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.

Arend Kuester, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Qatar National Library's Panorama-Style Bookshelves Offer Guests Stunning Views
Arend Kuester, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Arend Kuester, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The newly opened Qatar National Library in the capital city of Doha contains more than 1 million books, some of which date back to the 15th century. Co.Design reports that the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) designed the building so that the texts under its roof are the star attraction.

When guests walk into the library, they're given an eyeful of its collections. The shelves are arranged stadium-style, making it easy to appreciate the sheer number of volumes in the institution's inventory from any spot in the room. Not only is the design photogenic, it's also practical: The shelves, which were built from the same white marble as the floors, are integrated into the building's infrastructure, providing artificial lighting, ventilation, and a book-return system to visitors. The multi-leveled arrangement also gives guests more space to read, browse, and socialize.

"With Qatar National Library, we wanted to express the vitality of the book by creating a design that brings study, research, collaboration, and interaction within the collection itself," OMA writes on its website. "The library is conceived as a single room which houses both people and books."

While most books are on full display, OMA chose a different route for the institution's Heritage Library, which contains many rare, centuries-old texts on Arab-Islamic history. This collection is housed in a sunken space 20 feet below ground level, with beige stone features that stand out from the white marble used elsewhere. Guests need to use a separate entrance to access it, but they can look down at the collection from the ground floor above.

If Qatar is too far of a trip, there are plenty of libraries in the U.S. that are worth a visit. Check out these panoramas of the most stunning examples.

Qatar library.

Qatar library.

Qatar library.

[h/t Co.Design]

All images: Arend Kuester, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

After Four Months, a Frank Lloyd Wright House in Glencoe, Illinois Goes Back on the Market

Most architecture nerds would be thrilled to live in an original Frank Lloyd Wright house, and occasionally, they get their chance—as long as they’re willing to pay a few million dollars. As of late 2017, there were Frank Lloyd Wright homes for sale in New York, Minnesota, Ohio, Connecticut, and elsewhere for $1 million dollars or more (in some cases, way more). Sometimes, you can find a deal, though, like the $445,000 Usonian home that went on the market in Michigan in 2016.

Sadly, as Curbed reports, a newly for-sale Wright house in Glencoe, Illinois is not such a deal anymore. Only three months after its $752,000 sale, the 1914 Kier House in suburban Chicago has been renovated and is back on the market for $837,500.

Many Wright homes need a little love after decades of use. For one thing, the architect is somewhat notorious for building leaky roofs. Their small kitchens and shag carpeting are no longer quite so desirable, either.

But for many buyers and architects, restoring a Wright home is a labor of love, one that often takes several years and aims to respect the original designer’s genius while bringing the house up to modern standards. (For some of the historic homes, permanent easements also prohibit most exterior alterations, further limiting what a remodel can involve.)

The Prairie School-style house, though it has Honorary Landmark status, isn’t entirely original to Wright. It has a more modern kitchen, a new family room, and updated bathrooms (with a steam shower!). Previous owner Susan Cowen, who owned the house for a number of years and spent an undisclosed amount on refurbishing it, sold the residence in January to a pair of documentary filmmakers, according to Patch. The sale, which included a significant price drop, only took a few months. They, in turn, made a number of improvements. The owners fixed up the chimneys, boiler, and furnace, added a limestone bar separating the kitchen and dining room, and raised part of the ceiling above the stairs.

Now, four months later, it’s on sale again, and, thanks to the upgrades, a little pricier. The latest sellers may find, though, that not every Wright sale goes as quickly as their purchase. The architect’s homes are highly prized, but also known to be very difficult to sell, sometimes languishing on the market for years before finding a buyer.

[h/t Curbed]


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