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Architecture (MA)

Molly Hughes

Molly is a second year Masters student graduating from the Royal College of Art in 2023. Prior to RCA, she obtained a First-Class Honours BSc at The Welsh School of Architecture in 2020 and proceeded to develop her professional and personal spatial practice whilst working as a Part I Architectural Assistant for George+Tomos Architects in West Wales. 

In 2022, Molly began to investigate her interest in the presence of gender inequality within the built environment during her MA. As part of ADS10, her first-year proposal sought to prompt the necessary conversations regarding childcare surrounding the workplace, with the long-term goal of liberating women from the gendered and unwaged role of the reproductive labourer.

After joining ADS3 in her second year, Molly continued to study the regulation of female bodies within public and private space through examining architecture’s role in perpetuating societal conceptions regarding bodily processes such as menstruation. Utilising the underground public convenience at Queensway as a proxy site, her project ‘Taboo in the Loo’ explored how redesigning the public bathroom could help raise awareness of the menstrual illiteracy present within western society.

Photograph of bathroom cabinet, where its contents enable the user to achieve a socially acceptable level of personal hygiene


‘Woman’s greatest hygienic handicap’; although used to describe menstruation by Kotex in 1921, this conception remains prevalent within western society today. Whilst advancements in the feminine hygiene industry have improved the ‘sanitary’ treatment of mensural blood over the last century, attitudes towards the ‘period’ as a dirty and shameful affair have persisted. 

‘Taboo in the Loo’ analyses the formation of taboos surrounding the ‘period’ as a method to understand how female bodies are regulated in public and private space through devices which operate in the bathroom. To disrupt this form of female management, the project seeks to intervene with the sterile and private characteristics of the public toilet, which reinforce the notions of dirtiness and confidentiality that partner menstruation. By redesigning its architectural elements to inspire thought and discussion regarding the perception of this natural bodily function, the scheme looks to raise awareness of the current menstrual illiteracy that is plaguing society.

The project does not claim that all cisgender women menstruate, or that menstruation is only experienced by cisgender women. However, the scheme adopts a feminist reading of society and the built environment as the taboos surrounding this bodily function associated with female biology has impacted the way many ‘women’ inhabit space.

Photograph of felted sanitary products and bag
Felted Sanitary Products and PackagingBag for further device concealment adorned with adjectives commonly used by the feminine hygiene industry to not only market such products but to describe how women ‘should’ inhabit space.
Illustration of the 'Tampax Compak' tampon absorption mechanism
Tampax Compak Mechanism 'Tampax Compak' is a popular tampon fabricated by Procter & Gamble, creators of the ‘super absorbent’ Rely tampon which was heavily associated with Toxic Shock Syndrome in 1974.
Comic strip of photographs and annotations juxtaposing popular public opinion of the IUD with its bloody history
The IUD Comic StripJuxtaposing popular public opinion of the IUD with a gory reality of the pain and injury inflicted upon women throughout its development.

Purity and Cleanliness

To understand how menstruation has become a prohibited subject within western society, a circumstance which is evident within sanitary products and campaigns, the project explores the ‘period’ as a marker of the ‘impure’ and ‘unclean’ female body due to its signification of women’s reproductive capabilities.

It investigates the direct affect this societal perception has had on women by analysing the development of sanitary and contraceptive devices as a response to growing concerns for safeguarding public propriety. Through demonstrating how the feminine hygiene industry have proceeded to manipulate menstrual taboos to sell women products of dubious safety, the scheme seeks to challenge the purely emancipatory quality associated with such devices.

As well as regulating female bodies through influencing attitudes towards their biological processes and assumed behaviour, the study stresses that the perpetuation of such taboos has also generated a contraceptive and menstrual illiteracy. This has resulted in many women subjecting themselves to the silent use of devices such as the tampon or IUD without fully understanding the risks and compromises being made.

Illustration showing movements when using private bathroom and its enclosed devices when menstruating
The Private BathroomFacilitating interaction between body and device.
Illustration showing awkward movements and encounters experience within Queensway Underground Conveniences when menstruating
Queensway 'Assault' CourseMoments for intervention identified through mapping the uncomfortable encounters experienced within the underground public conveniences at Queensway whilst menstruating.
Transformation of a Watery BodiesTo confront the concern for cleanliness from which menstrual taboos stem, the scheme looks to expose the bathroom as a series of unseen flows that connect the human body to a larger system through the passing of water.
Comparing Vessels'Transformation of Watery Bodies' series inspired by ‘Hydrofeminism: Or, On Becoming a Body of Water’, Astrida Neimanis

The Bathroom

‘Taboo in the Loo’ recognises the bathroom, characterised by its sterile and private qualities, as the optimum environment for the interaction between women and these devices, which like the bathroom itself, treat and conceal the ‘dirtiness’ and ‘impurity’ of the female body.

