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Kirkbride Plan

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The Kirkbride Plan refers to a system of mental asylum design advocated by Philadelphia psychiatrist Thomas Story Kirkbride in the mid-1800s.

The establishment of state mental hospitals in the U.S. is partly due to reformer Dorothea Dix, who vividly testified to the New Jersey legislature in 1844, describing the state's treatment of people with mental illness: they were being housed in county jails, private homes and the basements of public buildings. Dix's effort led to the construction of the New Jersey State Lunatic Asylum, the first asylum built on the Kirkbride Plan.

Kirkbride developed his requirements based on a philosophy of Moral Treatment. The typical floor plan, with long rambling wings and rooms arranged "in echelon" (staggered, so each connected building still receives sunlight and air), was meant to promote privacy and comfort for patients. The building form itself was meant to have a curative effect, meant as "a special apparatus for the care of lunacy," and Kirkbride wrote that their grounds should be "highly improved and tastefully ornamented."

Built mainly in the northeastern and midwestern U.S., these asylums tended to become large, imposing, Victorian-era government projects with their surrounding grounds. By 1900 the notion of "building-as-cure" was largely discredited, and in the following decades these facilities became too expensive to maintain. Many Kirkbride Plan asylums still stand, abandoned, neglected, and vandalized.

Examples include:

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