Asylum: Inside the Closed World of State Mental Hospitals

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Overview

For more than half the nation's history, vast mental hospitals were a prominent feature of the American landscape. From the mid-nineteenth century to the early twentieth, over 250institutions for the insane were built throughout the United States; by 1948, they housed more than a half million patients. The blueprint for these hospitals was set by Pennsylvania hospital superintendant Thomas Story Kirkbride: a central administration building flanked symmetrically by pavilions and surrounded by lavish grounds with pastoral vistas. Kirkbride and others believed that well-designed buildings and grounds, a peaceful environment, a regimen of fresh air, and places for work, exercise, and cultural activities would heal mental illness. But in the second half of the twentieth century, after the introduction of psychotropic drugs and policy shifts toward community-based care, patient populations declined dramatically, leaving many of these beautiful,massive buildings—and the patients who lived in them—neglected and abandoned.

Architect and photographer Christopher Payne spent six years documenting the decay of state mental hospitals like these, visiting seventy institutions in thirty states. Through his lens we see splendid, palatial exteriors (some designed by such prominent architects as H. H.

Richardson and Samuel Sloan) and crumbling interiors—chairs stacked against walls with peeling paint in a grand hallway; brightly colored toothbrushes still hanging on a rack; stacks of suitcases, never packed for the trip home. Accompanying Payne's striking and powerful photographs is an essay by Oliver Sacks (who described his own experience working at a state mental hospital in his book Awakenings). Sacks pays tribute to Payne's photographs and to the lives once lived in these places, "where one could be both mad and safe."

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"...Asylum is of enormous value, as a record of how such places looked in their final years. More than that, and despite its dismal subject matter, it makes for a remarkable and endlessly fascinating book, one that can be recommended with enthusiasm to both the architectural historian and the general reader." Times Literary Supplement

" Asylum is a haunting, beautiful book of lost dreams and lost minds. It is a reminder that society"s ideals deteriorate more rapidly than the structures built to facilitate them. Asylums for the insane, which started with high intentions, usually ended in horror and neglect. Oliver Sacks has written a deeply moving elegy for the lives of those who lived, and often died at these asylums and Christopher Payne has captured the soul of the asylums themselves through his extraordinary photographs. I cannot imagine forgetting this book: it has evoked sadness,awe, and shame." Kay Redfield Jamison , Professor of Psychiatry, Johns HopkinsSchool of Medicine and author of An Unquiet Mind

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780262013499
  • Publisher: MIT Press
  • Publication date: 9/4/2009
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 209
  • Sales rank: 150,435
  • Product dimensions: 10.40 (w) x 12.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Christopher Payne is a photographer and practicing architect in New York City and the author of New York's Forgotten Substations: The Power Behind the Subway.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 13, 2010

    A piece of history rarely seen.

    A stunning collection of work by Christopher Payne that captures a lost world hidden from society since the turn of the 20th century. While the patients are long gone, and most of the hospitals now demolished, the images call to question the decades old debate about how we treat our mentally ill citizens. The interior shots are particularly poignant and moving, from patient toothbrushes in a cabinet, to piles of gym sneakers... Oliver Sacks provides an excellent introduction to the book, helping to frame the history and concept of asylum.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 15, 2009

    Excellent, informative book; beautifully photographed.

    Excellent, informative book; beautifully photographed.

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    Posted July 24, 2010

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    Posted December 9, 2009

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    Posted April 16, 2010

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