Reimagining the Chelsea: Uninstitutionalised Living for Mad* Artists

Sally Wills

[email protected]
Sally Wills Louise Photo Edit Digital
Louise Bourgeois model

* Suffering from mental illness

Intrigued by the unique way in which artists who suffer from mental illness interpret the world around them, this thesis begins to reimagine New York's Chelsea Hotel as a refuge for these inspiring characters.

Janet Photo Edit Digital Large
Janet Frame model
Frame Print Edit Digital Small
Janet Frame Plan Manipulation - Drypoint etch 3/4

This thesis began by exploring the history of mental health care facilities, particularly focusing on the legacy of Franco Basaglia, who initiated a movement for the deinstitutionalisation of psychiatric health care from within the system in Italy, after discovering the prison-like nature of these institutions, and the “loss of identity” 1 for patients.

1. Jay, M. (2016). ‘I’m not signing’. London Review of Books, 38(17), 11-14. Retrieved from

Louise Render Edit Digital Large
Louise Bourgeois Home & Studio

These changing models of care, all arguably still forms of institutionalisation, are compared with the environments created by artists and other creatives who suffer from mental illness. Although severe in cases, these ‘mad’ individuals thrive and are celebrated as they strive to express and shape the world around them, exploring their ‘other’ view of the world. These artists can be described as the opposite of institutionalised, yet often congregate in types of self-formed institutions, physical and theoretical, such as those who influenced and formed the late 20th Century New York creative scene. Their obsession and mental illness can be seen as beneficial or even vital to the groundbreaking work they create.

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Janet Frame Home & Lounge

Rather than trying to apply different models of mental health care that have been tested throughout history and attempting to deliver a homogeneous solution, this thesis focuses on the living and working environments of these ‘mad’ artists. It does not attempt to prove a theory nor a correct approach, but instead is an exploration of the theoretical, spatial and personal information collected. This process is an artistic interpretation and translation of the information, informing a unique and personalised spatial response to designing an entirely urban living situation for these artists.

Yayoi Render Digital Large
Yayoi Kusama Serviced Home attached to Factory

The now "whitewashed" 2 Chelsea Hotel in New York is employed as a vehicle for this exploration with its rich history as a type of institution for suffering artists, reimagining it as a refuge for the precedent artists inspiring this thesis.

2. Kinney, K. (2017, Apr 6,). A new look for the legendary chelsea hotel reflects its bohemian past. Stuff Retrieved from 

Rooftop Render Digital Large
Reimagined Chelsea Hotel Rooftop
Rooftop Plan Edit Digital Small
Reimagined Chelsea Hotel 11th Floor Plan
Big Section All Edit Digital Small
Reimagined Chelsea Hotel Section