The Buffalo State Hospital
is a vast complex of moldering Victorian buildings
, sitting right in the middle of a residential neighborhood
of Buffalo. It is also an architectural gem, not only by Buffalo standards, but for the nation as a whole. It is one of the largest and most complex commissions of New England architect H. H. Richardson
, who is known for promulgating his unique, heavy looking stone Romanesque variant of the then dominant Queen Anne style. The Buffalo asylum’s grounds were planned by landscape architect (and designer of Central Park) Fredrick Law Olmsted
On a side note, Olmstead later died in another asylum
which he had landscaped!
Like many Victorian mental institutions
, it is vacant, and has fallen
Despite the grim image these buildings hold on the modern imagination
, the Buffalo state hospital and many like it represented a significant advance in the care of the mentally ill. The buildings’ linear arrangement is an excellent example of the Kirkbride Plan
for mental asylums. The narrow buildings allowed maximum light and air. Their linear arrangement allowed the patient to progress from one end of the building towards the administrative center, as he or she became more ready for discharge from the hospital.
After decades of neglect, the building appeared doomed, until a lawsuit by a local preservation group forced the state to honor its commitment to preserve and reuse historic structures, to the tune of approximately $70M. The Richardson Center Corporation
was formed to oversee the restoration and re-use. In May 2007 the RCC invited a panel from the Urban Land Institute
to undertake a study to determine a potential use for the site. Their preliminary recommendations
[PDF] envision it as the crown jewel in Buffalo’s wealth of historic buildings, housing a history center classrooms, and businesses. The Richardson-Olmsted center would be a hub for architectural tourism.