Dominic S. LiPuma

Document Type





Spring 5-2016


architecture, mental health, psychopathology, deinstitutionalization




Architectural History and Criticism | Cultural Resource Management and Policy Analysis | Other Architecture | Urban, Community and Regional Planning


In an attempt to salvage the institution, this thesis adopts the Mat-building strategy and typology, coined by Alison Smithson in 1974, exploiting its inherent qualities as a minimal, flexible, and temporal framework, which best supports the unique program of a Community Mental Health Center (CMHC).

This is in response to the severed and contentious relationship between architecture and mental health, in regards to psychopathology. The two fields were estranged with the onset of deinstitutionalization, beginning in the 1960s, and the consequent abandonment of architectural issues has prevented their reconciliation. As a result, further social issues have manifested, with higher proportions of those considered mentally ill making up prison and homeless populations throughout the United States, in addition to an overall lack of proper mental health treatment. According to a 2012 report by the New York State Office of Mental Health, “Nearly 40% of adult New Yorkers with serious mental illness did not receive mental health treatment in the past year.” The problem has not been solved, but rather transferred somewhere else in what has been referred to as “transinstitutionalization.”

In response, this thesis proposes the realignment of architecture and psychopathology to create a more symbiotic relationship under the notion of “Spatial Medicine,” where architectural environments may elicit a placebo effect. It pulls from the shift in unfulfilled architectural strategies that were drawn out of a new understanding and approach to mental health in the 1960s, picking up where the ball was dropped following the proposals for Community Mental Health Centers (CMHCs) under the Community Mental Health Act of 1963, which was never fully realized. It also draws from Mat-building design during the same period, including Le Corbusier and Guillermo Jullian de la Fuente’s designs for the Venice Hospital.

The Mat typology as CMHC offers a solution to previously failed mental health typologies, like the Kirkbride asylum. The project exploits the Mat’s capacity to engage users through the perceptual and phenomenological aspects of sensation and affect. As a place of spatial medicine, it will amplify and imbue life into this historically mechanistic architecture by externalizing, or physicalizing, internal/psychic, or aphysical, conditions through architectural strategies implicit within the Mat typology, including the concepts of “theraserialization” and “hinged space.” The project surfaces the dormant, sensate qualities that the Mat building affords, catalyzing the capacity of architecture to act on its inhabitants’ perception, experience, and subjectivity with the ultimate goal of bettering one’s mental health and wellbeing.


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Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.