Elaborately conceived, grandly constructed insane asylums ranging in appearance from classical temples to Gothic castles were once a common sight looming on the outskirts of American towns and cities. Many of these buildings were razed long ago, and those that remain stand as grim reminders of an often cruel system. For much of the nineteenth century, however, these asylums epitomized the widely held belief among doctors and social reformers that insanity was a curable disease and that environment architecture in particular was the most effective means of treatment.
In Before the end of the century, interest in the Kirkbride plan had begun to decline. Many of the asylums had deteriorated into human warehouses, strengthening arguments against the monolithic structures advocated by Kirkbride. At the same time, the medical profession began embracing a more neurological approach to mental disease that considered architecture as largely irrelevant to its treatment.
Generously illustrated, Carla Yanni is associate professor of art history at Rutgers University and the author of
The Architecture of Madness
University of Minnesota Press
Insane Asylums in the United States
Architecture, Landscape and Amer Culture
Education & Reference /