Asylums just aren’t what they used to be.

photo by Christopher Payne

photo by Christopher Payne

I just came across Asylum: Inside the Closed World of State Mental Hospitals on the New Yorker book blog. Wow. It looks beautiful and creepy and a little mysterious. Architect and photographer Christopher Payne spent six years documenting the decay of state mental hospitals, visiting 70 institutions in 30 states.

Over the past fifty years, many of these structures have been abandoned thanks to pharmaceuticals and changes in commitment laws. In other words, mental illness just isn’t as glamorous as it used to be, folks. Nowadays, people don’t get committed, they just get a prescription. According to the New Yorker blurb:

Today, Payne notes, the qualities that made these institutions appealing in the first place—”their monumental size, heavy construction, and distinctive (but not easily altered floor plan)— have made them difficult to repurpose.” But those that aren’t being left to ruin are being remade—as condos or prisons.

Ah, the metaphors! With an introduction by Oliver Sacks, this book sounds like a gem.


~ by Valerie Palmer on September 13, 2009.

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