Finding Asylum: Tracing the evolution of five Kirkbride Planned hospitals for the insane

The elegant rooftop of the Danvers State Hospital in Massachusetts. (Christopher Payne)

The elegant rooftop of the Danvers State Hospital in Massachusetts. (Christopher Payne)

The Victorian-era psychologist Thomas Story Kirkbride advocated the use of fresh air and elegant architecture for healing mental illnesses. Under the Kirkbride Plan for asylums, patients resided in extensive, well-landscaped grounds and palace-like structures. Yet inside, unplanned by the architects, patients often were restrained in chains and dark dungeons and suffered ice-water baths.

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Honoring the forgotten: Melbourne-based artist Robbie Rowlands makes Detroit’s abandoned houses come to life

(Courtesy Robbie Rowlands)

‘In Between’ (Courtesy Robbie Rowlands)

The deteriorating floorboards and walls of abandoned homes appear to defiantly reassert their existence in artist Robbie Rowlands’ exhibition, Intervention. While on residency in Detroit, Michigan, the Melbourne-based artist drew attention to abandoned houses by ripping out certain sections and creating track-like extensions of their fixtures—so that the otherwise nondescript wall seems to implore, “pay attention to me.”

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Last House Standing: Photographer Captures Haunting Images of Lone, Abandoned Row Houses

(Courtesy Ben Marcin)

‘Last House Standing’ by Ben Marcin (Courtesy Ben Marcin)

Like a lone pea out of its pod, the desolation of a solo row house waxes stark in Baltimore-based photographer Ben Marcin’s new series: Last House Standing. Often painted in garish colors at variance with their boarded-up windows and battered brickwork, the row houses are an architectural quirk of certain cities along the eastern seaboard.

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Artist Brightens Boarded Windows On Flagging Blocks

Friday, September 27, 2013
Toepfer's boarded windows on the left. (Video still / Courtesy Medill Reports)

Toepfer’s boarded windows on the left. (Video still / Courtesy Medill Reports)


Vacant buildings can drag down whole blocks, depressing property values, encouraging crime and accelerating a spiral of poverty that afflicts many Chicago neighborhoods. Even the boards that cover the windows on abandoned homes can convey a sense that nobody’s in charge, or that an area can’t be salvaged to save it from demolition.

That’s the point of intervention for artist Chris Toepfer, who since 1995 has visited thousands of vacant buildings in 17 U.S. cities. Toepfer paints the boards that clad abanonded homes and businesses, working with Chicago nonprofit Neighborhood Housing Service to slow the cycle of decline in neighborhoods hit hard by the housing crisis. Dave Hoekstra profiled their work for the Sun-Times. Also, here’s a 2010 video with Toepfer from Medill Reports.

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