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7 Second Lives for Converted Mental Hospitals

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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:

1. A LUXURY HOTEL

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.”

2. A MUSEUM AND CONFERENCE CENTER

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.

3. THE DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY HEADQUARTERS

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.

4. ARTS AND CULTURAL CENTERS

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.

5. TECHNOLOGY COMPANY OFFICES

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.

6. HOUSING

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.

7. A UNIVERSITY

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.

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FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images
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Design
China's New Tianjin Binhai Library is Breathtaking—and Full of Fake Books
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FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

A massive new library in Tianjin, China, is gaining international fame among bibliophiles and design buffs alike. As Arch Daily reports, the five-story Tianjin Binhai Library has capacity for more than 1 million books, which visitors can read in a spiraling, modernist auditorium with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves.

Several years ago, municipal officials in Tianjin commissioned a team of Dutch and Japanese architects to design five new buildings, including the library, for a cultural center in the city’s Binhai district. A glass-covered public corridor connects these structures, but the Tianjin Binhai Library is still striking enough to stand out on its own.

The library’s main atrium could be compared to that of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Guggenheim Museum in New York City. But there's a catch: Its swirling bookshelves don’t actually hold thousands of books. Look closer, and you’ll notice that the shelves are printed with digital book images. About 200,000 real books are available in other rooms of the library, but the jaw-dropping main room is primarily intended for socialization and reading, according to Mashable.

The “shelves”—some of which can also serve as steps or seating—ascend upward, curving around a giant mirrored sphere. Together, these elements resemble a giant eye, prompting visitors to nickname the attraction “The Eye of Binhai,” reports Newsweek. In addition to its dramatic main auditorium, the 36,000-square-foot library also contains reading rooms, lounge areas, offices, and meeting spaces, and has two rooftop patios.

Following a three-year construction period, the Tianjin Binhai Library opened on October 1, 2017. Want to visit, but can’t afford a trip to China? Take a virtual tour by checking out the photos below.

A general view of the Tianjin Binhai Library
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

People visiting China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

A general view of China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

A woman taking pictures at China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

A man visiting China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

A woman looking at books at China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

A general view of China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

People visiting China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

[h/t Newsweek]

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Pol Viladoms
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architecture
One of Gaudí's Most Famous Homes Opens to the Public for the First Time
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Pol Viladoms

Visiting buildings designed by iconic Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí is on the to-do list of nearly every tourist passing through Barcelona, Spain, but there's always been one important design that visitors could only view from the outside. Constructed between 1883 and 1885, Casa Vicens was the first major work in Gaudí's influential career, but it has been under private ownership for its entire existence. Now, for the first time, visitors have the chance to see inside the colorful building. The house opened as a museum on November 16, as The Art Newspaper reports.

Gaudí helped spark the Catalan modernism movement with his opulent spaces and structures like Park Güell, Casa Batlló, and La Sagrada Familia. You can see plenty of his architecture around Barcelona, but the eccentric Casa Vicens is regarded as his first masterpiece, famous for its white-and-green tiles and cast-iron gate. Deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005, Casa Vicens is a treasured part of the city's landscape, yet it has never been open to the public.

Then, in 2014 the private Spanish bank MoraBanc bought the property with the intention of opening it up to visitors. The public is finally welcome to take a look inside following a $5.3 million renovation. To restore the 15 rooms to their 19th-century glory, designers referred to historical archives and testimonies from the descendants of former residents, making sure the house looked as much like Gaudí's original work as possible. As you can see in the photos below, the restored interiors are just as vibrant as the walls outside, with geometric designs and nature motifs incorporated throughout.

In addition to the stunning architecture, museum guests will find furniture designed by Gaudí, audio-visual materials tracing the history of the house and its architect, oil paintings by the 19th-century Catalan artist Francesc Torrescassana i Sallarés, and a rotating exhibition. Casa Vicens is open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. General admission costs about $19 (€16).

An empty room in the interior of Casa Vicens

Interior of house with a fountain and arched ceilings

One of the house's blue-and-white tiled bathrooms

[h/t The Art Newspaper]

All images courtesy of Pol Viladoms.

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