Abandoned Asylums

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Roderick Grant
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Abandoned Asylums

Post by Roderick Grant »

I was browsing through the (inadequate) architecture section of Barnes & Noble when I came upon an odd book: "Abandoned Asylums" by Matt Van der Velde. Mostly a picture book, there is some text about the history of the places, 19th century insane asylums, stories about inmates like Zelda Fitzgerald, Truman Capote, JFK's sister, Rosemary, the "Forgotten Kennedy." But mostly, pictures of peeling lead-based paint, rusting plumbing, endless hallways, etc. Got me to thinking that one thing all buildings have in common: They all enclose space. Why are all these buildings, many of them immense, expensively constructed stone buildings, standing vacant? Is the past use so horrific that no one wants to recycle them? I believe the H. H. Richardson-designed building in Buffalo is being recycled, but so many of them are just moldering in the shadows, nothing more than a burden on the taxpayers. Gutted and redone imaginatively, they could become anything redevelopers wanted them to be.

Anyway, it's an interesting book.

DRN
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Post by DRN »

Why are all these buildings, many of them immense, expensively constructed stone buildings, standing vacant?
Costs...
Cost vs. potential for income.
Cost to study and perform due diligence
Cost to acquire development rights
Cost to remediate: buildings and sites
Cost to bring into current compliance: life safety, energy code, accessibility...
Cost to design new use into purpose built structure

The locations of some of these facilities may be at issue as well...they were rarely built in the middle of the bustle. Housing would be an appropriate reuse but convenience of access to daily needs can be a problem with many state and county hospitals.

Private developers usually aim for the low hanging fruit. The public agencies that hold title to these sites would be most able to undertake the effort if there was courage, funding, and will on the part of all.

Roderick Grant
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Post by Roderick Grant »

Obviously cost is a concern, but even demolishing them and recycling the land would be preferable to letting them rot. One has over 600 acres of land just sitting there.

Government doesn't have any impetus to act on much of anything, but the value of solidly built structures, designed in styles many people consider pleasing, ought to be of interest to developers. Other sorts of abandoned buildings get repurposed all the time, why not asylums? Possibly it's the association.

Reidy
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Post by Reidy »

The Liberty Hotel in Boston started as a jail in the mid-19th century.

jay
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Post by jay »

There's a restaurant/hotel company in the Pacific Northwest called McMenamins, who buy up old buildings and repurpose them. Their early 20th century public-schools-turned-hotels are a lot of fun. Here's an example:
https://www.google.com/search?biw=1398& ... Lb8#imgrc=_

If the Richardson/Olmsted "complex" asylum becomes a hotel--and done in a fun and funky manner--that would be very cool.

Forest
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Post by Forest »

The central portion of Richardson's asylum in Buffalo is open as the Hotel Henry. Plans a while ago included other portions of the complex to be developed as an architectural museum, and part of an educational institution. Not sure what's happening on those.

https://www.hotelhenry.com
.

JChoate
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Post by JChoate »

I rather agree with Roderick's sentiment.
My office recently adapted a big brick Sears & Roebuck distribution center into a mixed use project (office/retail/residential). It was originally built mostly in the teens & twenties.
You just can't buy 'bones' like that in this day and age. Load-bearing, cast-in-place concrete, steel windows, ....
When it was complete we moved in.

http://www.poncecitymarket.com/our-story/
http://sbcharch.com/ourwork.php?Project ... riesList=6

When you run across a building was built that way it's worth trying to repurpose, if at all possible.

SDR
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Post by SDR »

Indeed. From what I see in the international architectural press, Europe is now filled with antique buildings of various types, from churches and monasteries to railroad stations and barns, which have been repurposed -- sometimes into museums or other institutions, or into offices or housing -- in the most delightful ways, the ancient masonry and wood or ironwork exposed and lit, with new material (always start at the bottom with crushed rock !) -- concrete or metal or timber or plastic and certainly the clever and determined use of glass -- to enclose new space along with the old, saving the building and giving it and its environment new use.

