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

2000-2006 exterior photos - 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

See also: Photos taken after 2014-16 (adaptive resue of the complex)

Administration Building

2002 photo of Administration Building and adjacent pavilions

Cornerstone: "A.L." stands for "Anno Lucis." It is part of the Masonic calendar. The symbol between the dates is Masonic: the compass and straight edge are both tools used by working masons.   ...   (Special thanks to librarian Cynthia Van Ness for her assistance)   ...   See
"A Cornerstone Celebrating 145 Years at the Richardson" below

2006 photo of Administration Building   ...
Architectural style of the hospital complex (Richardson's largest commission) is early Richardsonian Romanesque

2005 photo of Administration Building twin towers   ...
Originally terra cotta roofs, now copper.    ...   Towers never meant to be functional except as an architectural signature.

2005 photo
Stone is Medina sandstone   ...   Copper roofs   ...   Conical  turret roof topped by finial   ...   Corbel tables beneath attic windows

2005 photo of Administration Building

2005 photo

2005 photo
Note towers.

2005 photo of Administration Building

2002 photo
Main entrance (will be changed after the
2014-16 adaptive reuse)   ...   Note Syrian arches which Richardson frequently used even though Richardsonian Romanesque suggests Roman arches    ...   Squat Romanesque columns 

 2002 photo
Medina sandstone   ribbed support   ...   Note mosaic-filled tympanum at left, detailed below:

 2002 photo

2002 photo
Syrian arch capital    ...   Romanesque  chevron molding decorates abacus above foliated capital

Adjacent pavilions

2006 photo
Two connected
pavilions (actually eleven buildings in the complex, but because they are connected, the buildings are considered pavilions)

2006 photo 
Two connected
pavilions    ...   Each pavilions held either male or female patients who needed similar care. Least ill were housed next to the administration building, most ill at the ends.

2005 photo
Balconies were not originally screened. Screens added when severe overcrowding, especially after WWII,  led to a deterioration of pioneering treatment.

2005 photo
Medina sandstone   ...   Unusually shaped corbel table   ...   Voussoirs near bottom of photo   ...  Unusual rounded ridge crest above dormer at right

2006 photo

2006 photo

2006 photo
Voussoirs atop windows

2006 photo
Even though the style of the complex is considered Richardsonian Romanesque, and Roman connotes rounded arches, the windows are not rounded

2006 photo
Asphalt roofs (not the original kind of roof covering)   ...   Hipped roof   ...   Medina sandstone   ...    Through-the-cornice dormer   ...   Dentil molding   ...   Engaged columns  between windows

2005 photo
Corbel table   ...  


A Cornerstone Celebrating 145 Years at the Richardson
Sent in an public relations email September 29, 2017 by the Richardson-Olmsted Complex

On a rainy day in September 1872, 800 Buffalonians and the Governor of New York State gathered in a field north of the city. The day had gone from gloomy to threatening to an outright downpour, but hundreds of attendees turned out just the same to celebrate Buffalo’s latest source of civic pride, the new Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane.

Following an intense competition between various cities and towns in Western New York, including Lockport and Batavia, Buffalo had won the bid to build the new hospital by promising a perpetual free water supply.
In a grand ceremony, the cornerstone for the building was laid on September 18, 1872. The ceremony featured a parade, military band, time capsule, lengthy speeches by various dignitaries which were later printed in the Buffalo Evening Courier and Republic, and a full Masonic ceremony performed by local Freemasons.
The Freemasons provided the cornerstone, which has become an enduring point of interest for visitors to the site who wonder at its symbols and numbers.
The cornerstone of the Richardson Olmsted Campus, laid on September 18, 1872, includes Masonic symbols and reads "A.L. 5872 A.D. 1872 / SEPTEMBER 18."
The easiest part of the cornerstone to decode is “A.D. 1872 SEPTEMBER 18,” referring to when the cornerstone was laid on September 18, 1872.
The less-obvious “A.L. 5872” conveys the same information; the Freemasons use a ceremonial calendar called “Anno Lucis,” or “in the year of light,” which adds 4,000 years to any date. The additional 4,000 years come from an 18th-century calculation indicating that the entire world was created 4,000 years before the birth of Christ. Freemasons use this dating system for internal dates, ceremonies, and formal occasions, like the laying of a cornerstone.
The Freemasons are also responsible for the two “V”s on the cornerstone, one inverted, which represent two important architect’s tools: the compass and the square. The compass is used to draw circles while the square helps to design buildings with straight edges and right angles.
 “The Square and Compasses” is a widely recognized Masonic symbol, placed on the Richardson’s cornerstone because of the Freemasons’ involvement in the cornerstone-laying ceremony.

Together, “The Square and Compasses” is the most recognizable symbol of Freemasonry in the world. It can be found on buildings and on gravestones, memorials, and documents. The Richardson’s cornerstone features the symbol not because Freemasons built the hospital or because it ever served as a Masonic lodge, but because the Freemasons supplied the cornerstone itself for the celebrations in September 1872.

Today, the Richardson continues to be one of the largest historic preservation projects in the nation, with 10 buildings and 350,000 square feet still awaiting reuse.


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
Style: Richardsonian Romanesque


National Historic Landmarks


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.

Richardson's largest commission.


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.

See also: Photos taken after 2014-16 (adaptive resue of the complex)

Color photos and their arrangement 2006 Chuck LaChiusa
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