Wally Gobetz via Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

7 Second Lives for Converted Mental Hospitals

Wally Gobetz via Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Psychiatric hospitals often hold a dark place in the popular imagination. Whether it’s Gotham’s Arkham Asylum, Boston’s Shutter Island, or Briarcliff Manor in American Horror Story, such institutions frequently conjure vivid images of mental and physical suffering.

But as our understanding of mental health changes, so does our treatment, hopefully toward methods that are more humane. In the 1970s and 1980s, deinstitutionalization saw many treatment centers (notorious and otherwise) close their doors. For some psychiatric hospitals, that meant demolition—while for others, it meant a sometimes-surprising second life. Here are some new uses for old hospitals:


pilot_micha via Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

The Welcome Hotel Residenzschloss in Bamberg, Germany, sits right on the River Regnitz near the center of town. The Catholic Church built it as a hospital in 1787, and in 1990 it reopened as a luxury hotel with 184 rooms and suites, two restaurants, and a spa. Reviewers on TripAdvisor praise its Baroque elegance and romance, although one also calls it “quiet as a grave.”


The island of San Servolo lies in the lagoon of Venice, less than 10 minutes from the famous St. Mark’s Square. Although it was originally conceived as an asylum for noblemen, between 1725 and 1978 more than 200,000 people of all genders and classes came to live at a psychiatric hospital established there. Today, San Servolo is home to the Museum of Madness and a conference center capable of holding up to 400 attendees in a room. If you don’t want to take the water taxi to the mainland, there’s also a 300-bed hotel on the island.


Washington, D.C.’s St. Elizabeths Hospital has been home to several would-be presidential assassins, the poet Ezra Pound, and a serial killer nicknamed the “Shotgun Stalker,” but its next residents are charged with maintaining national security. The Department of Homeland Security announced in 2007 that it would consolidate its headquarters at the building, but preservation concerns, budget issues and the small number of remaining patients at the facility (including longtime resident and President Reagan shooter John Hinckley) have created government boondoggles impressive even for the capital.


Fergus Falls State Hospital by Mr. Moment via Wikimedia // CC BY 2.0

Many mental health institutions were designed to be soothing and attractive, features that would later make them perfect arts and cultural centers. Fergus Falls, Minnesota, has created a resident artist program at its Fergus Falls State Hospital. Traverse City, Michigan, has repurposed the Northern Michigan Asylum as a mixed-use development and cultural hub as well as a park outside of town. The Ridges, a famous (and infamous) former institution in Athens, Ohio, is now home to several university offices, as well as an art museum and arts center. Australia’s Fremantle Arts Centre began as the Fremantle Lunatic Asylum and Invalid Depot, later the Asylum for the Criminally Insane.


The Agnews Insane Asylum opened in Santa Clara, California, in 1889, and within a few years it had grown large enough to necessitate its own train station nearby. It became infamous after the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, when more than 100 patients died after buildings collapsed. The hospital shifted focus from mental health to developmental disabilities by the 1970s, and in 1997, the now-defunct Sun Microsystems announced it would redevelop the site for its corporate and R&D headquarters. The site is now owned by Oracle.


Wellcome Trustvia Wikimedia // CC BY 4.0

While some may be dubious about the prospect of living in a former mental hospital, developers see the sites as prime real estate. In England, the town of Ipswich approved plans last year to convert the former St. Clement’s Hospital into residences. Large portions of the hospital will be demolished to make room for modern apartments and amenities, but the principal building will be used to create 48 new housing units.

For anyone concerned about potential psychic residue, there are “energy consultants” like the one developers hired in the village of Semington to clear out “bad energy” from the old St. George’s Hospital. For others, however, the creep factor is a feature: In 2012, the Wall Street Journal wrote up the former Colney Hatch Lunatic Asylum in north London, home to soccer players, actresses and teen heartthrobs One Direction. (Not without some rebranding, though — the residences are now called Princess Park Manor.) Even the once-horrifying hospital where pioneering journalist Nellie Bly got herself committed for her exposé Ten Days in a Madhouse has been turned into apartments.


Camarillo State Mental Hospital outside Los Angeles used to loom large in the city’s artistic imagination. Both the 1948 thriller The Snake Pit and boy band NSYNC used the site as filming locations. Rather than dismantle the existing infrastructure when the hospital closed in 1997, then-Gov. Pete Wilson established California State University Channel Islands. Despite its name, the school is not on an island; predictably, some are ready to claim the campus is haunted.

