Reviving Hospitals and Asylums for the 21st Century

Abandoned hospitals and asylums may be a horror film cliche, but the statistics on vacant, threatened, and demolished institutional complexes are all too real. Search “abandoned asylum” and the first hit is an article on the popular website Atlas Obscura: “18 Abandoned Psychiatric Hospitals, and Why They Were Left Behind.” Of the hundreds of asylums built in the U.S. during the 19th and early 20th centuries, most became underused or vacant during the deinstitutionalization movement of mid-20th century. Some have been repurposed, but many more await revitalization.

Partial demolition of the New York City Lunatic Asylum. Library of Congress, call number HABS NY,31-WELFI,6–2

Psychiatric hospitals are challenging to reuse. Many of them are physical reminders of tragic chapters in the history of mental health treatment, and often include patient burials on the site. Some contain buildings that have been vacant for decades, subject to neglect and vandalism.

But there are many reasons why hospitals and asylums are historically significant and should be preserved. First and foremost, they are places of memory for understanding and recording the histories of the thousands of individuals who lived and died on their grounds. Former hospitals also serve as a record of the changing attitudes about institutionalization and treatment of mental illness in the U.S. during the 19th and 20th centuries. And, many are recognized as works by master designers and as examples of the prevailing architectural styles of their times. Tuberculosis sanatoriums, smallpox hospitals, and soldiers’ homes are among other institutional building types sharing some of the same challenges and opportunities for adaptive use as asylums.

The Richardson OImsted Complex in 1965. Photo by Jack E. Boucher. Library of Congress, call number HABS NY,15-BUF,9-1

These complexes also contain durable building stock representing a significant amount of embodied energy. Many of the sprawling campuses were designed to be self-sufficient farms, so they have plenty of room for sensitive infill or new construction to meet accessibility standards and modern needs. Hospitals across the U.S. have been repurposed for contemporary healthcare uses, education, and housing. Buildings on the campus of the Richardson Olmsted Complex (formerly the Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane and now a National Historic Landmark) have been reborn as Hotel Henry and the Lipsey Buffalo Architecture Center, while other buildings have been stabilized for future renovation. The campus recently hosted enLIGHTen, an outdoor concert by the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra with a custom-designed light show projected onto the H.H. Richardson-designed main building.

Binghamton’s “Castle on the Hill”
By Kfbill08 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11013391

Closer to our home office in Ithaca, the former New York State Inebriate Asylum in Binghamton (now also known as the “Castle on the Hill”) is a National Historic Landmark awaiting rehabilitation. It was chartered in 1854 as the first facility in the U.S. to treat alcoholism as a medical illness, but was converted to a mental hospital in the 1870s. Plans were announced in 2008 for SUNY Upstate Medical University to revitalize the complex, but the project was abandoned during the recession. In 2015, Binghamton University took over stewardship of the property, and exterior work is expected to begin in early 2018.

Vertical Access on site at the St. Elizabeths West Campus, U.S. General Services Administration. Photo by Vertical Access.

Another large campus currently undergoing long-term revitalization is the 346-acre St. Elizabeths in Washington, D.C. (also a National Historic Landmark), where Vertical Access recently completed a smokestack investigation working with Atkinson-Noland & Associates and Goody Clancy. The multi-phase project includes repurposing some existing buildings, mothballing others, and adding new construction in order to house the United States Department of Homeland Security and other federal agencies. Architecture of an Asylum: St. Elizabeths 1852-2017 is on exhibition at the National Building Museum in Washington D.C through January 15, 2018.

 

Blair Kamin: Thompson Center Sale Shouldn’t Automatically Mean Demolition (Chicago Tribune)

 

In the course of its storied architectural history, Chicago has come to rue the demolition of buildings like Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan’s Chicago Stock Exchange. They were torn down for the usual reasons. Owners claimed they were outdated. Politicians refused to stand in the way of “progress.” Activists protested, but not enough ordinary citizens raised their voices. The Stock Exchange, whose entrance arch outside the Art Institute of Chicago forms the city’s wailing wall of historic preservation, fell in 1971-72.

Now, a new crisis looms, this one over the fate of the James R. Thompson Center, the spaceship-shaped glitter palace that is, despite formal and functional flaws, one of Chicago’s most significant works of postmodern architecture.

Read the rest of the story here.   Learn about our involvement with the Thompson Center here.

