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NY Mental Hospital Transformed Into Hotel

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

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To breathe some life back into its architecture and cultural sectors, the city of Buffalo approved the conversion of an 1800s mental hospital into a contemporary hotel.

Known as Hotel Henry, Urban Resort Conference Center, and situated on the larger Richardson Olmsted Campus, the building has been partially restored by Deborah Berke Partners working in conjunction with Boston-based historic preservation agency Goody Clancy. The redesign reflects an attention to detail that factors in careful color choices, keeping the floor plan as close to the original as possible and exploring the history of the building without institutional overtones in its decor.

"The project brings new life to a long-abandoned architectural masterpiece," the architecture firm said in a statement.

Hotel Henry

Originally completed by American architect Henry Hobson Richardson in 1880, the brick building that houses Hotel Henry served as a mental hospital up until the 1970s and has been dubbed, along with the rest of the complex, a National Historic Landmark.

The structure was built in the Richardson Romanesque style, taking its name from the architect himself. Featuring brick masonry with rustic stonework, as well as two conical-capped towers in the main section of the building, Hotel Henry stands at 191,000 square feet.

The guest rooms were once patient rooms, each unit only 11-12 feet wide, but cabinet-like “bump-outs” have been added in the hallways to accommodate en-suite bathrooms. Otherwise, the main entrance and adjoining wings have been preserved, and a few other elements, such as a winged staircase, mantlepieces and cornice moulding, have been restored to their original beauty.

Hotel Henry also features five stories of amenities at its heart, which includes a gym, office spaces, lounge areas, meeting rooms and an architecture gallery, which is over 3,000 square feet, situated on the ground level.

As for decor and color choices, Deborah Berke Partners sought to avoid hospitality accoutrements that were too institutional, given the building’s history. What resulted, is a palette of muted pale greens and blues accenting white walls, which are, in turn, complemented with contemporary works of art by local artists.

Other elements include Tubelite Inc. curtain walls, Armstrong World Industries acoustic ceilings, and floor and wall tiles were made by Porcelanosa.

Frederick Olmsted, the original landscape architect best known for his work in New York City's Central Park, designed the grounds of the estate, is also recognized with the farm-to-table restaurant in the hotel, which serves as a nod to what he had envisioned for the property.

Mental Hospital History

One of Hotel Henry’s key features is its numerous windows, which allow natural light into much of the building. This trait comes from a psychiatric practice at the time of the building’s construction: Physician Thomas Story Kirkbride pushed the importance of patient access to fresh air, natural light and landscape views.

Kirkbride’s treatment recommendations also emerge in Richardson’s design in the architect’s adaption of the “batwing” shape, which provides a narrow building profile that allows for ample views of the grounds.

"Kirkbride's plan was used for asylums across the country, many of which are threatened," Deborah Berke Partners said.

"The Hotel Henry offers a compelling example of how these vast structures can be successfully repurposed for contemporary uses and contribute to their communities."

Richard Olmsted Campus

In an attempt to save the deteriorating campus in 2006, which had been vacant since the hospital it housed relocated in the '70s, the Richardson Center Corporation was founded, given a boost with $76.5 million in state funding.

“The hope,” says RCC executive director Monica Pellegrino Faix, “was that it would become an economic engine for Buffalo.”

At the time the RCC stabilized the buildings and developed a master plan that would inform future development of the property. Much of the 500,000 square foot complex remains vacant, but the RCC hopes the Hotel Henry renovation will encourage other ventures to invest in the property.


Tagged categories: Health Care/Hospitals; Historic Preservation; Historic Structures; Hotels

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