A Case of Hysteria

This Place Will Make You Crazy

Deep-rooted in the treatment of the mentally ill has been the belief that the natural and built environment plays a critical role in shaping a patient’s well-being. The notion many people have of gothic, looming “insane asylums” derives from a nineteenth-century plan developed by psychiatrist Thomas Kirkbride, who was actually seeking a more humane and efficient way to treat patients. In these Kirkbride plans, as seen here in the Willard Asylum for the Chronic Insane, the inmates were separated into violent and nonviolent wings, with administration functions housed in the center. Nonviolent patients were typically unconfined, free to walk about as they pleased (though unable to leave the premises). In contrast, when Agnes Richards established Rockhaven Sanitarium, she sought to emulate a popular European model based on the arrangement of a collection of cottages that each housed a specific patient type. Southern California’s Metropolitan State Hospital, known today as Norwalk State Hospital, also adopted the cottage plan design in 1915.

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