Flume Fever Afflicted: 126-Year-Old Mining Flume in Western Colorado Clings to its Secret

There is something about the tattered remnants of a 126-year-old mining marvel that keeps drawing the curious back to this remote area along Colorado 141 located in Colorado Canyon Country, mostly on public lands operated by the Bureau of Land Management, Uncompahgre Field office.

Those who keep returning to measure, survey, photograph and examine the mysterious structure known as the Hanging Flume call it “flume fever.” The afflicted wake in the middle of the night to puzzle over how enterprising but misguided gold seekers pinned a 10-mile-long wooden water chute to a sheer cliff to create a hydraulic gold separator.

Our Hanging Flume investigative team this year: Kent Diebolt, Donn Hewes, Keith Luscinski, and Kevin Dalton

Previous preservation efforts on the Flume identified the need for additional investigative work to better understand the diverse construction, innovative engineering, and significance of the Flume to mining history in Colorado.

The red sandstone cliffs of the Dolores and the San Miguel Rivers are the site of one of the longest and most intriguing heritage sites in Colorado: running parallel to the Unaweep-Tabeguache Scenic Byway, this storied and iconic western slope structure has awed international travelers and regional passersby for decades. Sparking such questions as, “What was it for?” “How long did it take to build?” “Who built it?” “And how?” Years of research by local residents, BLM archeologists, and national specialists have provided many conclusive answers however answers to the question of the flume’s construction have remained speculative at best, until now. From April 26 –May 5th Anthony & Associates, Vertical Access and Alpine Archaeological Consultants will be completing Phase Three of an Archaeological Survey funded by History Colorado and the State of Colorado Div. of Reclamation, Mining & Safety The team of experts will conduct investigation of construction methodology at approximate six drop locations.

Project Manager Ron Anthony, of Anthony & Associates, a wood scientist from Fort Collins, CO, believes the technical questions about the flume’s construction methods will be best answered with careful research and investigation.

“Construction of the Hanging Flume in the 1880s was accomplished in a time and place that we can barely imagine,” Anthony says, “It would be selfish and irresponsible to allow these construction, engineering and human achievements to vanish without doing our best to make them available for future generations.”

The flume carried 80-million gallons of water in a 24-hour period to the hydraulic mining operations of the Montrose Placer Mining Company. Taking 3 years and 25 local men to complete, the water was used to provide hydraulic power to separate gold from alluvial rock deposits which originated in the San Juan Mountains before being deposited along the Dolores and San Miguel Rivers. “We know what they built; we just don’t know how they built it and to our knowledge, the construction technology was not documented. Over 100 years have past since its construction and the flume is showing its age.”

In 2006 the Hanging Flume made the World Monument Watch list of 100 Most Endangered Sites. Since that time, the BLM has developed partnerships with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Colorado Preservation, Inc., the Unaweep-Tabeguache Scenic Byway Association, the Interpretive Association of Western Colorado, History Colorado and Colorado Div. of Reclamation, Mining & Safety to help determine how best this unique western slope artifact can be preserved for public education and historic interpretation for future generations.

For more information about the Historic Hanging Flume project please contact Chris Miller, Executive Director, Interpretive Association of Western Colorado at 970-874-6695 or visit www.hangingflume.org

(This story was circulated as a press release on April 20, 2017, and published in the San Miguel Basin Forum).

For more on the hanging flume check out the Unaweep-Tabeguache Scenic Byway Association video here or read some collected musings about our flume fever since 2004.

The Hanging Flume: Gold ambitions led to Marvel of Engineering in Dolores Canyon

As we embark on another investigative assignment at the Hanging Flume next week in Colorado, we found this interesting article from Bob Silbernagel of the Grand Junction Sentinel: Gold ambitions led to Marvel of Engineering in Dolores Canyon.

A century after the flume was abandoned, an effort began to preserve it. The nonprofit Interpretive Association of Western Colorado, working with the Bureau of Land Management, and with assistance from a Colorado State Historical Grant, the JM Kaplan Fund and John Hendricks of Gateway Canyons Resort, contracted for studies of the flume’s construction and its history. In 2012, 48 feet of the flume were rebuilt, using construction techniques similar to those used in 1890 and 1891.

The flume is listed on the National Register of Historic Structures and is the longest historic structure in Colorado.

