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Three Cheers for a Hotel & Landscape Regeneration Project

January 27, 2009

The Buffalo News reported this morning that plans are moving forward to rehabilitate a historic building (the first designed by the first internationally famous US architect Henry Hobson Richardson) and landscape (designed by Frederick Law Olmsted).  What an exciting project! The historic building, located in Buffalo, NY,  was an insane asylum and is a very attractive and interesting example of “Richardson Romanesque”.  It is slated to become a boutique hotel.  The landscape plan calls for removing multiple surface parking lots in front of the building and changing vehicular- and pedestrian pathways to  in order to  re-establish the Olmstedian boulevards in a park-like setting. I can’t wait to make a a visit when it is all completed.
Buffalo New York Richardson Olmsted project
And three cheers for the Urban Landscape Institute for insisting the the site be called ‘The Richardson Olmsted Complex’ recognizing the equal importance of the famed landscape designer.

Documents can be viewed at .

I think this excerpt from the history of the site is so interesting:

The complex and grounds were originally built on 203 acres of largely undeveloped farmland. The V-shaped design consisted of the central tower building with five buildings flanking on each side, connected by curved corridors, branching out in a “flock of geese” formation. This design was representative of what was then known as the Kirkbride system, named after the physician who developed it. As a stage of development in the classification and treatment of mental illnesses, Kirkbride’s system was designed with a central administration building flanked by patient wards in a V-formation. This enabled patients to be gathered according to the type and level of their illness. Rooms were arranged along both sides of the corridor and the buildings were designed for maximum light, ventilation, and privacy, and a home like atmosphere.

The central tower building and adjacent buildings were constructed using Medina Sandstone quarried in nearby Orleans County. The wings were constructed with brick.

A plan for laying out the grounds was prepared by Olmsted and partially completed. Olmsted’s paths and arrangement of spaces were designed to facilitate the activities and philosophy underlying the Kirkbride system. Calvert Vaux, also a landscape architect and collaborator with Olmsted, contributed to the final layout.

The final landscape design laid out the front side of the grounds as a park-style open space, ringed by winding walkways. It was thought that the park-like setting with spacious tree-shaded lawns would have a calming and therapeutic effect on the patients. The grounds behind the hospital buildings were the site of a large, 100-acre farm which extended to the rear boundary of the grounds at the Scajaquada Creek. These farmlands served to provide patients with constructive outdoor physical work in the form of farming, believing that purposeful physical labor would contribute to increasing the patients’ healing and general well-being.

Interesting to see how a master of of the landscape world approached a ‘therapeutic’ landscape and garden.

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  1. Hey, this in my neighborhood! I drive by it every day. It is located right next door to my alma mater, Buffalo State College. Used to walk under those towers to get to the bars every weekend.

    The process of getting to the point you write about above has been embarrassingly long and silly. The building has sat crumbling for the almost 30 years since I came to Buffalo. It is a spectacular building on impressive grounds. We are all so glad it’s moving forward. A hotel is a much-needed amenity for this site. On the same grounds is a $33 million brand-spankin’ new museum, the Burchfield Penny Art Center, and across the street from that is the world-renown Albright-Knox Art Gallery, with the best American collection of contemporary art after the Museum of Modern Art in NYC. Just outside the grounds of the Richardson complex is a series of parks, parkways and traffic circles designed by Olmsted. And a few Wright houses too!

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