Fraser Brown MacKenna won an invited design competition run by the South London and Maudsley NHS Trust to create a new ‘Museum of the Mind’ at Bethlem Royal Hospital in Beckenham, which opened in February 2015.
Bethlem is one of the world’s oldest hospitals for the treatment of mental illness. The Bethlem Archives and Museum Service was established at the hospital as a small exhibition space in 1970 and now houses over 450 works of art by artists linked to the hospital or the field of mental illness, including pieces by Richard Dadd and Louis Wain who both once spent time at Bethlem. The archive contains a continuous record of the hospital since 1559, including fragile and valuable records.
The project comprised the refurbishment and extension of the former Administration Building to house environmentally controlled archive storage, a conservation studio, dedicated spaces to accommodate archive researchers and education visits and galleries for temporary exhibitions. The focal point of the new museum is a permanent display which explores the long history of mental health care and treatment at Bethlem and elsewhere. The new museum retains the stunning Art Deco reception area and staircase as well as the historic Boardroom of the hospital.
Key to our design was a desire to ensure the building itself played a significant role in forming the visitor experience. The museum and gallery are used by patients at the hospital as part of Art Therapy, as well as host visits by academics, schools and research students. The symmetrical arrangement of the existing building inspired a ‘winged’ layout, with a dramatic, central circulation space.