Besides acknowledging the typology’s role in mobilising menstrual stigma through encouraging such exchanges, the project also highlights the development of London’s subterranean public bathroom network, which evolved in line with Britain’s Public Health Acts, as a key driver in perpetuating taboos throughout the city by promoting the concept of maintaining moral ‘purity’ through sustained physical cleanliness.

Therefore, whilst its establishment has been celebrated for providing women with greater access to the city, the scheme demonstrates how the public bathroom, also commonly known as the washroom or public toilet, has oppressed women on a greater scale through reinforcing menstruation as an unsanitary and embarrassing process. Using the underground conveniences at Queensway as an example, the project displays how this spatial typology continues to express these societal perceptions of sanitation and the female body through its persistent disregard for women and their biological functions, which proceeds to strengthen menstrual taboos.

Illustrated perspective plan demonstrating how the redesigned public toilet at Queensway may be inhabited
Taboo-Busting Loos at Queensway Eroding taboos whilst raising awareness of the current menstrual illiteracy by encouraging greater interaction between users within the public bathroom.
Perspective illustration of the ‘Taboo-Busting Loos’ at Queensway
Implementing 'Bathroom Element Series' Proposed Queensway interior conveying how elements such as the ‘Side Storage Wall’, ‘Ribbed Toilet’ and ‘Convivial Sink’ sit within the subterranean site.
Illustration of the side storage wall holding menstrual products amongst other items
Side Storage WallWall recesses offer valuable storage space, shutters provide users with varying levels of privacy within cubicles and handrails cater to a range of physical mobilities.
Illustration of the ribbed toilet holding a used tampon
Ribbed ToiletShelf eases sanitary product replacement and bowl grooves slow the disappearance of waste, allowing for its assessment whilst aesthetising such flows.
Illustration of the convivial sink being used by multiple people at once
Convivial SinkForm encourages multiple occupancy, offering a greater opportunity for interaction between individuals whilst providing essential facilities such as hand dryers below the sink rim, a shelf for bag placement and retractable steps for children.
Illustrated GIF showing existing and proposed plans and section of the pubic toilets at Queensway
Intervening within Queensway Underground Public Conveniences Demonstrating how existing public bathrooms could be redesigned using the 'Bathroom Element Series'.
Illustrations of bathroom sinks and toilets with dimensions
Bathroom Element SeriesConfronts taboos by increase interaction between users and their waste whilst improving access and functionality of amenities for all bodies through considering the alternative space standards provided by Alexander Kira following his research into human anatomy.

Taboo-Busting Loos

Utilising the underground public conveniences at Queensway as a proxy site, the project explores how redesigning its architectural elements to increase interaction between users and their bodily waste, whilst improving the functionality and access to such facilities for all bodies, could encourage the subversion rather than perpetuation of taboos which regulate female bodies in public and private space.

Through provoking discussion regarding the perception of menstruation, the taboo-busting loos at Queensway hope to raise awareness of the current menstrual illiteracy that requires urgent acknowledgement.

Illustrated fragrance pyramid for the 'Menstrual Mix' perfume
Menstrual Mix Formula Confronting the negative attitudes towards menstrual blood and its odours by complementing its perceived ‘stinks’ with various fragrances that represent the diverse range of emotions experienced by women during their menstrual cycle.
Photograph of fragrance vials created in collaboration with erfumers Amanda Menage and Angela Espersen
Menstrual Mix Development In collaboration with perfumers Amanda Menage, director of Pandar Perfumes in La Gacilly, and Angela Espersen, director of Ceremony design in Portland.

Menstrual Mix

As well as emphasising its presence visually, the project seeks to celebrate menstruation through the ‘Menstrual Mix’, a perfume occupying the air fresheners and soap dispensers of the public toilet, which is currently being developed along with perfumers Amanda Menage, director of Pandar Perfumes in La Gacilly, and Angela Espersen director of Ceremony design in Portland.

The fragrance aims to confront the negative attitudes towards menstrual blood and its odours by complementing its perceived ‘stinks’ with various fragrances that represent the diverse range of emotions experienced by women during their menstrual cycle.

The core fragrance will evolve throughout the day, representing the shifting smells of menstrual blood during the 7-day bleed and the changing hormone levels throughout the 28-day cycle. It will also acknowledge the importance smell and pheromones played in human menstrual blood by including the 'Iso E Super' within its formula. When contacting human skin, this molecule will react with the unique pheromones of an individual, producing a smell specific to the user as they leave the bathroom.