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Therapeutic Landscapes:Genesis, Fate, Future

Fall 2016

A Symposium at the University of Pennsylvania School of Design

Evening Keynote Address (Dell Upton): April 9, 2015

Symposium: April 10, 2015

More than a generation ago, historian David Rothman’s study, The Discovery of the Asylum (1971) drew attention to the homologies among hospitals, asylums, and penitentiaries in early nineteenth-century America. In dialogue with philosopher Michel Foucault, Rothman emphasized the almost utopian optimism that drove the founding of such “caretaker institutions” in their early years. Longing to bolster a social order that seemed to be waning, town fathers—and, as crucially, their wives—could no longer count on the strictures of Calvinism or the structure of the patriarchal household to maintain such an order in the present. At the same time, Enlightenment-bred humanitarianism, a “softening” trend in Protestantism, and a waxing faith in human perfectibility led away from mere punishment and confinement. Poverty, insanity, and criminality came to look less like sins than social failings. Treated separately and systematically, with a mix of compassion and discipline, they might lose their hold on individuals and so, it was hoped, on the commonweal.

Rothman believed the social idealism he identified was waning before the Civil War. It now appears positively foreign. Books such as Christopher Payne’s Asylum: Inside the Closed World of State Mental Hospitals (2009) offer compelling images of abandonment, disinvestment, and despair. Yet, thanks to the efforts of Dell Upton, Carla Yanni, and others, our understanding of these spaces and the theories they were meant to instrumentalize has greatly increased. And while most recent scholarship focuses on architecture, it begins to reveal the central role landscape was meant to play in the elaborately choreographed treatment of patients, prisoners, and inmates.

This symposium explores the nexus between architecture and landscape in therapeutic-institutional design and experience. Although the antebellum era provides a natural point of departure, we also aim to examine how medical, scientific, and environmental assumptions of that period were received, abandoned, refashioned, or rediscovered. What did the rise of state hospitals portend? How did competing forms of knowledge in the increasingly [End Page 167] professionalized realms of medicine, landscape, and architecture continue to interact? Did “therapeutic” principles ever cohere? How might they inform contemporary design practices and/or the reuse of older sites? Our one-day and willfully interdisciplinary gathering offers an opportunity to reflect on such questions, propose tentative answers, and offer fresh provocations. [End Page 168]



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pp. 167-168
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