Current Issue Article Abstracts
Fall 2016 Vol. 6.2
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Philadelphia’s first insane asylums offer a useful starting point for considering the relationships among theory and practice among a vast constellation of penal, educational, and social-welfare institutions. Each institutional type was created for a very specific regimen of treatment and a specific population, but they shared common architectural forms and a common spatial imagination, or sense of the relationships among people and their environments. The juxtaposition of insane asylums to their relatives in recovery reveals that despite their relatively simple plans and theoretical rationales, these spaces engendered complexities and contradictions that were not evident at first view. Moreover, the same spatial imagination that shaped these familiar institutions also underpinned disparate kinds of spaces that might equally well be called “therapeutic.” Most striking among them was the evangelical camp meeting, a spatial and religious type introduced to the United States at the same time as the insane asylum. Here a spatial imagination similar to the one that shaped formal institutions produced a very different landscape, but one, like the therapeutic institutions, devoted to destroying an older, faulty self and generating a new one.
The Lazaretto quarantine station on the Delaware River was built beginning in 1799, in the aftermath of four devastating yellow fever epidemics, to protect Philadelphia from imported disease. Although historians of quarantine have focused on debates over the contagiousness of various diseases, far more important than the danger of contagion in the Lazaretto’s operations was “infection” in the ships themselves and in their cargo. This paper explores the elusive and misunderstood concept of “infection” in the nineteenth century through an examination of detention criteria and disinfection—or “purification”—procedures at the Lazaretto, as well as the rationale for the location of the quarantine station itself. I suggest that the critical elements of disinfection were not chemicals, but time and air—ideally, a particular kind of air in a particular kind of place. I also sketch the outlines of the “interpermeable world” prior to the Bacteriological Revolution, in which air, earth, water, and bodies were perceived as mutually permeable and always potentially health-promoting and pathogenic to varying degrees.
Environmental determinism—the idea that the environment, including architecture, can shape behavior—linked asylums and dormitories. In both cases, the architecture of carefully planned structures reformed the body and reeducated the mind. When offering therapies for mental illness, nineteenth-century psychiatrists claimed that the purpose-built asylum would not only change a patient’s conduct, but also cure his or her mental disease. In the case of higher education, college officials (relying on the model of Oxford and Cambridge) encouraged students to live on campus in dormitories, in order to build life-changing friendships and strengthen their moral fiber. The dormitories themselves made such personal development possible—living at home or in a boarding house offered no such advantages. In contrast with their Victorian forbears, present-day psychiatrists do not make sanguine, optimistic predictions about the ability of an asylum to cure mental illness, but today’s residence life experts depend on an unacknowledged faith in environmental determinism. Reasons to live in a residence hall in 2015 include: “to experience personal growth with opportunities to gain independence and display leadership,” and “to learn principles of civility among roommates and neighbors.”
This essay examines the architectural, visual, and imagined therapeutic landscapes of puériculture, a science of infant rearing developed by French obstetrician Adolphe Pinard in 1895 amid fears of depopulation, infant mortality, and racial degeneration in France. Puériculture, a French neologism establishing a rough linguistic equivalence between agricultural cultivation of the land and the scientific cultivation of human nurslings was, by the early twentieth century, widely diffused across France, parts of Western Europe, and South America. Comprised primarily of an uncontroversial program of prenatal and well-baby care, it had two principal domains of action. One was spatial, as the examination and rehabilitation of bodies of infants and childbearing women required the development of an architectural infrastructure of prenatal clinics, sterilized milk depots, centers for infant hygiene, crèches, and well-baby consults. One was educative, as pedagogical tracts instructed women on breastfeeding, proper methods of infant care, and other hygienic matters. It also, however, in its focus on human fecundity, and matters of “soil and seed” fueled eugenic and pronatalist fantasies that engaged not only with the rational clinic, but with broader imaginative geographies of colonial empires, docile female bodies, and aseptic factories for French babies.
Defined here as the introduction or conservation of outdoor vegetation in cities, urban greening has bloomed during periods of intensive urbanization. This was true in the nineteenth century and it seems to be the case again today, as a range of greening practices is co-arising during a third, and perhaps final, period of global urbanization. Human health has been a recurring theme underlying the enduring aspiration to integrate nature with city. Using change over time as a conceptual frame, this paper offers a comparative assessment of municipal greening in the nineteenth and early twenty-first centuries, focusing on the potential implications upon, and the relationship between, such activity, urban design, and public health. In so doing, the narrative bridges theory, science, and practice, and dovetails with discourse on urban ecosystem services. Part one assesses prominent drivers and types of greening in nineteenth-century industrial cities, a pioneering period in this evolving narrative. Part two reviews contemporary literature on the human health benefits of urban green spaces, and draws comparisons to the Industrial Era. Part three explores potential links between contemporary greening practice and scholarship on related health benefits, wherein proximal greening emerges as a distinct form, and possible norm, for twenty-first-century urban design.
Examining the key texts that have been published on palliative care architecture, and focusing on the most important hospital and hospice design-research issues that have evolved since the 1980s, this paper highlights a significant inconsistency between those palliative care design developments and the design of palliative care units in recently constructed major hospitals. The architects of hospices, palliative care facilities, and the UK-based Maggie’s Centres strive to make their buildings look like houses to express a collective environment of caring, emphasizing quality of life issues over medical efficiency. This reflects larger changes in the design of therapeutic landscapes since 1980, which endeavor to normalize illness and death by engaging architecture as a tool of distraction. However, as is evidenced by state-of-the art hospitals—a recently-opened, North American health care architecture consortium-designed, 517-bed healthcare center in Montreal, Canada, as well as several European hospitals—such design elements are often omitted from the design of new hospitals.