Humanities Research Institute

Staff Profile

Dr Emma Cheatle

Research Fellow


Roles and Responsibilities

Post-doctoral Research Fellow Newcastle University Humanities Research Institute (NUHRI)

Research Interests

I am an architectural writer interested in creative critical methods of writing about architecture. My research is interdisciplinary and explores the way architecture materialises and spatialises cultural and social history, primarily from the eighteenth to the twentieth century. I am particularly interested in intersections between architecture, medical humanities, English literature and art history, theory and practice. My writing employs different forms of text and creative modes to ‘reconstruct’ the past lives of buildings in the present. My current project, 'The Architecture of Lying-in: Building Maternal Materialism 1680–1830', examines the role of architecture in the changing understanding of the maternal body and maternity practices. 



Certificate of Professional Practice in Architecture (UCL)

PG Dip Architecture (UCL)

BA(Hons) Architecture (Kingston)


AHRC PhD Studentship (2009–2012)

RIBA President's Awards for Outstanding PhD Thesis (2014)


Society of Architectural Historians

London Architectural Humanities Network (Founding Member)


Current work

Post-doctoral research – 'The Architecture of Lying-in: Building Maternal Materialism 1680–1830'  

Although  research has been done on the history of birth practices and maternity medicine, little attention has been given to the architectural spaces and institutions in which birth took place. From the mid eighteenth century a new institution, the lying-in hospital, became widespread. My research hypothesis is that these newly built hospitals were not neutral settings but fundamentally changed the ways in which the maternal body was understood and hence the  performance and management of labour and birth. Close analysis of particular buildings (including John Dobson’s 1826 purpose built Lying-In Hospital in Newcastle) is cross-referenced with descriptions of birth practices and spaces from drawings, paintings, diary entries, novels and medical texts, to evaluate how the details of spaces (size, furnishings, arrangements) suggested different qualities (light, fresh air, efficiency, cleanliness) and affected both the practices and experiences of their inhabitants. Moving from ordinary eighteenth century houses (whose bedrooms were usually small and on the second floor, and often shared with other family members) to the new, grand buildings of the mid-eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries (with their wards and large windows), I trace how the changing conceptions of birth spaces saw the emergence of a newly materialised maternal body.

Ongoing research project – ‘Spaces of verbal performance in health care and medicine’ (with Catalina Mejia Moreno)

Inspired by architectural, medical and performance art theory we seek to create a discourse on voice and sound in medical spaces towards defining an important new area of interdisciplinary study: Architectural Medical Humanities. We propose definitions and questions around verbal performance, architectural space and health, in order to examine how they shape each other or remain distinct or discrete. Topics include: (1) historical or contemporary relationships between health issues (dust, pollution, birth), spaces (consulting rooms, hospital wards, operating / lecture theatres, clinics, domestic spaces, cities) and voices; (2) particular aspects and definitions of medical performance such as gestures and their spatial aspects; their particular hierarchies and formalities, distances and proximity of protagonists; (3) the fleeting ephemerality of voice against the permanency of architectural space; (4) the body as a determining factor; (5) other forms and definitions of voice in medicine: voice hearing; internal voice; breath, and their spatial implications. Additionally we evaluate verbal forms of dissemination including radio or television broadcasts, recordings, film, lectures; or visual mediums depicting or used for verbal medical interactions such as wax models, historic woodcuts and medical manuals. Methods range from academic text to creative or performative practices. 

Audio research project – ‘Tales of Confinement: The Spaces of Birth  Past and Present'

An ongoing creative research project to record oral histories of interviews with mothers and fathers on their spatial experiences of birth, towards a radio play.


Doctoral thesis

My PhD research (Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL) was an interdisciplinary study of the materiality, social and medical culture of the iconic modernist house the Maison de Verre, Paris, 1932 and its relationship to Marcel Duchamp’s artwork, the Large Glass, 1915–23. The house is constructed largely from glass, and I was intrigued by the fact that it contained a gynaecology clinic, both overlooked by the open-plan interior of the house, and positioned just behind a thin layer of the glass façade. The thesis (forthcoming in book form: Part-architecture: the Maison de Verre, Duchamp, Domesticity and Desire in 1930s Paris, Routledge, 2016) recounts the social history of the female body, sexuality, medicine and art underpinning the clinic when it was first built, analyse the effects of the building materials, and tell the story of the various inhabitants of the house, from the doctor, his wife, their housekeeper, to the various visiting patients. As well as providing an original critical history and theory of the building, I establish new ways of writing about architecture, incorporating design thinking into history and theory, as equal research methods. Regarded as original innovative research, the thesis combines history writing, fictional writing, performative lecture, audio and drawing to analyse the building and artwork through understandings of their social significance and details of their inhabitation.


BA Architecture Stage 2 elective dissertation module 

Writing Architecture, Writing Fiction
In this elective we consider how different methods and forms of writing affect our experience, perception and analysis of the built environment. In particular, we study critical, creative and fictional texts which feature architecture, cities and landscapes as a series of material and cultural objects. Reading a range of writers – architectural historians, cultural commentators and novelists – we look at the very different methods of using text to understand, utilise and project architecture, both real or imagined. We analyse the role of narrative, archive, fact, creative thinking, subjectivity, theme and structure in developing the social or political position of the author. Students develop a short piece of ficto-critical architectural writing towards a topic for their 3rd year dissertation.
The 4 seminars cover aspects of: 
* architectural history writing *creative spatial writing *critical cultural writing *the novel and writing techniques