Richardson Complex - Table of Contents................. Museum District - Table of Contents

H. H. Richardson Complex
AKA: State Insane Asylum, State Lunatic Asylum, Buffalo State Hospital, Buffalo Psychiatric Center
400 Forest Avenue, Buffalo, NY

A National Historic Landmark

TEXT Beneath Illustrations

Click on photos for larger size -- and additional information

Note the V-shape of the eleven buildings - sited this way to maximize the amount of natural light in the buildings


1965 photo

Administration Building and adjacent pavilions

Architectural style of the hospital complex (Richardson's largest commission) is early Richardsonian Romanesque

Administration Building.

Note towers.

Administration Building

Administration Building

Administration Building

Administration Building twin towers

Administration Building twin towers

Administration Building twin towers

Administration Building twin towers

Two connected pavilions

Two other connected pavilions

Two connected pavilions

Detail: top of two connected pavilions

Balconies were not originally screened.





Through-the-cornice dormer

Main entrance to Administration Building

Detail - Main entrance to Administration Building

Mosaic-filled tympanum - main entrance to Administration Building.

Capital on Syrian arch of Administration Building

1965 photo by Jack E. Boucher
Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record

1965 photo by Jack E. Boucher

2016 photo

2016 photo

2016 photo


H. H. Richardson

Supervising architect: Andrew Jackson Warner of Rochester, NY (architect of Old County Hall)

Associate architect: Stanford White

Landscaping: Frederick Law Olmsted


1870 - 1896


National Register of Historic Places


In 1864 Dr. James White, a leading physician in Buffalo, proposed to the state legislature that an asylum be established in Western New York. Largely because of his efforts, the Buffalo State Hospital organization came into existence in 1869.

In 1870 H. H. Richardson, whose office was in New York City, was chosen as architect; at the same time, A. J. Warner of Rochester was named supervising architect. Groundbreaking ceremonies took place in June 1871, and the first patients were received in the half-finished complex in 1880. The entire complex was eventually completed in 1895, nine years after Richardson's death.


Many architectural historians regard Richardson as America's greatest architect, if not of all time at least of the period before Frank Lloyd Wright.

Richardson's design, executed in rough, rock-faced reddish brown Medina sandstone -- five feet thick -- is the first major example of his personal revival of Romanesque, the style with which his name is popularly identified. The hospital consisted of connected pavilions, ten in all, stretching from either side of the administration building in the center.

The administration building has monumental, medieval, double, identical towers (each 185 feet tall), each with four corner turrets and dramatically steep copper roofs mysteriously punctuated with dormered windows, all of which gave the administration building a rather sinister appearance. These great paired towers make the Psychiatric Center one of the most striking public buildings in America. The towers were never intended to house any functions and to this day are unfinished. This building once housed officers and their families on the second and third floors, and a large chapel occupied space on the fourth floor.

The five pavilions to the east (the outer three were demolished in 1969) were constructed first. Richardson wanted all of the buildings to be constructed of stone, but for reasons of economy the outer pavilions were constructed of brick, a change to which Richardson agreed.

The extended plan followed the Kirkbride system, named after the Philadelphia doctor who devised it. The plan afforded improved protection in event of fire, for each pavilion could be sealed from its neighbors by means of iron doors in the curving connecting corridors. It also provided an abundance of light and allowed for the classification of patients according to the nature and degree of their disturbance.


Frederick Law Olmsted and his partner Calvert Vaux planned the hospital grounds, which originally covered more than 200 acres. The grounds, like those of a great chateau, were both ornamental and productive. Landscaped parkland surrounded the main buildings and provided a space for quiet recreation. Behind the buildings a large tract of farmland extended to Scajaquada Creek. Here the institution grew much of its own food and provided work -- considered to have therapeutic value -- for many patients. The present Buffalo State College campus occupies most of the original farm.


Color photos and their arrangement 2006 Chuck LaChiusa
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