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Environmental Design Students Get a Sneak Preview of Buffalo's Richardson Olmsted Complex

Senior BA Environmental Design students tour the Richardson Complex in Buffalo

Senior BA Environmental Design students toured the Richardson Olmsted Complex in Buffalo as part of the "Visions of the City" course taught by Associate Professor Daniel B. Hess.

Published May 6, 2013

“The visit to the Richardson Olmsted Complex allowed students to see first-hand the work of one of the greatest American architects, and his vision for an institutional building/complex perfectly integrated to its site within the city.”
Daniel B. Hess, Associate Professor
Department of Urban and Regional Planning

About 50 seniors in the School of Architecture and Planning's BA in Environmental Design program were recently treated to a rare glimpse inside the Richardson Olmsted Complex, the historic former mental hospital campus in Buffalo designed by noted American architect H. H. Richardson and father of landscape design Frederick Law Olmsted.  

The tour was organized by Daniel Hess, PhD, associate professor or urban and regional planning, as part of his course, "Visions of the City." The undergraduate course exposes students to various viewpoints on urban and environmental topics.

The invitation for the tour came from Monica Pellegrino-Faix, a 2006 graduate of the school's Master of Urban Planning program and executive director of the ROC. She works with the ROC board of directors in overseeing the $76 million restoration of the complex into a civic campus for public and private activities. Pelligrino-Faix says the tours, particularly those engaging students, are an important opportunity to educate the community about the rehabilitation of the ROC. 

As part of "Visions of the City," students read full-length works about design, planning and architecture, with site visits often arranged throughout the city and region. This semester students studied landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, who designed Buffalo's world-class park and parkway system, as well as the lush grounds of Richardson Olmsted Complex.

According to Hess, "the visit to the Richardson Olmsted Complex allowed the students to see first-hand the work of one of the greatest American architects, and his vision for an institutional building/complex perfectly integrated to its site within the city."

"This tour was also an important opportunity to see an example of Olmsted's lesser-known work on the Richardson Olmsted Complex, which is important because it integrates landscape design within the context of the grounds of a large institution," added Hess.

The Richardson Olmsted Complex was a state-of-the-art facility when it was built in the late 1800s, incorporating the most modern ideas in psychiatric treatment by Dr. Thomas Kirkbride. With its signature Gothic towers, the complex stands out as an architectural gem and is internationally regarded as a treasure.

Today, the buildings and grounds are in the midst of a massive restoration effort. The mixed use campus will feature integrated uses - the Buffalo Architecture Center, a boutique hotel and event/conference space – in the iconic towers administration building and the two flanking former wards. The plan also includes the restoration of the 42-acre complex grounds. The grand south lawn will become a public park featuring ecological design, water features and enhanced connections to the surrounding neighborhood.

These improvements are outlined in the Richardson Olmsted Complex Master Plan, which advances a plan for near- and long-term development of the historic buildings and grounds. The public engagement process for this plan was also facilitated by the School of Architecture and Planning's Urban Design Project