We’ll be joined by Anthony & Associates and Alpine Archaeological Consultants as we return to the Hanging Flume for continued investigations. Read more about the efforts to document and understand the mysterious construction methods of this historic marvel:

http://bit.ly/2q7FkaT

On Rope and In the Air at Trinity Church

Vertical Access has had the privilege of making several trips to Boston’s Trinity Church over the years in order to assist with the investigation of interior and exterior conditions. Consecrated in 1877 and situated on a prominent public square in Boston’s Back Bay, Trinity Church is considered the masterpiece of architect Henry Hobson Richardson. Today, the parish is officially known as Trinity Church in the City of Boston.

trinity boston

Trinity Church, a National Historic Landmark, is one of the finest examples of American architecture of the late nineteenth century. H.H. Richardson’s competition-winning design employs the rounded arches, deep window reveals and turret forms that are characteristic of his eponymous style, Richardsonian Romanesque. Trinity is organized as a compact Greek cross, with an auditorium-like seating arrangement beneath a massive, square central tower. The church is decorated with richly-colored interior murals by John La Farge, sculpture by Daniel Chester French and Augustus Saint-Gaudens, and stained glass windows by La Farge and other leading glass designers.

A five-year restoration of the church and parish house began in 2001, directed by Goody Clancy. Work included masonry repairs at the tower exterior, improvements to life safety and mechanical systems, and restoration of the stained glass windows and interior finishes. Also as part of the project, the church undercroft and parish house basement underwent an award-winning conversion into universally-accessible meeting and classroom spaces.

As exterior work began in the spring of 2003, Vertical Access was asked to document the La Farge murals and architectural details at the interior of the central church tower. Industrial rope access was used to gain access to the tower interior, and VA scheduled the work to avoid interrupting the three daily church services. Vertical Access worked closely with Goody Clancy to capture high-quality imagery of the delicate interior finishes.

Looking down from the attic, a Boston Globe photographer captured James Banta, left, and Kent Diebolt, with camera, documenting the La Farge murals inside Trinity Church’s central tower.

Looking down from the attic, a Boston Globe photographer captured James Banta, left, and Kent Diebolt, with camera, documenting the La Farge murals inside Trinity Church’s central tower.

Vertical Access’ photodocumentation was used by the Trinity Boston Preservation Trust in their 2004 campaign to fund the restoration of Trinity’s murals and stained glass windows.

David, photographed by Vertical Access in 2003.

David, photographed by Vertical Access in 2003.

More than a decade after the interior documentation and restoration, VA returned to Trinity in August, 2016. Kelly Streeter and Kristen Olson joined Casey Williams of Simpson, Gumpertz & Heger on the tower roof to document the condition of the clay tile roof, along with the northeast turret. VA was working for SGH, who were under the direction of Goody Clancy.

From left, Casey Williams, Kelly Streeter, and Kristen Olson on the central tower in 2016, with the “world’s longest selfie-stick”. The pole-mounted GoPro camera was used to document the condition of the copper finial.

From left, Casey Williams, Kelly Streeter, and Kristen Olson on the central tower in 2016, with the “world’s longest selfie-stick”. The pole-mounted GoPro camera was used to document the condition of the copper cross and stanchion atop the tower.

VA’s latest visit took place in September, when Kelly and Kristen participated in the Documentation Technologies Workshop presented by the Northeast Chapter of the Association for Preservation Technology. The event brought together an international audience for presentations and demonstrations of cutting-edge technology used in the documentation and characterization of historic structures.

Kelly and Kristen presented “Drones: The Good, the Bad, and the Unknown”, an overview of the applications for drones in building documentation, the potential for drones to augment hands-on inspections, available drone hardware and accessory technologies, and current FAA regulations. We followed the presentation with a live demonstration of our new drone, a DJI Phantom 4, inside the church sanctuary.

Left, a live feed video stream of the interior murals as they are captured by the drone, at right.

What It Takes To Repair A 9-Million-Pound American Symbol: Preservation Magazine, Spring 2017

Photo by Architect of the Capital

At 289 feet tall, the dome of the United States Capitol towers over the eastern end of the National Mall in Washington, D.C., an instantly recognizable symbol of democracy. The cast iron dome itself was completed in 1863, after the nation’s rapid growth necessitated a remodel and expansion of the entire Capitol in the 1850s.

By the 1950s, however, the 9 million–pound dome had numerous fissures, and an attempt to weld them during a 1959–60 restoration was largely unsuccessful. The entire surface was cracking by 2014, prompting a three-year project that was completed in time for the 2017 Inauguration.

Vertical Access helped to document 1300 cracks on the United States Capitol Dome.

