Asylum Into Home: The Residences at St. Elizabeths



The National Historic Landmark St. Elizabeths hospital was the nation’s first purpose-built mental-health institution, offering 19th-century patients plenty of fresh air, sunlight, and access to natural landscapes as a form of healing treatment. “Modern” 20th-century medicine introduced changes, however, that are reflected in the architecture found on the St. Elizabeths East campus, namely the seven interconnected buildings of its Continuous Treatment complex that were built between 1933-1943. The self-contained environment confined all the services and living needs of its residents, closing them off from the outside world. Its “Panopticon” design, a common prison layout, segregated patients and ensured easy surveillance. The new design flips that concept into a modern, affordable, residential setting that opens out to the surrounding community.

DC Mayor Muriel Bowser set an ambitious agenda to deliver 36,000 new housing units – one-third of them affordable – by 2025. Cunningham Quill Architects embraced this goal by delivering The Residences at St. Elizabeths East: 252 rental apartments that are 80-percent affordable and 20-percent market rate, with special emphasis on two- and three-bedroom units that support families and multigenerational living.

The Residences at St. Elizabeths East has received the Design Award of Merit from AIA Northern Virginia, the Washingtonian Residential Design Award from AIA DC, and a Chapter Design Award with a citation for Equitable Communities from AIA DC.