Psychiatry, Architecture, and Knowledge

Psychiatry, Architecture, and Knowledge

Institute for the History and Theory of Architecture (gta) | ETH Zürich / e-flux Architecture
Psychiatry, Architecture, and Knowledge
Live roundtable with Jan de Vylder, Meredith TenHoor, Magaly Tornay, and Camille Robcis
December 1, 2020

Join us on e-flux Video & Film on Tuesday, December 1, 2020 at 6pm CET (12pm EST) for a live roundtable with Camille Robcis (Columbia University), Meredith TenHoor (Pratt Institute), Jan de Vylder (Architecten Jan de Vylder Inge Vinck and the ETH Zurich), and Magaly Tornay (Universität Bern).

Psychiatry, Architecture, and Knowledge

Of all the fields of institutional medicine, psychiatry presents the dilemma of care in its most intractable form—the impossibility of drawing a fixed line between “attending to,” in the sense of solicitude, and “watching over.” in the sense of surveillance. The painful irreducibility of this dilemma haunts the history of psychiatric architecture, which presents itself as a potentially endless sequence of improvements. But do these improvements constitute progress?

Camille Robcis’ and Meredith TenHoor’s research examines the history and architectural legacies of institutional psychotherapy, a movement born in France during the Second World War that called for the profound transformation of the theory and practice of psychiatric care, through the lens of Marxism and Lacanian psychoanalysis. According to institutional psychotherapy, the psychiatric hospital could function as a microcosm of society at large, as a space to promote horizontal and anti-authoritarian social relations, and as a template to better understand alienation and offer perspectives for “disalienation.” Institutional psychotherapy shaped the worked of many prominent thinkers including François Tosquelles, Frantz Fanon, Félix Guattari, and Michel Foucault. Robcis will map out the general history of this movement, and TenHoor will focus on the work of the architect Nicole Sonolet, who, through her collaborations with psychotherapists, made major yet largely unrecognized contributions to the design of mental hospitals and clinics in France.

In contrast, Magaly Tornay’s recent research brings attention to an often overlooked side of psychiatric care: the surveillance of care workers themselves. Her new book, Träumende Schwestern, deals with the compulsory dream analysis of nurses working at the clinic of Münsterlingen. The asylum, in her reading, becomes a place where no private space is insulated from the clinical and administrative functions of the institution.

The work of these historians provides multiple potential perspectives on the recent architecture of Jan de Vylder (ETH), in particular the award winning project for the psychiatric clinic Caritas on the outskirts of the town of Melle (a project of Architecten de Vylder Vinck Taillieu 2016). The site posed its own contradictions: the original buildings, which date from a period of psychiatric coercion, can in fact be interpreted as more generous than the postwar buildings on the site that were constrained by regulations and functional requirements. As if conducting an analysis of his own upon the dreams of a disused building, de Vylder brought trees and streetlights inside the clinic, transforming it into a program-free park for patients and the general public alike.

Collectively, we ask, how does architecture contribute to, or reveal subtexts of, psychiatric epistemologies? And in the other direction, what can knowledge of the asylum bring to architecture? Should the asylum disappear, or is it due to return, perhaps in altered guise? And what is its relationship to the city?

The roundatble will be livestreamed on this page, with audience Q&A available via chat. No registration required.

For more information, contact

This event is part of Architecture about Care, a collaboration between e-flux Architecture and the Institute for the History and Theory of Architecture (gta) | ETH Zürich.

Architecture, Modernism
Health & Disease

Meredith TenHoor is an architectural and urban historian, and Professor in the School of Architecture at Pratt Institute. She is also editor, founding board member, and former chair of the Aggregate Architectural History Collaborative, a group devoted to publishing and advancing collaboratively-produced scholarship in architectural theory and history. Her research examines how architecture, urbanism, and landscape design participate in the distribution of resources, and how these design practices have produced understandings of the limits and capacities of bodies. She has written extensively about the relationships between food and agriculture and architectural, cultural, and territorial change in twentieth-century France. Other key topics are histories of justice, exclusion, and displacement in architecture and urban planning; architectures of consumption and biopolitics; and the intellectual history of francophone and anglophone critical theory. Her publications include Toxics(2022), Black Lives Matter (2015), Street Value: Shopping, Planning and Politics at Fulton Mall (2010), and a forthcoming book about the design history and political economies of French food systems. Newer projects address the bodily and environmental impacts of building materials, the architectural imaginaries of environmental futures, and the career of the French architect Nicole Sonolet, who designed housing, hospitals, and villages focused around the provision of care.

Magaly Tornay is co-leader of the project “Governing by Values? On the history of medical and bioethics in Switzerland” at the University of Bern Institute for Medical History.

RSVP for Psychiatry, Architecture, and Knowledge

Thank you for your RSVP.

will be in touch.


e-flux announcements are emailed press releases for art exhibitions from all over the world.

Agenda delivers news from galleries, art spaces, and publications, while Criticism publishes reviews of exhibitions and books.

Architecture announcements cover current architecture and design projects, symposia, exhibitions, and publications from all over the world.

Film announcements are newsletters about screenings, film festivals, and exhibitions of moving image.

Education announces academic employment opportunities, calls for applications, symposia, publications, exhibitions, and educational programs.

Sign up to receive information about events organized by e-flux at e-flux Screening Room, Bar Laika, or elsewhere.

I have read e-flux’s privacy policy and agree that e-flux may send me announcements to the email address entered above and that my data will be processed for this purpose in accordance with e-flux’s privacy policy*

Thank you for your interest in e-flux. Check your inbox to confirm your subscription.