Joseph Guislain, doctor and builder of this former psychiatric institution, thought that the architecture of a hospital should contribute to the recovery process of the patients by exuding peace and quiet, freedom and safety.
Joseph Guislain was the son of an architect, but he broke the tradition and became a doctor. He, however, used architecture as a kind of medicine. In his early career, his plan for a mental hospital won a prize from the Brussels Société des Beaux Arts. At the end of his working life, he built the psychiatric hospital in Ghent that would bear his name after his death.
For much of the 19th century the mentally ill, were accommodated in decrepit buildings for which no better use could be found. When the first patients were brought into the Guislain Institute in 1857, this was the first edifice in Belgium that was especially designed to accommodate mentally ill people. As well as this, the complex was entirely appointed to meet the needs of the moral approach. Guislain was convinced that such a building would aid his patients’ recovery process. For this reason he was involved in every possible detail of the design. The location in what was then the countryside, the gallery with round arches, the decorative parapets and the elaborate balustrades all serve the same purpose. For therapeutic reasons, the hospital had to radiate tranquillity, freedom and safety. This is also why the buildings are only two storeys high and surrounded by gardens and inner courtyards. Using architecture in this way, as part of the healing process, was ground-breaking in Belgium, although there were already a few examples of this in other European countries.
Guislain’s hospital was seen as a model institution at the time and attracted visitors from all over the continent. Day-to-day psychiatric care is since the 1990s provided in a new building on the same estate: most of the former hospital has since become a museum.