|Avery Drawings & Archives Collections|
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At a Glance
This collection is made up of four series: Project Records, Professional Papers, Reference Files, and Personal Papers.
Scope and Content
This collection is composed primarily of project drawings, reports, letters and some photographs of general medical and specifically CMHC (Community Mental Health Centers) projects from across the United States received and commented upon by Dorsett while at the NIMH from 1963 to 1982. It also includes projects received and/or discussed by Dorsett after that date while acting as a private design consultant. The other, somewhat smaller portions of the collection, his reference material, professional and personal papers, comprise of studies, notes, articles, guidelines, private architectural projects, student design work, and various ephemera.
Using the Collection
Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library
Restrictions on Access
This collection is available for use by appointment in the Department of Drawings & Archives, Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University. For further information and to make an appointment, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
All original copies of audio media are closed until reformatting in 2020.
Restrictions on Use
Columbia University is providing access to the materials in the Library's collections solely for noncommercial educational and research purposes. The unauthorized use, including, but not limited to, publication of the materials without the prior written permission of Columbia University is strictly prohibited. All inquiries regarding permission to publish should be submitted in writing to the Director, Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University. For additional guidance, see Columbia University Libraries' publication policy.
In addition to permission from Columbia University, permission of the copyright owner (if not Columbia University) and/or any holder of other rights (such as publicity and/or privacy rights) may also be required for reproduction, publication, distributions, and other uses. Responsibility for making an independent legal assessment of any item and securing any necessary permissions rests with the persons desiring to publish the item. Columbia University makes no warranties as to the accuracy of the materials or their fitness for a particular purpose.
Clyde Dorsett papers, 1940-1991, (bulk 1952-1982), Department of Drawings & Archives, Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University.
About the Finding Aid / Processing Information
Columbia University Libraries, Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library
Processed; Christopher Cowell 2012.
2012-05-18 File created.
2019-05-20 EAD was imported spring 2019 as part of the ArchivesSpace Phase II migration.
History / Biographical Note
Clyde H. Dorsett was born in Burlington, North Carolina in 1925. While still in his teens, he took part in the Allied Invasion of Normandy in 1944 receiving the Bronze Star Medal. Clyde Dorsett's first experience in medical design began soon after his return, in 1946: an apprentice at the offices of Louis Jallade in New York City where he worked on a 200-bed hospital project. Dorsett went on to receive his bachelor's degree in architecture from the School of Design, North Carolina State University in 1953, part of which time he studied under Buckminster Fuller. He was noted for his unusual skill in mastering detail design both in terms of construction and program – later put to good use in his diagnostic work at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) from 1965. Between this period he co-established the short-lived partnership Dorsett & Smyre Architects. Though working on a number of project types, Dorsett again found himself engaged in hospital design and construction, this time for the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, Washington D.C., when he began to realize that there were growing design opportunities in the field.
He studied at Columbia University from 1962-63 where he completed his master's degree in architecture majoring in hospital and public health facilities planning and design. The timing could not have been more fortunate. Following the passing of the Community Mental Health Centers (CMHC) Act of 1963, the NIMH suddenly found itself responsible for overseeing the wholesale transformation of the nation's medical health built infrastructure. To achieve this, Dorsett was brought in to establish its architectural consultation section of which he became chief. He would go on to develop most of the regulations, policies and programs related to architectural aspects of the Act. The new section was staffed by architects with backgrounds as diverse as anthropology, psychology, management, programming, mental health, and general hospital planning, while Dorsett foresaw this expanding into other related expertise such as in corrective services, children's programs and total health services.
During his time at the NIMH Dorsett also worked closely with a team of medical experts, believing that the medical program and the actual facility should be inseparable, that "they are the same thing." Together they helped develop national policy and provided project-by-project consultation across each state for the relevant health care bodies and their private architects – with each project given a unique code comprising of state, project type and number. Site visits across the country were frequent, regional workshops not infrequent, with a constant stream of planning drawings and written advice flowing through the NIMH offices. Dorsett's overriding belief was that good healthcare design should provide a humane, welcoming environment as opposed to the institutional character that normally felt with such building types. To this aim he sponsored a large body of research in environmental psychology. Among his early collaborators were Sim Van der Ryn and Christopher Alexander, the latter for whom he contributed some sections to his "pattern language." By 1978 Dorsett was finally able to take his theories to their ultimate conclusion – the total breaking down of monolithic institutional design and the re-empowering of patients in the healing process – with his consultation work for the Hawaii State Hospital. Here the "village system" approach was adopted: clustered buildings broken down into discreet housing units in a semi-urban setting. This and others like it at the time, reflected new ideas of the needs of patients and of medical support staff to be cognizant of their interactions and social relations across various scales: from the individual to the group, to the multiple, to the neighborhood or village – a direct influence of Alexander's thinking.
Dorsett often fussed over both the details and the wider aims of a project, yet was described as having a "smooth, low key approach." Indeed so well-known was his technical support in linking facilities to programs that the process was once dubbed as "Dorsetting." His frequent travel across the various states and the personal sacrifices this entailed also earned him the praise of his director, Dr. Frank M. Ochberg, who described him as "my ambassador-at-large."
Dorsett took early retirement from the institute in 1982, possibly as a consequence of cutbacks in consultation services by the NIMH that Dorsett was beginning to forewarn his clients of as early as 1979. He was now working in a partnership with Constantine Karalis, as senior partner to the practice Dorsett and Karalis, Associates. Dorsett's old projects continued to be utilized by him as pattern touchstones for his new and existing clients right up until the 1990s. His expertise now earned him a wider international audience, consulting for health authorities in the West Indies, and advising the World Health Organization and the State Department. He died at his home at Queenstown, Maryland, in 2007.
1. Adam Bernstein, Clyde H. Dorsett; Architectural Consultant,
2. Sam A. Kimble [Department of Health, Education and Welfare] to Dorsett, March 23, 1962.
3. "Community Mental Health Centers Team: Everyone's in a Different Game,"
4. Clyde H. Dorsett, "Broader Goals for the Architect and Government in Community Planning,"
5. Thomas W. Carey (Department of Health & Human Services) to Dorsett, Nov. 7, 1980.
6. Jack A. Bartleson (ADAMH Branch) to Steven Sharfstein, M.D. (DMHSB), July 27, 1976.
7. Frank M. Ochberg [Division of Mental Health Services Program, NIMH] to Dorsett, May 30, 1975.
8. Ian Osborn [Pennsylvania State Hospital] to Dorsett, Oct. 24, 1979.