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The challenge of the asylum mortuary in early 20th-century Central Europe

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In the early twentieth century, Central European lunatic asylums were built according to the villa system, meaning that patients and services were housed in multiple small structures spread across the asylum grounds. One of these structures was always a mortuary, which combined spaces for the temporary storage of the corpses of patients who had died while in the asylum, with a room for post-mortem dissection, laboratories and a chapel for Catholic funeral rites.

Each element of the mortuary’s use (or ‘programme’ in architectural terms) was connected with thorny, emotionally charged and ideologically loaded issues. The challenge this programme posed to the architect was in part spatial – how to combine interdependent but mutually incoherent functions, and users. And in a context – early modernism – which stressed the clear expression of purpose through architecture, the asylum mortuary also pushed architectural communication to its limits.

This talk is part of the Twentieth Century Think Tank series.

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