UB Today Alumni Magazine Online - Fall 2003
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How notable architecture and planning can
transform a community

By Brian Carter
Dean, University at Buffalo School of Architecture and Planning

The City of Buffalo demonstrates a particularly impressive vitality through its inspired city plans and outstanding architecture. With five houses designed by Frank Lloyd Wright; Louis Sullivan’s most significant work (the Guaranty Building); H. H. Richardson’s splendid hospital; Kleinhans Music Hall, designed by Eliel and Eero Saarinen and SOM’s inspiring modern addition to the Albright-Knox Art Gallery—all built within fine city plans by Joseph Ellicott, Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted—the city is an exceptional place.

It is also impressive that many people in Buffalo are knowledgeable about architecture and the city. They use and enjoy it, and clearly appreciate the benefits of this particular legacy. Some also recognize the potential it has to offer.

Buffalo’s outstanding architecture and planning was created by inspired patronage. So, for example, when Frank Lloyd Wright was commissioned to design the Darwin Martin House and the Larkin Building, he was still a relatively young man. Eero Saarinen was only 29 when he worked alongside his father to design Kleinhans Music Hall. Gordon Bunshaft, the architect of the extension to the Albright-Knox, grew up in the city. It is encouraging to see the results of this inspired patronage. One consequence, however, is that when architecture is discussed, the next word that is frequently used here is "heritage." While the thoughtful husbandry of the city’s built heritage is vitally important, it is also critical that the same spirit of inspired patronage be projected into the 21st century. This is now starting to happen.

So, not only has money been raised to restore Wright’s Martin House—a campaign directed with the help of UB—but a recent architectural competition has also brought about a fine design for a new study center for the visitors who will be going there. In that competition, five young practices were invited to prepare designs for a small yet highly significant new building. Such competitions, although commonplace in Europe, are all too rare in America. This competition produced a series of excellent ideas, and the winner—Toshiko Mori, an architect with a practice in New York City who is also the chair of architecture at Harvard—has proposed an outstanding design. Currently students and faculty from our school are designing an exhibition about the competition, including a model of the winning scheme, which will open at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in October—I hope that you will go and see it.

 

There are signs of other acts of inspired patronage in the city, too, that will create significant new and well-designed buildings. The UB Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics, Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute Structural Biology Center and Roswell Park Cancer Institute Center for Genetics and Pharmacology will all help to generate additional life in the city.

This activity, prompted by a renewed interest in architecture and planning, can bring about urban regeneration and civic transformation. This has happened successfully elsewhere—perhaps most notably with Frank Gehry’s design of the new Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, a former industrial city in northern Spain that is now being radically transformed as a result of this new building, but also through other more modest projects developed in cities in England, Germany and Scandinavia.

The university, the city and the region can and should be increasingly significant players in bringing about this transformation in Buffalo and Western New York. Notwithstanding, each of you as a UB alumnus, and as someone who has enjoyed the city, also has an opportunity to lead in your own communities. We can each commission good architects to design buildings, initiate architectural competitions, make strategic plans that reclaim derelict land and foster sustainable development, organize demonstration projects that creatively conserve and reuse existing buildings, and advance improved environmental performance and the innovative use of materials in design. By continuing to engage architecture and planning at every opportunity so as to create significant new landmarks and models for city building, it is possible for each of us to do more than merely provide square footages of featureless space that make bland, energy-consuming environments and offer little real joy. Good architecture and planning can and do improve people’s lives—as Buffalo’s considerable legacy clearly demonstrates.

Carter   Brian Carter came to UB in January 2003 from the University of Michigan, where he was professor of architecture and former architecture program chair in the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning. A graduate of the Nottingham School of Architecture in the United Kingdom with a master’s degree in architecture from the University of Toronto, he was in practice with Arup Associates in London. He is a member of the Royal Institute of British Architects and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Artists.


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