Track 1: Decline vs. Revival: Tempering the Impulse to Tear Down and Start Over

General Abstract

1 - Preserving the Kirkbride Legacy: An Analysis of the Extant State of the Plan and Challenges of Adaptive Reuse

Monday, September 24
10:30 AM - 12:00 PM
Location: BNCC- 101AH

Preserving the Kirkbride Legacy: An Analysis of the Extant State of the Plan and Challenges of Adaptive Reuse


Across American landscapes, grand institutional complexes were built to serve the mentally ill. They remain icons across the country reflecting our nineteenth - twentieth-century approach to mental illness. The Kirkbride Plan, a novel building type emerged to serve as a solution to what had been perceived as a social conflict. During the mid 19th century, the responsibility of caring for the mentally ill shifted from private families to the state governments, increasing that sense of a social problem. For this reason, a unique building type was created through the interrelationship between the social institution and the buildings, as was required to support the institution onward. This irreplaceable evidence remaining on American landscapes stands as a reference to who we were as a society and how we have addressed certain issues, and thus is of great value and should be managed responsibly. More than reviving communities whose industries are changing, these campuses would also serve as a reminder of Kirkbride's theory and the distinct building it produced, as well as serve as a landmark in social and humanitarian history.

The intent of this multifold mixed methods advocacy paper is to communicate the impact Kirkbride planned hospitals made on the American landscape, to measure how the building type changed over time, and to assess the adaptive reuse potential of the building type today. A database was generated recording attribute data for all Kirkbride complexes identified. The thematic mapping method was employed to map the geographic distribution of these buildings, the chronological order of development, and to display the distribution of the assigned current status code(s). In addition to historical research and Kirkbride Legacy Database methods, the research utilized quantitative analysis, and case studies taking advantage of various strategies within each method.

Across the United States, 73 Kirkbride complexes were identified. Of the 73, 40 were demolished, 24 preserved, and nine adaptively reused. Of the nine, the defined uses include multi-family residential, correctional facility, and mixed use. Of these, the character-defining features of highest significance were retained in all cases except one and six alteration types were observed. All projects required some planning and funding actions for successful rehabilitation, yet these processes were most complex in a mixed-use program. Through this research, lessons learned from each of the nine reuse cases are presented to inform communities how other developers achieved successful rehabilitation.

Keywords: Kirkbride Hospitals, Adaptive Reuse, Historic Preservation

Learning Objectives:

Mardita Murphy

Architectural Designer + Preservation Specialist
Bret Johnson Architecture

A young professional, Mardita is fascinated by the relationships between historic preservation, architecture/design, and urban planning. She previously worked as a Preservation Specialist with Utah SHPO and now balances the roles preservation consultant and architectural designer with Bret Johnson Architecture in Denver, CO. Mardita received an MFA in Interior Architecture with a specialization in Historic Preservation from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Her thesis research explored the adaptive reuse potential of 19th-20th century Kirkbride planned hospitals. To continue her pursuit to work within the unique intersection of interiors, preservation, and planning, she is currently preparing to sit for the NCIDQ and LEED GA exams.


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Tony James

Anthony James is a preservation architect with a background in architectural history and has worked on many restoration and rehabilitation projects of historic buildings over his 40+ year career. He holds a Bachelor of Architectural History from the University of Virginia and a Master of Architecture from the University of Pennsylvania. He currently has his own practice in Buffalo, NY, and is Consulting Architect to the Buffalo OlmstedParks Conservancy.


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1 - Preserving the Kirkbride Legacy: An Analysis of the Extant State of the Plan and Challenges of Adaptive Reuse

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