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Asylum: A Place of Refuge: A proposal for reducing mental health disorders through architecture and landscape

Marwah Osama (College of Architecture, Art and Design (CAAD), American University of Sharjah, Sharjah, United Arab Emirates)


ISSN: 2631-6862

Article publication date: 23 September 2019

Issue publication date: 30 January 2020



Mental health disorders, namely, anxiety and depression, have reached an unprecedented peak; recent research demonstrates that these disorders have increased by 70 per cent over the last 25 years. Additionally, developments in the field of environmental psychology have elicited that the built environment is a crucial factor affecting mental health. It is, therefore, necessary for architects to address the issue when designing, thereby using a holistic approach to promote general well-being. The paper aims to discuss this issue.


The project, Asylum: A Place of Refuge, seeks to create a reinterpretation of the eighteenth century asylum, through which the intervention of nature – vast pastures and bucolic settings – believed it had the power to cure the human psyche while, simultaneously, offering redemption. This paper examines the project in relation to multiple books and readings conducted prior and while designing. These references, many of which are considered staples in the field, refer to the important role and impact architecture and landscape have on mental health. Additionally, it discusses the ways architects can consciously design to promote physiological well-being and ensure positive psychological experience through adoption of a comprehensive approach that bridges the gap between the body and mind. Finding sources related to environmental psychology was also crucial as the research conducted in this field provides scientific reasoning to support design decisions.


By employing strategies from the readings as well as creating a stimulating space that challenges the conception of architecture, the project: Asylum: A Place of Refuge, was born. The use of a powerful, specific and emotive language inherent to the setting as well as a constant relationship between nature and the built environment creates a safe haven for people to resort to, away from the pressures and stresses of everyday life amplified by bustling cities. The ethos of the project is essentially inspired upon Ebenezer Howard’s concept introduced in his book, Garden Cities of Tomorrow, where he states that “human society and the beauty of nature are meant to be enjoyed together. The two must be made one” (Howard, p. 48).

Research limitations/implications

The application and the validity of the project are limited to a conceptual proposal leading to speculative results. Although the research paper is based on architecture-related readings and research conducted in the field of environmental psychology, to verify how this project would function in a real-world setting, it is essential to build it.

Social implications

Applying these findings and this approach to architecture can enhance the quality of life. These ideas can be applied to many different building types including, but not limited to, living spaces, workplaces and recreational spaces.


This paper is based on an architecture project that was created by the author as part of their undergraduate thesis. As a result, this paper and proposal is fully original.



The author would like to thank the support of the author tutors at the American University of Sharjah, Professor Michael Hughes and Architect Fernando Menis during the creation of the architecture project, and also to CAUMME PAUMME for offering the support and opportunity to share the authors’ research and project. Finally, the author would like to express sincere gratitude to family for their unconditional support and encouragement. A special thank you to the authors’ sister for going through the authors’ drafts and providing valuable insights.


Osama, M. (2020), "Asylum: A Place of Refuge: A proposal for reducing mental health disorders through architecture and landscape", Archnet-IJAR, Vol. 14 No. 1, pp. 60-69.



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