LSD and the Design of the Yorkton Psychiatric Centre

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In the nineteenth century, architects and medical superintendents thought that by providing a calm, natural environment the space of the asylum would soothe insanity within the person. However, by the turn of the century due to overcrowding, lack of funding and the incurability of insanity, the asylum came to be cast as an oppressive institution. It is obvious that the intention of the architect at the beginning of the nineteenth century was to produce a salubrious environment in which patients would be treated humanely and be afforded the healing calm of nature. Psychiatrist, Dr. Humphry Osmond and architect, Kiyo Izumi, working in post-war Saskatchewan, Canada were intrigued by the work of the nineteenth-century asylum reformers, Tuke, Connolly and Kirkbride, and their ideas on the affects of the built environment on patients. The questions that puzzled these nineteenth-century reformers were recreated for Osmond and Izumi: how did the architect design a space for insanity without knowing its particularity, its essence? How was the architect to determine the particular needs of the mentally ill? If the architect was to construct a facility that ensured the detailed ordering of placement, movement, and perception for all those within its space, how was this to be accomplished? Due to the failure of the 19th-century model, Osmond and Izumi asked the question: what was the sense of the building from the point of view of the patient? They attempted to experience the space as a person within the hospital: to embody mental illness. Post-war experimentation with LSD provided the technology that would allow for this reversal of perception. The deliberate attempt to empathize with the experiences of schizophrenics was necessary, they thought, to build a hospital that at best would aid in their recovery and at least do them no harm. Participation in altered states of consciousness was used by Osmond and Izumi to determine the effects of the built environment upon persons with mental illness. In 1965 they announced that they had designed the new hospital in Yorkton, Saskatchewan with the aid of “psychedelic” drugs.

Keywords: LSD, Design, Mental Illness
Stream: Knowledge and Technology
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: LSD and the Design of the Yorkton Psychiatric Centre

Prof. Barry Edginton

Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Winnipeg
Winnipeg, MB, Canada

Barry Edginton is a Professor of Sociology at the University of Winnipeg. He authored the first medical sociology text in Canada, was editor of Health and Canadian Society and is now an associate editor of the Canadian Bulletin of Medical History. His work appears in History, Disability, Sociology and Design journals.

Ref: T08P0028