Moral architecture: the influence of the York Retreat on asylum design

Health Place. 1997 Jun;3(2):91-9. doi: 10.1016/s1353-8292(97)00003-8.


Institutional and architectural history places the asylum alongside the prison and other institutional types whose architectural characteristics emphasized confinement and control. This history obfuscates important differences in how ideas about treatment were represented in the particular design of these institutions; in other words, how the structure of a place became part of its discourse. What becomes obvious in nineteenth-century, asylum architecture is the influence of a small Yorkshire private asylum built by a Quaker, William Tuke, in 1796. The York Retreat, in form, solidified the ideas of 'moral treatment' in design and in turn assumed an exalted character in the design of late nineteenth-century asylums. Every researcher working in the field of the history of insanity acknowledges the importance of this event and its impact on the discourse of insanity for the century to follow. Few however talk about how its unique design was incorporated as part of this discourse.

Publication types

  • Biography
  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • England
  • Facility Design and Construction / history*
  • History, 18th Century
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • Hospitals, Psychiatric / history*
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders / history
  • Mental Disorders / therapy
  • Morals

Personal name as subject

  • W Tuke