UB's "Public Casting of Cities" Project Fashions Buffalo's History in Bronze

Release Date: July 13, 2000 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- A year-long multidisciplinary research and construction project by the University at Buffalo will produce a new form of public art that was designed specifically for the City of Buffalo, but which can serve as a model for cities seeking to reclaim their histories.

It is a massive, 24-page, sculptural book comprised of two-dimensional historical and conceptual maps, buildings, icons and other visual historical data -- all cast in bronze -- that will articulate significant events and benchmarks in the history of Buffalo.

The project employs concepts, models, conventions and design that creators hope can aid Buffalo in its process of self-reflection and the reiteration of its identity as it nears the 100th anniversary of the 1901 Pan American Exposition, a defining moment in Buffalo history.

Grounded in hybrid issues and methods under discussion in the disciplines of architecture, planning, art and the social sciences, the $20,775 project was developed by the UB School of Architecture and Planning in conjunction with the art department's Sculpture Program in the UB College of Arts and Sciences. It is funded by the UB Multidisciplinary Research Project Program and directed by architect Frank Fantauzzi, assistant professor in the School of Architecture and Planning.

When open, the bronze book will be 66" high and 72" wide. It will be installed on a cast-bronze stand at a site to be determined by the City of Buffalo.

The project began in the summer of 1999 and will be completed in September 2000, Fantauzzi says, it started with extensive research regarding the role of public art in American society. The focal point, he says, then became the character, history and utility of public and private art in Buffalo and its role in defining the city's civic identity.

"Public art as a component of the urban public space can be a critical means by which to improve the quality of the urban experience," he says. "It can express the identity of a city and play a significant part in reclaiming cities."

Fantauzzi notes that public art often exists in a vacuum, however, and tends to project a utopian image of a city in sculptural terms that serve a purely monumental purpose -- referring only to itself or existing as part of corporate décor.

The project team wanted to do something else, he says. It wanted to explore new roles and agendas for public art, including an examination of what defines civic space and what functions civic art serves beyond the decorative or representational.

"Since so many cities stand, like Buffalo, at an important crossroad between understanding its heritage and charting its future, it was our intention to arrive at a set of transferable ideas and methods that could be used by other North American cities," Fantauzzi says.

A broad array of social, economic and cultural indicators of Buffalo were identified and catalogued by the project team. The team began to design a public work based on concepts, models, conventions and design principles that might aid Buffalo in its process of self-reflection and the re-identification of its identity.

A selected set of this information was synthesized into a series of maps, historic newspaper banners, drawings, iconic symbols and low-relief models of significant buildings and sites.

These items are being cast in bronze for assembly as a massive work of public art that will constitute what project designers call "a rich world of new mappings and profiles of the city, a factual documentation that may be of considerable interest to the lay person by helping them build a mental picture of the city in which they live."

The book, still under construction, will be dedicated and installed this fall at a public site tied to the historic Pan American Exposition that was held in Buffalo in 1901 at the height of the city's national importance.

Although the site has not been selected, Fantauzzi says it will attempt to recall the location and urban influences of the original Pan Am site, with the goal of re-instating an important historical condition that has been all but erased over time.

"The work will address the very dramatic transformations that have occurred since the Pan American Exposition and highlight contributions and events associated with the City of Buffalo," Fantauzzi says.

The book's bronze frame already has been cast, as have a number of page elements, such as low-relief architectural models, maps and historical narratives.

The cover, not yet cast, will be a bronze representation of Buffalo's city hall from a photograph of the half-completed building taken at the half-way point in its 1929-31 construction. The image suggests that the city is either on its way up or deconstructing.

"We don't know, do we?" asks Fantauzzi. "Buffalo is at a critical juncture in its history and we want to reflect that fact in this work."

Fantauzzi and his team also have completed the casting of dozens of bronze "tiles" produced from 3"x3" maps of Buffalo -- spontaneous renditions of Buffalo's urban space -- produced by school children, people on the street, UB students, internationally acclaimed architects and planners, elected officials and a host of others. Each artist is clearly identified by name, age and/or title at the base of his or her tile. The tiles will be assembled into one of the book's pages.

Although some of the casting has been completed, a significant number of items required to complete the assemblage will be cast in July, an event to which the press is invited.

The final casting is scheduled for between 2-3 p.m. Aug. 2 in the UB Casting Institute, Room B17 of the Center for the Arts on the UB North (Amherst) Campus. Contact Pat Donovan in the UB Office of News Services to check on the exact time of the pouring, since it will depend on the time the metal reaches the required temperature.

The pouring will be a visually exciting event whose steps, from modeling to mold-production and lost-wax methodology, will be explained by the casting and design teams. The process is even more interesting when placed in the context of the completed project, a context that can be constructed visually for press purposes.

An opportunity to see and tape all the project processes, from paper and wooden models to rubber molds to finished cast-bronze pieces, will be available to the press, as is an animated virtual-reality version of the finished book.

Also available are excellent professional color photos and video footage of the design and construction process, and live interviews with project designers and sculptors.

The project participants are Shahin Vassigh, assistant professor, School of Architecture and Planning; Anthony Dong and David Sielinski, both adjunct faculty members in the School of Architecture and Planning; and Julie Silver, technical instructor, UB Casting Institute.

Media Contact Information

Patricia Donovan has retired from University Communications. To contact UB's media relations staff, call 716-645-6969 or visit our list of current university media contacts. Sorry for the inconvenience.