Yesterday, I paid a visit to the remains of Porirua Psychiatric Hospital, just outside Wellington, New Zealand. What prompted the visit was the documentary film, “Asylum Pieces,” by Kathy Dudding, which premiered a couple of weeks ago in Auckland and was shown at the Wellington Film Festival the night before.
I happened to show up on the one day of the week the museum (above) was open. The building was originally a residential villa for women classified as “hopeless.”
Originally classified as a “lunatic asylum,” the facility was opened in the 1870s. The founding principles were enlightened, in the spirit of the asylum movements in the US and Great Britain, based on “moral improvement” in surroundings conducive to healing. The buildings (two pics below) were amongst the grandest in New Zealand, in a beautiful rural setting, on vast acreage, with residents working a farm (with two dairy herds) and doing other chores.
Also in the pattern of overseas, underfunding and overcrowding pushed enlightenment aside, along with misplaced hope in ECT and meds as magic bullets. It turned out the main buildings were built of shoddy materials and were condemned in 1942, following an earthquake. In 1960, the farm was closed. The facility shut down in the 1990s.
Above: Farm equipment used by the residents.
Above: Ancient ECT apparatus.
Above: Meds dispensary, circa 1960s.
Above: Portable cast iron tub. Note the handle and wheels.
Above: Isolation unit.
Above: Enlightenment occasionally creeps back in. A splendid example of deco-type architecture from the 30s, based on functionality and light spaces. The building is now used by a soccer club.