Morfeus Arkitekter. Photo: Silja Lena Løken / Statens vegvesen
Norway Opens Another Spectacular Roadside Bathroom
Morfeus Arkitekter. Photo: Silja Lena Løken / Statens vegvesen
Morfeus Arkitekter. Photo: Silja Lena Løken / Statens vegvesen

Norway’s National Tourist Routes will change how you think about rest stops. As part of a decades-long program, the Norwegian government has been hiring architects and designers to create beautiful roadside lookouts, bathrooms, and other amenities for travelers along 18 scenic highways throughout the country. One of the latest of the projects unveiled, spotted by Dezeen, is a glitzy restroom located on the Arctic island of Andøya in northern Norway.

The facility, designed by the Oslo-based Morfeus Arkitekter, is located near a rock formation called Bukkekjerka, once used as a sacrificial site by the indigenous Sami people. The angular concrete and steel structure is designed to fit in with the jagged mountains that surround it.

The mirrored exterior wall of the bathroom serves a dual purpose. On the one hand, it reflects the scenery around the building, helping it blend into the landscape. But it also has a hidden feature. It’s a one-way mirror, allowing those inside the restroom to have a private view out over the ocean or back into the mountains while they pee.

The newly landscaped rest area near the bathroom will serve as an event space in the future. The Bukkekjerka site is already home to an annual open-air church service, and with the new construction, the space will also be used for weddings and other events. Because this is the Arctic Circle, though, the restroom is only open in the late spring and summer, closing from October to May. Check it out in the photos below.

A bathroom nestled in a hilly landscape
Morfeus Arkitekter. Photo: Hugo Fagermo / Statens vegvesen

The mirrored facade of a rest stop reflects concrete steps leading down a pathway.
Morfeus Arkitekter. Photo: Hugo Fagermo / Statens vegvesen

A person stands outside the bathroom's reflective wall.
Morfeus Arkitekter. Photo: Hugo Fagermo / Statens vegvesen

A wide view of a rest stop at the base of a coastal mountain
Morfeus Arkitekter. Photo: Trine Kanter Zerwekh / Statens vegvesen

[h/t Dezeen]

Norway's New Hotel in the Arctic Circle Will Produce More Energy Than It Uses

A new hotel coming to Norway’s section of the Arctic Circle will be more than just a place to stay for a stunning fjord view. The Svart hotel, which is being billed as the world’s first "energy-positive" hotel, is designed to “set a new standard in sustainable travel,” according to Robb Report.

Built by a tourism company called Arctic Adventure Norway and designed by Snøhetta, an international architecture firm headquartered in Oslo, it’s one of the first buildings created according to the standards of Powerhouse, a coalition of firms (including Snøhetta) devoted to putting up buildings that will produce more power over the course of 60 years than they take to build, run, and eventually demolish. It will be located on a fjord at the base of Svartisen, one of the largest glaciers on Norway’s mainland and part of Saltfjellet-Svartisen National Park.

A hotel stretches out above the water of a fjord.

The design of the hotel is geared toward making the facility as energy-efficient as possible. The architects mapped how the Sun shines through the mountains throughout the year to come up with the circular structure. When the Sun is high in the winter, the terraces outside the rooms provide shadows that reduce the need for air conditioning, while the windows are angled to catch the low winter Sun, keeping the building warm during cold Arctic winters. In total, it is expected to use 85 percent less energy than a traditional hotel.

The sun reflects off the roof of a hotel at the base of a glacier on a sunny day.

Svart will also produce its own energy through rooftop solar panels, though it won’t have excess energy on hand year-round. Since it’s located in the Arctic Circle, the hotel will have an abundance of sunlight during the summer, at which point it will sell its excess energy to the local electricity grid. In the winter, when it’s too dark for solar energy production, the hotel will buy energy back from the grid. Over the course of the year, it will still produce more energy than it uses, and over time, it will eventually produce enough excess energy to offset the energy that was used to build the structure (including the creation of the building materials).

“Building in such a precious environment comes with some clear obligations in terms of preserving the natural beauty and the fauna and flora of the site,” Snøhetta co-founder Kjetil Trædal Thorsen explains in the firm’s description of the design. “Building an energy-positive and low-impact hotel is an essential factor to create a sustainable tourist destination respecting the unique features” of the area.

Svart is set to open in 2021.

[h/t Robb Report]


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