Richardson Olmsted Campus
Architect: Deborah Berke Partners, with Flynn Battaglia, Goody Clancy
Owner: Richardson Center Corporation
Location: Buffalo, N.Y.
This project radically transformed the central portion of Buffalo’s National Historic Landmark Richardson Olmsted Campus into a boutique hotel. Celebrating both the monumental structure originally designed by Henry Hobson Richardson and the surrounding landscape designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the revitalized building brings new life to an abandoned architectural masterpiece. What was once the Buffalo Asylum for the Insane now stands ready to welcome travelers and visitors while contributing to the city’s revitalization and position as a center for great American design.
The campus is one of the most important buildings and landscapes in Buffalo, a city that boasts a rich architectural heritage. Its abandonment, which lasted decades, ran parallel to the city’s decline due to deindustrialization and population loss. The foreboding state of the derelict building also had the unfortunate side effect of reflecting the stigma of mental health facilities.
Now, a new glass and steel entrance serves as a beacon, establishing new connections between the building, the landscape, and a discreet parking area. At night, the new addition glows like a lantern, while the illuminated towers support the building’s stature from a distance. The new entry pavilion relies on light and transparency to demonstrate its contemporary contrast to Richardson’s original masonry building.
Inside, the scale and grandeur of Richardson’s intent are respected, while unobtrusive additions and subtractions allow the building to accommodate new uses. The lobby features a food service marketplace with moveable furniture that allows for flexible configurations. A renovated grand staircase carries guests to the second floor from the lobby.
Light-filled hallways were preserved throughout the 191,000-square-foot project, and many former patient rooms were combined to create modern guest rooms. Overall, the project added 88 hotel rooms, conference facilities, a fine dining restaurant, and a grab-and-go cafe. In the hallways, small cabinet-style bump-outs were added to support bathrooms for the guest quarters. Throughout, custom carpets feature a cool gray and green abstract pattern, referencing the surrounding Olmstedian landscape.
The nonprofit Richardson Center Corporation initialized the renovation, and the project now allows the public to experience the building and grounds while reflecting on its important architectural and social history. As a catalyst for redevelopment, the project demonstrates how former asylum buildings, of which there are dozens across the United States, can be refurbished for contemporary use and contribute to their communities.