‘Architecture of Insanity’

Jack Yates recently shared with me an article entitled the ‘Architecture of Insanity: Boston Government Service Center’ by Michelle Koh and Gwen Lee. Located in Massachusetts (US), the Government Service Center has two parts, one of which is the Erich Lindemann Mental Health Center. The photos and description of the Lindemann Center are particularly relevant to Social Role Valorization and PASSING.

From the article: “When Rudolph designed the Lindemann Center, he had hoped to create a landscape that would reflect the interior mental states of inmates suffering from Alzheimer’s, dementia or schizophrenia. Armed with his theory of psychology, Rudolph tried to recreate the hallucinogenic or exaggerated mental and emotional states of the insane with never ending inchoate corridors, a chapel with a dismal atmosphere and macabre twisting stairways, one of which, like an oubliette in a medieval keep, leads nowhere. The building’s dramatic structures and subliminal imagery (there is a thinly veiled frog’s head looking out from the building’s facade) make the Lindemann Center very expressive, but also foreboding and dangerous. With a romanticised view of mental illness, Rudolph made the building “insane” in the hope that it would sooth those who dwell in it by reflecting the insanity they feel within. Unfortunately, the outcome is not what the architect had hoped for.”

This is a dramatic example, though probably not a unique one, yet can still teach us quite a bit when we consider the Lindemann Center in terms of SRV and PASSING training and implementation. A few questions to consider while reading the article:

• What were the conscious assumptions of the architect?

• What messages would the exterior and interior of this setting communicate about adults with mental disorder? What devalued roles are communicated by the setting? (Wolfensberger, SRV monograph, pp. 64, 107; Wolfensberger & Thomas, PASSING manual–Service-Neighborhood Harmony, Setting Aesthetics, Setting Appearance Congruity with Culturally Valued Analogue, Miscellaneous Image Aspects of the Physical Setting)

• What competency impacts might living in such a building have on adults with mental disorder? (Wolfensberger & Thomas, PASSING manual–Physical Comfort of Setting, Challenge/Safety Features of Setting)

And so on.

Marc Tumeinski

Posted on January 4, 2013 at 10:52 am by MTumeinski · Permalink
In: Uncategorized · Tagged with: , , , , , ,

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  1. Written by David J Gill
    on June 10, 2016 at 7:31 am
    Reply · Permalink

    The unfortunate title of the article you reference, “The Architecture of Insanity” is the sort of provocative title that journalists and their editors love. In this case it gives this article the implication of an expose and a revelation about the intentions of the architect, Paul Rudolph and the building reviewed that is not justified by what we know about Rudolph’s intentions.

    The article you quote includes a lengthy statement by the architect from a publication of the period that says nothing that confirms his intentions as described in the passage from the article that you quote. I think it’s fair to say that the architect did not try to “recreate the hallucinogenic or exaggerated mental and emotional states of the insane with never ending inchoate corridors, a chapel with a dismal atmosphere and macabre twisting stairways, one of which, like an oubliette in a medieval keep, leads nowhere.” Indeed from the architects own remarks another historian of the buildings states that “Rudolph instead aimed to create a humanizing architecture, responsive to urban conditions and engaged with the “psychological effect” of expressive and emotionally moving space.” We know that the architect was reacting against the sterile rigidity of functionalism at a time when architects were struggling to give modernism a quality of monumentality and the Lindemann Center’s and the rest of the complex it is part of were intended to be monumental public buildings.

    Paul Rudolph created a huge body of work most of which remains highly controversial and is the focus of relentless animosity from a philistine public that loves to hate art and architecture that challenges expectations. Nevertheless Rudolph was a brilliant architect and some of his best work is much admired, though increasingly one must be a enthusiast of mid-century oddities in architecture to get it. But the Lindemann Center is perhaps the Rudolph building that is the most difficult to appreciate and while this is mostly due to Rudolph’s own misconceptions for the project there are a good many contributing factors beyond his control.

    “Social Role Valorization” is a new term for me, but my initial reaction is that the best architects are obsessively concerned with creating buildings that elevate the value of those groups in our society that are so often regarded negatively. That was certainly the intention I embraced when I designed an inpatient metal health facility, but of course many other factors can dictate otherwise. Paul Rudolph’s conscious intentions were exactly the same as mine and of other architects. Another source discussing the building in questions says that his “…attention to the patients’ environment suggested [Rudolph] felt a true regard for them. As director of the inpatient unit when the center opened, Dr. Frank Paolitto expressed a similar sentiment about the care invested in the architecture: “the building discourages the idea that people are not worthwhile.”

    A better article:

    Another that looks interesting that I have not yet read is:

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