ARC 331 Forum 02: Social Reform (Group 1)

ARC 331 Forum 02: Social Reform

Having engaged with the basic material provided for this lesson, study your assigned project (the Kirkbride plan or Eastern State Penitentiary). Each pair in the group will have different functions, all contributing to the forum as a whole.

  • Kirkbride 1: Bradman, Brown, Burkhart, Carballo, Collins, David

Blue names

  • by Saturday midnight, provide a brief (150-200 word) assessment on the subject. In short: did it work? What impact did it have on the population housed within it? Make sure to provide a brief note explaining where you found your information.

Green names

  • by Monday at 1 PM, add to the conversation begun by your peers. How can you clarify or challenge their ideas? How do the ideas embedded in these nineteenth-century plans compare with more recent ideas you can find about architectural solutions to the initial problem (incarceration or treatment of mental illness)?

Purple names

  • by Wednesday at 1 PM, review the contributions of your colleagues and provide summative thoughts that draw the conversation to a conclusion, or, if appropriate, what new ideas or questions are raised in the forum?


  1. Reply
    Grant Bradman January 25, 2019

    At the beginning the Kirkbride plans and ideas proposed by Dr. Kirkbride were going to be the new way forward for mental hospitals. The way they were set up in a linear arrangement with an administrative building in the center allowed for more flow through the space. At first they worked really good, then when according to the historic insane asylums website web populations began to grow and funds began to fall the kirk bride facilities began to be abandoned. The few that stayed opened have all now been closed or demolished since. As for when the facilities were open, according to they were considered to be a safer place for placing patients away from pollutants and busy city centers. Patients were encouraged to work on the grounds surrounding the asylum, as well as do chores which was believed to regulate the mind and help the patients stay physically fit.

    • Reply
      Grant Bradman February 9, 2019

      I think the reason that these buildings were successful at the beginning is that it was a new way of looking at mental health. No one had laid out plans or thought of dealing with the mentally ill this way before. But like Chloe mentioned in her comment their flaw in the plan was isolating the more difficult or lively patients all the way at the end of the hall. Rather than having those patients that need more attention near the core, they were left to somewhat fend for themselves. I also believe that having the facility isolated to allow for growth and rehabilitation of the patients was a good thought at first, but pulling people away from society will not help them grow, it may just make them worse.

  2. Reply
    Connor Brown January 28, 2019

    The Kirkbride Plan was considered to be the world’s first penitentiary with seven one-story cell blocks. According to Wikipedia, its solitary confinement system was sound in concept in that they were supposed to be a humane alternative to crowded prisons because of rampant rape and abuse. However, removing human contact so that prisoners could reflect on their crime caused immense mental torture on their brains and people would go insane. Outside the cell, prisoners could exercise in their own individual area enclosed by high walls so that there was no communication. Inmates were routinely tortured: Some were dunked in freezing water during winter months. Others were strapped to a leather chair for days. For serious infractions, prisoners were banished to “The Hole” for weeks which was underground with no light according to The system eventually collapsed due to the population overcrowding the cells. In 1965, Eastern State Penitentiary became a National Historic Landmark and in the 1990s it opened as a tourist destination.

  3. Reply
    Chloe Burkhart January 28, 2019

    I find it interesting that when I first read about the Kirkbride buildings, I thought that the reason the buildings failed was because of flaws in Kirkbride’s designs. There definitely were flaws in his designs, and the reason for those flaws was lack of knowledge about mental illness; but the reason for the abandonment of most of his buildings was an advancement in knowledge about mental illness. Situating the “more excited” patients furthest from the core of the building seems completely backwards to what I’d expect. Wouldn’t those patients need the most immediate attention? Not only are all of the patients isolated from the rest of the world because of the large amounts of land surrounding these facilities, but the most mentally ill patients are even more isolated by being shoved into the dead-end halls of “linear plan” buildings. However, since Kirkbride’s designs are some of the first of their kind, how could we expect for them to be perfect? At least he was trying to prevent the mentally ill from becoming homeless and abused. On, I found a table of “Considerations for Behavioral Health Facilities,” which includes “Avoid long corridors and reverberation,” and “Support communication between staff and patients in patient units.” These are things that Kirkbride’s designs didn’t include, but things we now know because of experience with treating people with mental illnesses. However, I am surprised that Kirkbride wanted patients to have good exposure to sunlight, and to be involved by working on the grounds and doing chores—both ideas that I think of as being advanced for the time.

