Richardson Olmsted Complex: A Historic Insane Asylum Turned Hotel

May 7, 2018 0 comments

The Richardson Olmsted Complex in Buffalo, the United States, is a modern name for the Buffalo State Hospital, which itself was originally called the Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane. This large Medina red sandstone and brick hospital that stands on the grounds of the present day Buffalo Psychiatric Center in Buffalo was designed in 1870 by famed architect Henry Hobson Richardson, while the landscaping was done by another famous personality, Frederick Law Olmsted, a landscape architect who designed New York’s Central Park.

The landscape was an integral part of the treatment at Buffalo State Hospital. Psychiatrist Dr. Thomas Kirkbride, according to whose philosophy the facility was designed and the asylum’s treatment program was developed, believed the need for the mentally ill to interact with nature in order to heal. The asylum’s 203 acres of untouched farmland was hence one of the facility’s major assets.


Photo credit: Chris Payne/ESTO and Joe Cascio

Olmsted’s job was to create a natural surrounding that would provide an uplifting setting for individuals suffering from mental illness. Olmsted laid out the front side of the grounds as a park-style open space with trees and ringed by winding walkways. Behind the hospital buildings was an 100-acre farm which provided patients with constructive outdoor physical work in the form of farming, which contributed to the patients’ healing process and general well-being.

Henry Hobson Richardson was still relatively unknown when he was commissioned to design the complex. It eventually became the largest building of his career and the first to display his characteristic style, what came to be known as Richardsonian Romanesque. Built according to Dr. Kirkbride’s guidelines, the building is shaped like a V with a central tower building and five wards progressively set back on each side in a “flock of geese” formation—a design that allowed ample natural light and fresh air into the building. This design was representative of what was then known as the Kirkbride Plan, which was very popular throughout the 19th century. There are numerous psychiatric hospitals across the United States designed under the Kirkbride Plan.


Photo credit: Chris Payne/ESTO and Joe Cascio

The Buffalo State Hospital closed the door to its last patient in 1974. Just one year prior, the asylum was added to the National Register of Historic Places and in 1986, it was designated a National Historic Landmark. Other than a brief usage as Office of Mental Health between 1989 and 1994, the building and grounds remained vacant for decades. In 2006, the building was renamed Richardson Olmsted Complex and a corporation was established with the goal of rehabilitating the facility.

In late 2017, the former insane asylum was restored and opened as Hotel Henry.


Photo credit: Shannon O'Toole/Flickr


Photo credit: Shannon O'Toole/Flickr


Photo credit: Shannon O'Toole/Flickr


Photo credit: Shannon O'Toole/Flickr


Photo credit: Freaktography/Flickr


Photo credit: Chris Payne/ESTO and Joe Cascio


Photo credit: Chris Payne/ESTO and Joe Cascio


Photo credit: Chris Payne/ESTO and Joe Cascio


Photo credit: Chris Payne/ESTO and Joe Cascio


Photo credit: Chris Payne/ESTO and Joe Cascio


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