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Washington, D.C., March 20, 2017 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- The National Building Museum opens Architecture of an Asylum: St. Elizabeths 1852-2017 on March 25, 2017. The exhibition traces St. Elizabeths’ evolution over time, reflecting shifting theories about how to care for the mentally ill, as well as the later reconfiguration of the campus as a federal workplace and a mixed-use urban development. It runs through January 15, 2018.
Established by Congress in 1855 as the Government Hospital for the Insane, St. Elizabeths is widely considered a pioneering psychiatric facility. The hospital is a prime example of the “Kirkbride Plan” for mental health hospitals, almost 80 of which were built throughout the nation in the second half of the 19th century. These asylums, promoted by social reformers such as Dorothea Dix as part of a movement for Moral Treatment, promised to help patients with a specialized architecture and landscape. St. Elizabeths, along with other hospitals, experienced rapid expansion in its first century, hitting a peak of almost 8,000 patients by the 1960s. De-institutionalization in the second half of the 20th century emptied out the historic buildings on campus, as well as in similar hospitals across the country. Today, a hospital operated by the District remains at the site.
An important collection of architectural drawings held by the Library of Congress will anchor the exhibition. Drawings include Thomas U. Walter’s plans for the institution’s first structure, the 1855 Center Building, as well as plans for later residential “cottages,” farm structures, and an auditorium. A spectacular 1904 model created for the St. Louis World’s Fair is a dramatic centerpiece for the exhibition. Also featured is Dorothea Dix’s writing desk, on loan from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, at which she penned the legislation that authorized federal funding to treat the mentally ill in the nation’s capital.
Supplementing drawings and models will be a wide variety of objects, from an electroshock machine to a patient-made cat sculpture, introducing visitors to the people who lived and worked at the institution. One section introduces the hospital’s more well-known patients, such as John Hinckley, Jr., and Ezra Pound, as well as portrayals of the mental institution in popular culture including a poster from the film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The exhibition will include architectural fragments from the recent renovations at the hospital complex, such as doors, window bars, and plaster-wall paintings carefully removed from the buildings during renovation. Objects and photographs from museums and archives throughout Washington, D.C. will be displayed together for the very first time. This list includes loans from the National Library of Medicine, Library of Congress, the National Portrait Gallery, the National Museum of American History, the Smithsonian Castle Collection, and the National Museum of Health and Medicine.
The National Building Museum’s exhibition on Saint Elizabeths will present a remarkable story about architectural history, promising adaptive reuse, and American healthcare.
Architecture of an Asylum is presented in collaboration with the US General Services Administration. Additional support has been provided by the American Institute of Architects, Events DC, ZGF, Brailsford & Dunlavey, Smoot | Gilbane, A Joint Venture, and EYP Architecture & Engineering.
Contact Emma Filar, firstname.lastname@example.org or 202.272.2448, ext. 3458.
The National Building Museum is America’s leading cultural institution dedicated to advancing the quality of the built environment by educating people about its impact on their lives. Through its exhibitions, educational programs, online content, and publications, the Museum has become a vital forum for the exchange of ideas and information about the world we build for ourselves. Public inquiries: or visit www.nbm.org. Follow us on Twitter: @BuildingMuseum and Facebook: www.facebook.com/NationalBuildingMuseum.
A photo accompanying this announcement is available at http://www.globenewswire.com/NewsRoom/AttachmentNg/7f0e41bc-f677-453c-9f58-a87336403e65
A photo accompanying this announcement is available at http://www.globenewswire.com/NewsRoom/AttachmentNg/994569e0-3eba-4015-8f89-8ead04b13276
CONTACT: Emma FilarNational Building Museum2022722448efilar@nbm.org