How many ghosts can haunt a building at once? When the building at question is one of the Kirkbride Hospitals for the Insane, which share the burden of a troubled and tragic past, the answer is not simple. There are many ghosts, of various sorts. Despite the noble intent of their creators and generosity of their designs, the asylums often devolved into horrifying dystopias; given their stigmatizing histories, they are easy targets for demolition. Yet there is a passionate and growing network of preservationists, urban explorers and paranormalists committed to preserving Kirkbride Hospitals. Can we decouple the physical asylums from their phantoms, to promote adaptive reuse rather than repressive and wasteful erasure? Is it possible to resuscitate these remarkable structures, which offer tangible lessons of architectural know-how, sustainability and embodied energy?
Robert Kirkbride is Dean of Parsons School of Constructed Environments, and Associate Professor of Architecture and Product Design at Parsons School of Design, in New York City. Dr. Kirkbride is also Spokesperson and a founding Trustee for PreservationWorks, a national 501c3 organization advocating the preservation and adaptive reuse of Kirkbride Plan Hospitals. Robert’s work integrates scholarship and design practice, investigating the interplay of physical and mental infrastructures of memory and identity. In addition to contributing the introduction for 2016’s Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital, recently nominated for several awards, Dr. Kirkbride designed the Morbid Anatomy Museum in Brooklyn, NY, and authored the award-winning multimedia online book Architecture and Memory, which reconstructs the educational and rhetorical uses of two Renaissance memory chambers. Robert has been a visiting scholar at the Canadian Centre for Architecture, and architect-in-residence at the Bogliasco Foundation in Genoa, Italy.