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St. Elizabeth’s Hospital architecture and history, revealed

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See what to expect from the National Building Museum’s upcoming exhibition

The Male Receiving Building (shown above) opened in 1934, and the women’s counterpart in 1936.
Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, American Architectural Foundation Collection
Dance Therapy, Photograph, c. 1960s.
Photo courtesy of St. Elizabeth’s Hospital Library

At the National Building Museum, both shifting theories on the care of the mentally ill as well as the reconfiguration of a mixed-use urban development will be showcased in a brand new exhibition, set to debut on March 25.

The exhibition, “Architecture of an Asylum: St. Elizabeths, 1852-2017,” will uncover the history behind Washington, D.C.’s vacant, former asylum, St. Elizabeth’s, through literature, photography, and artifacts. Notable highlights of the exhibition include an electroshock machine and a section that introduces the hospital’s more well-known patients, such as Ezra Pound.

When St. Elizabeth’s was first established by Congress in 1855 as the Government Hospital for the Insane, the hospital was considered a pioneering psychiatric facility. Here, social reformers like Dorothea Dix supported the moral treatment of patients through specialized architecture and landscape.

Currently, the plan for the West Campus is to construct a new U.S. Coast Guard headquarters and a Department of Homeland Security headquarters. A sports and entertainment complex and other residential and community structures are also planned for the East Campus.

The National Building Museum’s exhibition will be open through January 15, 2018.

National Building Museum to present Architecture of an Asylum [National Building Museum]