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Architecture as change-agent? Looking for innovation in contemporary forensic psychiatric hospital design


History suggests that departures from accepted design practice can contribute to positive change in the delivery of mental healthcare, the daily experience of hospitalised patients and public perceptions of mental illness. Yet the question of how architecture can support the therapeutic journey of patients remains a critical one. The availability of evidence-based design literature to guide architects cannot keep pace with growing global demand for new forensic psychiatric hospital facilities. This article reports a global survey of current design practice to speculate on the potential of three new hospitals to positively improve patient experience. A desktop survey was conducted of 31 psychiatric hospitals (24 forensic, 7 non-forensic) constructed or scheduled for completion between 2006 and 2022. This was supplemented by advisory panel sessions with clinical/facilities staff, alongside architectural knowledge obtained through workshops with architects from the UK and the USA, and the inclusion of Australian architects on the research team. Data analysis draws on knowledge from architectural practice, architectural history and environmental psychology, arguing that there is a responsibility to integrate knowledge from across these disciplines in respect of such a pressing and important problem.

  • architecture
  • cultural history
  • mental health care

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