Thursday, September 18, 2008

Buffalo State Hospital - the H. H. Richardson Complex



In stark contrast to the majority of locations featured on this blog, the H. H. Richardson Complex, a grand Kirkbride building in Buffalo, NY, is not in danger of being demolished or left to rot. A National Historic Landmark, the building is currently being stabilized and has recently been secured against intruders. Better still, budget is already in place in order to restore the gorgeous Romanesque building to her former glory. The Richardson Center Corporation is overseeing the restoration.

Buffalo State Hospital's original main building complex features a central Administrative building crowned by two 185-foot-tall towers, copper roofed with dormer windows. The masonry is of red medina sandstone, and is one of the earliest examples of H. H. Richardson's trademark style, Richarsonian Romanesque. The central Administrative building is flanked on either side by two sandstone ward pavilions, connected by curved connector hallways. These hallways served a dual purpose - their curvature made it impossible to place beds in the connector hallways, which was a common practice at overcrowded hospitals of the era. At the same time, it allowed a greater level of supervision, as doctors and nurses could easily traverse the entire length of the complex, while orderlies and patients could be confined to a single ward. This notion conformed to the hospital hierarchy of the day, and was touted by John P. Gray, superintendent of Utica State Hospital and an adviser to Richardson, as one of the innovative features of the Buffalo asylum's design.


Hallway of the innermost brick ward, second floor.

The original plan for the hospital was to build the remaining ward pavilions - a total of five on each side - in the same sandstone. However, the outer three wards on either side (the pavilions to the west were for female patients, and those to the right for male) were constructed of brick when the budget fell short. The wards were constructed en echelon; the Administration building had four stories, and on either side, the next two wards had three stories, the following two had two stories, and the final ward (reserved for violent patients) had a single story. In the 1960s, the Male brick wards were demolished in order to build an ugly, utilitarian modern building for the psych center.


A dormitory at the end of the second story of the inner brick ward.


A cast iron stairway in the brick wards. The stairs in the sandstone wards have a higher degree of ornamentation.


The first floor hallway of the center brick ward. This floor contains dozens of discarded wheelchairs.


The top floor of the connector hallway between the two sandstone pavilions.


A door on the second floor of the brick wards. Note that there is a mesh window for the orderlies to look in upon the patients. Like most of the hardware in the hospital, the doorknob is missing.


View of the violent ward of the Female Wing from the attic of the center brick ward. The violent wards were a single story tall, and their footprint was very different from that of the rest of the hosptial.

One feature of the Buffalo State Hospital Kirkbride which differentiates it greatly from many other Kirkbride buildings is the single-loaded main corridors. More expensive from a construction perspective, the southern-facing windows in these corridors provided a maximal amount of light, which was in keeping with Dr. Kirkbride's Moral Treatment plan. Each main corridor is bisected with a smaller corridor to the north, each of which was double-loaded. Bathroom and shower facilities, as well as coatrooms and storage, were placed in these extensions. The footprint of the Topeka State Hospital (now mostly demolished) appears to have been based upon this design.


Another brick ward hallway.


Ornate fireplace in the Administration building.

The majority of the complex is in remarkably good shape, especially considering its long abandonment. The most significant damage is to the hallway connecting the inner and center brick wards. In order to get from one to the next, one must carefully pass over a "bridge" of swaying, uncollapsed floor.


At some point between 2004 and 2008, someone placed a radiator grill over the collapse bridge.


Two geriatric chairs in a corner of a dayroom in the sandstone wards.


A coatroom in the brick wards.


Some medical equipment remains in the pitch-black depths of the single-story violent ward. The EEG machine in the background was manufactured by Medcraft, the same company which designed the B-24 Glissando ECT machine, the standard in electroshock therapy from the 50s through the 70s.


Shower stalls with privacy walls in the sandstone wards. In many similar hospitals, the showers would be communal, with no such walls in place. Here there are walls, but no doors - ensuring that the orderlies could keep a watch on patients even as they could not view each other.


Hallway in the sandstone wards. Note the brightness here as a result of the 12-foot-tall windows in the single-loaded corridor.


An original sandstone fireplace featuring a medieval "Green Beast" motif. Sadly, at some point this particular example was painted over in the ward colors of the time.


Detail from an unpainted "Green Beast" fireplace.

At some point, while the sprinkler system was still functional, a fire broke out in one of the patient rooms on the outer sandstone ward. The result is that the smoke clung to the upper reaches of the walls until the sprinklers kicked in, causing the soot to run down. The result is actually rather stunning, although certainly nearly disastrous. Fortunately, the structural damage is minimal - the room in which the fire originated is fairly charred, but outside of that, no serious damage was done.


Soot runs down the walls, the paint now peeling.


A patient's bed in the fire-damaged ward.


The sprinklers did not kick in here, and the heavy soot near the 16-foot-high ceiling is evidence of the amount of smoke generated in the fire.


Sunset through the windows in a dormitory inside the fire-damaged ward.


Sunset inside a solarium which was later converted to a dormitory. Note the 16-foot ceilings and the ornamental pillars.


The twin towers after dark.

For another perspective on this rare architectural treasure, visit the Pasilalinic-Sympathetic Compass.

ADDENDUM, 8/22/08

Monica Pelligrino Faix, Project Coordinator for the Richardson Center Corporation, has sent me the following official statement to post up on the Kingston Lounge:

The Richardson Center Corporation is working on the rehabilitation of the Richardson Olmsted Complex. Future plans envision public access to the Complex, although the organization cannot do so at this time because the buildings remain the property of the NYS Office of Mental Health. This board is undertaking a monumental task to stabilize and secure the buildings for future uses. One use will be an Architecture and Visitor Center for Buffalo and the region; planning for the remaining uses are underway as part of the master plan process being led by Chan Krieger Sieniewicz. Part of the long term plan for public access and reuse is to protect the buildings from vandalism, and therefore security patrols and closing up the buildings have increased. Please feel free to contact me directly at monica@richardson-olmsted.com, or visit our website, www.richardson-olmsted.com, for updates on our progress

I would urge my readers to remember that the Richardson Complex is actively being preserved, and that significant activity is already underway to ensure that these wonderful structures remain for future generations to enjoy. Anything which wastes the time or resources of the people working on the preservation efforts directly takes away from the resources available for preservation. Please enjoy the publicly accessible areas around the buildings and grounds legally and respectfully; I have no doubt that, in the not too distant future, the site will again be open for tours.