the repairing of injuries and in dealing with injustices. Upon encountering a beautiful object, we undergo an unselfing. It lifts us up fleetingly and returns us back down to earth altered for the better.

1:50 models of the four lighthouses. From left to right, the Laundry, the Playroom, Caretakers Cottage and Bus Stop. Images by Daniel Ho.

The location of these urban lighthouses is on the street. If the house is unsafe because of violence, then the street could be seen is safer. The street is also a traditional site of protest. And as we move towards decarbonising our streets, it is also a site for experimentation and world building, as is the norm in non-western countries.

Like the crossroads we find ourselves at with domestic violence, the speculative street in front of you is also a crossroads. This street is based on the memory of 4 streets I’ve lived on. It’s an amalgam I’ve used to ground these experimental lighthouses. This response addresses my lived experience but other streets and other neighbourhoods would formulate their own lighthouses of care according to their experience.

Left: the speculative street and its four lighthouses (1:50). Right: looking across the table of artifacts to the street + projected imagery behind. Images by Daniel Ho.

Each lighthouse embodies an act of everyday care personal to me. And the representation of these spaces in the images is also intentionally personal. This is because when thinking about everyday care, I was reminded of essayist Joan Didion, who wrote about what she saw in the world - she wrote about what she knew. These acts of care and images are my family engaging in care is what I know everyday care as and offered me the ability to speculate on these spaces.

The Laundry speaks to washing, the Bus Stop to observing, the Playroom to play and the Caretaker's Cottage to rest.

The spatial qualities and forms of the four lighthouses are directly linked with my earlier artifacts and quilts. They are suggested as an overlay of hope. Not a utopia.

Speculations on how the Laundry might block the street and its interior.
Speculations on how the Bus Stop would sit beside the road and how the Playroom would open out onto the street during weekends.
A speculation on the interior of the Caretaker's Cottage.