National Building Museum’s New Exhibition, “Architecture of an Asylum,” Explores Links Between Mental Health and Architecture | New

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The central building of St. Elizabeths, photographed circa 1900. Image courtesy of the National Building Museum

Dix made sure that the hospital that became St. Elizabeths in 1916 had heating, tall arched windows, and screened porches where patients could enjoy the summer breezes. Photos, models, and floor plans included in the museum’s exhibit show beautiful brick buildings – with towers, high ceilings, open spaces, and river views.– NPR

The National Building Museum in Washington features an exhibit that tells the architectural history of St. Elizabeths or, as originally named when it opened in 1855, the Government Hospital for the Insane.

Begun by Dorothea Dix, the 19th-century reformer who fought for the facility to represent healthier standards for mental health treatment, the history of the federally-run hospital bears traces of l evolution of the American healthcare system, evolving theories on how to care for the mentally ill, as well as the subsequent reconfiguration of the campus as a federal workplace and mixed-use urban development.

The porches of the 1890s Allison Buildings, pictured above in 1910, were later closed to provide more space for patient beds. Image courtesy of the National Building Museum

“Some things cannot be cured,” says Denise Everson, an architect in the DC area who specializes in design and health. “But I think humane treatment – I think, creative treatment – is where we should be going as a community, nation and world.”



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