Buffalo State Hospital – May 5, 2013 – Set 1

Construction on the Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane began in 1872 with the hospital opening in 1880. The architect was Henry Hobson Richardson who designed many well known buildings, including Trinity Church in Boston and the Thomas Crane Memorial Library on Harvard’s campus. The landscape architect was Frederick Law Olmsted, who designed central park.

The building was designed according to the now well known philosophy of Dr. Thomas Story Kirkbride, Superintendent of Philadelphia State Hospital at the time. Much has been written about Kirkbride and his philosophy on treating the mentally ill, and I will not rehash all of the information that so many other websites provide. Suffice it to say, he believed that the environment the patients were treated in and the architecture of the building itself could have a positive impact on patient outcomes. One notable feature of Kirkbride plan buildings is that they are designed in such a way as to allow almost all patients to have a view out of their room. Typically, the center section of the building would be for administration, with separate wings for males and females (which look like bat wings when seen from above) extending out and back from each side of administration. More severely ill patients were kept in the wards furthest from administration, and would be moved closer as their treatment progressed. The design was an attempt to treat patients with more dignity and care than they were being treated with previously, and the design had a tremendous influence on Asylums constructed in the latter half of the 19th century.

Kirkbride buildings are a favorite of urban explorers and photographers. They often feature grand architecture (which Buffalo State certainly does) which make them very photogenic. They are also special to be inside of, for reasons which are hard to explain to the non-explorer. I had never seen Buffalo State Hospital before the preservation process began in earnest, so I was thrilled to find out they were offering tours of unrestored sections. The wards were fairly cleaned out, but that did not diminish my enjoyment of the place at all.