SDR

SDR
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Post by SDR »

And not only in Europe.

http://www.archdaily.com/877669/warehou ... ily%20List

"Scrap and build is the dominant culture in Japanese architecture and even if we were able to preserve old buildings, the existing structure is usually only used as a façade. It was innovative for us in Japan that we were able to structurally evaluate and utilize the existing architecture."

SDR

DRN
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Post by DRN »

The availability of tax incentives to developers for the adaptive reuse of buildings in the 1980's led to a wave of sensitively designed projects of this nature and a rebirth of some neighborhoods in inner cities. Why that tax incentive was removed, or why it has not been reinstated is a mystery to me.

I know some decried the displacement of the working poor of gentrifying neighborhoods due to rising taxes and landlords "selling out", but there are ways to address those issues equitably that were sparsely or never implemented by municipalities.

Roderick Grant
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Post by Roderick Grant »

Perhaps those tax incentives played a part in retrofitting many buildings in the warehouse district of Minneapolis north of Hennepin, next to the river, where warehouses, mills and mattress factories were converted from vacant to commercial and residential use.

The Butler Warehouse (Harry Wild Jones, architect) was an enormous 5-story brick structure with 500,000 sf of floor space, converted into 9 stories of shops and a hotel. It had stood empty for many years. To facilitate the rehabilitation, the interior wood structure of massive Douglas fir beams was recycled. It spurred the rehabilitation of other such buildings in the area, many of them becoming high-end condos. Unlike the asylums, these buildings were of non-descript design (other than the handsome Butler building), just brick boxes in the garment district (where my 14-year-old grandmother had worked as a milliner) that had become an extension of the large slum south of Hennepin, but the recycling made it into one of the best downtown residential neighborhoods.

I doubt the location of all those asylums has any effect on their status. More likely, rehabbing them would cause the neighborhoods to improve estimably.

SDR
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Post by SDR »

If any of the asylums is found in the middle of a large site -- regardless of ownership -- rather than in a built-up commercial area, mightn't that affect the possibilities ?

"the interior wood structure of massive Douglas fir beams was recycled" By recycled do you mean reused in place, or removed and repurposed ?

SDR

JChoate
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Post by JChoate »

I spent a couple of years flying to LaGuardia then driving thru the countryside up to a project in the Berkshires in west Connecticut. So, numerous times I drove right by the shuttered and spooky Harlem Valley Psychiatric Center.
http://www.businessinsider.com/17-chill ... pus-2014-7

Every time I drove by that massive complex of brick buildings I thought someone should figure out a new use. (In fact, directly across the 2 lane highway was a Metro-North train station connecting it to New York City). Looking at this article, I see that a few years ago a portion of the buildings were bought by Olivet University. It appears they've run into trouble because of asbestos exposure occurring during their initial attempts to being rehabilitating the buildings. Originally, the buildings were bought by a mixed-use developer, who apparently balked and sold it to Olivet.
A bit of a hot potato.
http://www.poughkeepsiejournal.com/stor ... /82343452/

On Google Earth you can search "Harlem Valley Psychiatric Center" and it takes you there.

Tom
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Post by Tom »

These buildings also represent some kind of fundamental architectural experience.
I like 'em.
Favorite movie of mine uses architectural destruction as major theme:
Tarkovsky's, "The Stalker" also known as "The Zone"
Great, architecturally gorgeous, film

Roderick Grant
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Joined: Wed Mar 29, 2006 7:48 am

Post by Roderick Grant »

SDR, the asylums listed in the book are all in rural or semi-rural areas. Considering that the goal of such hospitals was to treat patients, and in fact keeping them as sedated as possible was a major concern, I doubt many of them would have been built in commercial districts.

The massive Douglas fir timbers were used in the warehouse to support floors with 2-story ceiling heights of heavy loads, and were thus ... massive. They were cut down and used to construct 9 floors where once there were 5. They are still quite hefty, and left exposed. There was a cover story on the conversion in an issue of Progressive Architecture (how I miss that magazine!) around the early '70s.

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