As humans, architects have their own prejudices and beliefs, and often times, those can affect their work, particularly when designing such facilities that were historically stigmatized. My thesis looks at one typology in particular - psychiatric centers, formerly known as asylums and mental hospitals. The life cycles of their architecture can be looked at in three parts: their uses, their abandonment and their futures.
The psychiatric centers of the nineteenth century were designed to be comfortable and humane, offering fresh air and sunlight to all residents, sometimes even teaching skills and trades to the residents. However, the layout of such campuses show a disconnect between the residents - no place to gather, large isolating green spaces, and buildings that all look out to the public rather than inward towards each other. This shows a need to control individual populations contained in each building and potentially a fear of what would happen if they were allowed to form a community. The buildings directly show the good intentions of the state and supervisors, but how their own stigmas held them back from giving the residents proper treatment.
The vacant buildings further these stigmas against the residents, as people assume that they’re haunted by those who used to live there. “Asylums” have become a fixture in our American horror culture as a result, often vilifying the patients more than the doctors and supervisors who carried out the inhumane treatment.
From an architectural standpoint, these buildings still have enormous potential. They often are constructed of durable materials and have lots of square-footage. A careful adaptive reuse of these sites can help to bring new life to these sites, and reconnect them with a society that shunned them from their conception. Mental health centers can have a second life, giving new, innovative spaces to the public while revealing the truths of their past.
Hughes, Taylor M., "Saving Face: Adaptive Reuse of a Twentieth-Century Psychiatric Center" (2019). Architecture Theses. 119.