Established in 1855 in Washington, DC, St Elizabeths Hospital was the first federal psychiatric hospital in the US. The 1950s were the peak years of this medical institution, housing 8000 patients. Later in 1990, the hospital’s campus became a National Historic Landmark. However, only the east campus has been operating since 2010. What is highly interesting about the architecture of this “Collegiate Gothic” style building is the renovation method of its Center Building.
The government plans to make the Center Building the new headquarters for the Department of Homeland Security. In order to renovate this old building, JMA Preservation completely hollowed out the interior of the building while only conserving its façade. This type of reconstruction practice is called façadism or façadomy.
The Center Building was the first building on the campus of St Elizabeths Hospital. It was also a significant example of the Kirkbride Plan which was a common design for hospitals during the second half of the 19th century. According to the plan, the superintendent’s office and living space should be at a central point from which the wings of the building would extend. The wings also had to be symmetrical and linear so that each patient’s room could have a clear view outside and avoid overlooking one another’s room.