Review for Carla Yanni’s The Architecture of Madness

In Carla Yanni’s book on asylum architecture, The Architecture of Madness: Insane Asylums in the United States, gives an extensive look at the effect culture, psychiatry, and treatment played a key role in the y-building of insane asylums. Yanni argues that architecture was a pushing factor in curing the mentally-ill. The book shows the role psychiatry played in the building process of asylums and wellness of the patients. Yanni claims that the buildings represented the different values and during this era. I assume that she means the era of experimentation and misunderstanding of what was best for the patients. Yanni is effective in handling the progression of asylum architecture because she gives the process and different examples of the mental hospitals. I thought at times it was all over the place and was grouped in an odd manor. Though at times it was all over the place her tie in to the likeness of prisons, colleges, and medical hospitals was helpful and insightful.  A quote that stood out to me in her book was on page 15 and it says, “Both as an institution and as a type of architecture, the asylum mediates between a person and his or her society. The asylum and its architecture regulated life, limited interaction, controlled activity.” This statement sums up the whole argument of Yanni on how important architecture was to the workers, families, and patients in the overall picture of society.

The pictures that Yanni uses are very helpful because you can get a sense or idea of what the rooms and building of asylums entailed. While the pictures are useful for referencing a certain architectural plan there are not any pictures of the patients actually using the rooms. However, Yanni uses credible scholarly sources by notable mental institution historians. While her evidence is credible there was a true lack from the voices of the patients themselves. Basically it was the work of other historians just jumbled together at times.  Yanni’s historiography includes secondary sources we read in class such as The Art of Asylum Keeping by Nancy Tomes and Madness and Civilization by Foucault. She uses Tomes praise of Kirkbride to portray the role he played in architecture, especially ventilation, of early asylum buildings.  Foucault focusses on the “great confinement” and had a skim view of asylums. He was very angry and looked at asylums through a tiny lens. She uses Foucault to portray the lack of knowledge historians had and to show the true beginning and misunderstanding of asylum history. Overall, I enjoyed the book. Yanni gave much background information and set the stage for readers to understand the depth and process of asylum building. I would recommend the book but I do wish it had been organized differently and used more patients’ voices to show the importance of architecture in asylums.


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