    • Reply
      Grant Bradman February 9, 2019

      Chloe, I really like how you looked at the kirkbride plans. I like that instead of saying they were good for their time you point out the flaws that they had. Then rather than just leaving it at that I like that you put in the part of since it was the first of its kind how could they have known.

  4. Reply
    Gabe David January 29, 2019

    So the general consensus is that while not perfect, and definitely in need of further advancements, the Kirkbride plan worked well enough for its time. The goal was to help those with mental illnesses find solace away from the stress and negligence of city life. By ensuring that the more stable patients were placed in areas of less stress and given good views to survey nature. In that regard the plan itself seemed to work. Dr. Kirkbride himself even came up with varying additional recreations that the patients could engage with in order to feel motivated and responsible. However, while attempting to keep the well-off patients relaxed, the idea of placing the more unstable patients who may need more attention, farthest away from the administrative center was questionable. It would make sense that those with higher instability may need more attention, and not negligence. The Kirkbride plan would eventually become obsolete due to insufficient evidence that individuals would be permanently cured. As well as the increasing number of asylum superintendents favoring creating different types of asylums for different kinds of care. So while not perfect, the Kirkbride plan represents a valiant attempt to experiment architecturally with a field where practices and theories are still evolving to this day.

  5. Reply
    jacob collins January 29, 2019

    Kirkbride had good intentions behind his design and at the beginning, with the limited knowledge available about mental illnesses at the time, created a design that he thought would benefit the patients. As we now know, with more research being done on mental illnesses that his designs failed. We not only know this because the facilities were closed and demolished as Grant had pointed out, but also with what Chloe was talking about, how the people who were “more excited” were placed in the rooms farthest away from people, which i agree this is backwards and it would most likely benefit these patients more to have more human contact. A few of Kirkbride’s ideas were good though, like the patients participating in maintaining the facilities, this idea is still happening, not so much in mental institutions. but in some prison systems. Kirbribe’s plan with linear blocks didn’t work out but it was a first attempt at helping people with mental disabilities and with further knowledge these plans could be improved upon.

    • Reply
      Chloe Burkhart February 9, 2019

      Jacob, I like that you said Kirkenbride’s plan was a “first attempt.” I think this summarizes what we are all saying really well. Although it wasn’t a perfect first attempt (and what first attempt is?), it showed that he cared enough about the mentally ill to make an attempt at all. Maybe without Kirkenbride’s efforts, we wouldn’t know as much as we do today.

  6. Reply
    JhenniferAmundson February 1, 2019

    1: Grant, this is a good way to get the conversation started. I’d like to hear more of what you thought is successful about the original plans, if there was anything to say more than, generally, doing something was better than nothing?
    2: Chloe: I appreciate your fair critique of the plans, noting its deficiencies but positioning that critique within the context of the day. Too frequently we are dismissive of old things that don’t measure up to contemporary understanding, which is (1) unfair and (2) blinds us for understanding accomplishments of the past in their own terms.
    3: Gave & Jacob: good conclusions: Gabe I particularly like your characterization of this “valiant attempt ” (& Jacob’s use of the term “good intentions”) –which reflects some of what Chloe said–as does your commentary about the housing of violent patients at the ends. For everyone’s benefit, I can fill in a little detail here–the idea was to move the disruptive patients away from the core where they could disrupt common functions & the peace of other patients. So, make what you will of that decision.
    Thanks for your thoughtful input!

    • Reply
      jacob collins February 8, 2019

      One thing that I am still a little confused about is how did people figure out that the Kirbribe plan was the problem as to why the patients were not being cured? A lot of mental disabilities that people most often go to mental institutions for are incurable, even with modern medicine, they are treatable but will not ever be cured from these diseases. Why is it that the kirbribe plan didn’t work and how do we know if it isn’t just because the interiors, where most patients would spend their time, looks like every single move that talks about death row?

  7. Reply
    Chloe Burkhart February 9, 2019

    About Dr. Amundson’s explanation of why the most “excited” patients were placed at the ends of the wings: I thought the reasoning for the positioning of the patients would be something like that. Luckily, I think nowadays we are more aware of the attention and care patients like this need. Although it may seem that the patients who experienced Kirkenbride plans were swept under the rug, people didn’t have the knowledge we have now for how to properly care for them. Even nowadays, there are probably cases of these types of patients being ignored and abused, but we are hopefully still progressing in our knowledge of how to take care of mentally ill people.

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