My Favorite Buildings
After reading a recent Buffalo News story about funding and delays in renovation of the Buffalo State Psychiatric Hospital I was reminded of how much I love that building. This structure designed by H.H. Richardson is massive and I love the whole thing. However I really love the part that no one thinks of, the 1/4 mile long wings (or should I say wing since one wing was lopped off in the 60's). This building is not considered to be one of Richardson's best buildings. But, that is not to say that it is a bad building or that it is not important as a major work of architecture. Quite the contrary.
This building was one of Richardson's largest commissions (if not the largest). Its design and construction spanned almost his entire career. It was also one of his earliest commissions and shows the early signs of his genius. Initial design sketches of the proposed hospital show Richardson struggling with a mishmash of Victorian detail weighing down a poorly proportioned set of elevations. As he worked through his ideas the building we know today emerged as a bold and brooding structure with powerful soaring towers. Massive wings stepping back from the towers allowed for patient care that was state of the art for its time. All the signs of an emerging master were present in this building. It is almost as if he had thrown off a yolk and discovered himself in this design.
When people think of the Psychiatric Center they almost inevitably think of the towers. They dominate the neighborhood and form an appropriate ending to Richmond Avenue. The towers of course are very fine but my favorite parts of the complex are the structures forming the wings. Especially the buildings at the far end of the complex constructed of brick. Richardson had intended the entire complex to be constructed of Medina sandstone but after years of construction the State asked him to redesign a portion to cut costs. The bricks are of a very dense red, stacked with the hair line tight mortar joints that were commonly used for finish brick back then. The detailing is very simple with almost no decoration. The steeply pitched roofs provide a strong romantic character to the composition.
Unfortunately these wings are in the worst condition in the complex. It is unfortunate that they were unnecessarily allowed get to the condition that they are in. The scary part is that many have called for destruction of the wings in favor of saving only the central part of the complex. Hopefully that plan is not seriously being considered. Loss of the State Hospital wings would be a tragic.
I encourage you to take a walk around the west end of the Richardson State Hospital. You will be shocked at the condition that the buildings are in but you will be awed by their beauty