Read the rest of Katherine Flynn’s story from Preservation magazine here.

 

Mesa to Mountain Recap: Preservation in the American West

Last week, architects, engineers, and preservationists made the trek to Salt Lake City for Mesa to Mountain: Preservation in the American West. The three-day symposium, hosted by the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the Association for Preservation Technology International, drew audiences and presenters from New England to the Pacific North West. Vertical Access’ Kent Diebolt and Kristen Olson served on the Planning Committee. VA technicians Patrick Capruso, Kevin Dalton, and Keith Luscinski also attended.

Mesa to Mountain opened at the historic Alta Club with a reception and plenary session presented by Peter Goss, Ph.D. on architectural typologies found in the Beehive State. The symposium moved across South Temple the following morning to the Joseph Smith Memorial Building where Lee Kreutzer, Cultural Resource Specialist for the NPS National Trails System, delivered her keynote address, “Paths, Pathogens, Ponies, and Wheels: How Trails Changed the Cultural Geography of America.” Kreutzer’s overview provided context for the paper sessions which focused on seismic mitigation, materials, and cultural heritage. Presenters offered talks on a variety of subjects specific to western architecture and preservation ranging from the influence of midcentury precast concrete in the Rocky Mountain Region to documenting the decorated earthen plaster and wood of a 12th century kiva at Utah’s Bare Ladder Ruin. Mesa to Mountain’s regional focus lent a sense of relevance to the paper sessions with common threads woven through each presentation.

Those same themes were apparent during the field sessions offered on the third day of the event. Whether it was a trip to Antelope Island State Park to catch a glimpse of bison and pronghorn sheep while exploring an 1848 adobe ranch house, touring the shop at Historical Arts and Casting, one of the nation’s premier metal casters, or viewing the base isolators at the Utah State Capitol Building and the lattice-truss arch system at the Mormon Tabernacle each session reinforced information presented the day before. The Mesa to Mountain Symposium was a success due in large part to its historic venues and regional focus.

The Ruins of Chan Chan

by Kevin Dalton

On a recent trip to Peru I had the opportunity to visit some of the ruins at Chan Chan, located in La Libertad province around the city of Trujillo. Built around 1200, Chan Chan served as the capital of the Chimu Kingdom until falling to the Incas around 1480. The city covered 20 square km, was the largest pre-Columbian city in the Americas and a monumental example of earthen architecture. At its height Chan Chan is believed to have had a population of around 60,000 people.

Due to the consistency of the swells in nearby Huanchaco, I was preoccupied with surfing for most of my time in the Trujillo area and only visited the Tschudi Complex, a relatively small section of the Chimu city. In all the city consisted of 9 walled citadels, or palaces, so there are several more interesting sights worth visiting.

Preservation efforts at the Tschudi Complex, which is the only section of Chan Chan that has been partially restored, are ongoing. Most of the architectural details are modern recreations though there are a few originals that remain. Due to its geographic location on the northern coast of Peru the ruins are susceptible to erosion from the heavy rains brought on by the El Niño phenomenon so much of the Tschudi Complex is now covered by a protective roof structure, which I found to be interesting in its own way. Upon returning to Huanchaco I immediately recognized some of the same architectural motifs at the Instituto del Mar del Peru, Laboratorio Costero de Huanchaco.

Besides being an important cultural site I think that Chan Chan is also a powerful example of ecological construction. It’s interesting to see how a 500+ year old city constructed of locally sourced, earthen material slowly returns to it’s original form leaving almost no trace of it’s existence. Try to imagine what a modern city will look like 500+ years from now.

Learn more about Chan Chan on the UNESCO website.

Notes from the Field – Preservation League of New York State

In October, Technical Services staff visited the Dutch Reformed Church in Newburgh to check in on an important step forward for the structure. The church, built in 1835, was designed by Alexander Jackson Davis and is a National Historic Landmark. The League named the Dutch Reformed Church a “Seven to Save” site for 2016-17 and is working with the City of Newburgh and local preservation advocates to make a stabilization, preservation, and re-use plan for the building.

In 2012, the sanctuary ceiling collapsed, crushing the pews inside and destroying additional important interior features. Because the condition of the building rapidly declined after the ceiling collapse, a complete structural analysis of the upper trusses and roof was absolutely necessary in developing a plan to save the building. But how could we complete this inspection and analysis when the building’s condition was so dangerous?

CONTINUE READINGNotes from the Field – Preservation League of New York State

source: Preservation League of New York