Published June 3, 2021
Assembly House 150 (AH150), the nonprofit organization founded by UB faculty member Dennis Maher as an experiential learning center and community space for teaching and research in the construction arts, has received the 2021 Great Places Award from the Environmental Design Research Association (EDRA).
The award, given by EDRA in partnership with the Project for Public Spaces, recognizes AH150 in the Place Art category for projects that utilize art as a tool of community placemaking, engagement and social change.
The EDRA jury cited Assembly House 150 as a “deeply participatory project using a former church in Buffalo, N.Y., as a living workshop, construction training and art installation space.”
“As a creative hub, it brings together a diverse group of people – from students and community stakeholders to artists, designers and architects. Employing strategies of social practice, the project’s components highlight art as both process and product, and ultimately as a transformative force in the community,” the jury said.
“What makes this work so unique are the contributions of graduates that — with the skills and experiences earned — return to their neighborhoods where they have the expertise to impact conservation, rejuvenation and change.”
Located in the former Immaculate Conception church in downtown Buffalo, AH150 is home to the Society of Construction Related Arts (SACRA) program, an innovative, 15-week vocational program begun by Maher and the Albright-Knox Art Gallery’s Innovation Lab. It focuses on training under-employed participants from all walks of life highly sought-after skills in construction arts and design.
SACRA’s spring 2021 class recently graduated, with over 80% of the class already placed in jobs in fine carpentry, and residential and commercial construction with companies such as Hulley Woodworking Company, Maple Walnut Woodworks, Comfort Windows, Melco Construction and C&R Housing.
Maher, executive director of AH150 and clinical assistant professor of architecture in the School of Architecture and Planning, says AH150 is honored to receive this international recognition from EDRA, which honors organizations, people and places that adopt a sustainable, human-centered approach to art, design, conservation, restoration and the creation of environments that engage imaginations.
“Assembly House is, at its core, an organization built of wondrous people who create equally wondrous environments,” Maher says. “We aim to foster a community where all of our publics are collaborators and creators, from SACRA students and industry professionals to artists, artisans, architects and designers.
“These collaborations contribute to a dynamic educational and artful environment that builds the confidence of our students and, in turn, a reinvestment in the communities and environments of Buffalo and beyond.”
Robert Shibley, professor and dean of the School of Architecture and Planning, calls Assembly House “a magical place, where the spirit of a city and its people come together around the act of making and the art of craft.”
“It is a generous extension of Dennis Maher’s work as an artist, designer and educator from the studios at the University at Buffalo and the forgotten spaces and people of our region,” Shibley says. “The SACRA program reveals the transformative power of design and making to build community, create meaningful places, and drive social change.”
Some SACRA students, past and present, will be hired to work on an ongoing collaboration with the Burchfield Penney Art Center. Announced last fall, the project will reinvigorate the museum’s existing education spaces through a large-scale, interactive, architectural installation, and could be one of the most unique, innovative museum education centers in the country.
“The quality of work and vision that led to AH150 receiving the EDRA award makes perfect sense. Our organizations, working together, understand the importance of boldly reimagining spaces,” says Burchfield Penney acting director Scott Propeak. “AH150 provides people with a heightened level of precision and caring, revealing new insights that we all learn from. It’s an honor to collaborate with such a transformative community partner.”
This summer, Assembly House 150 will launch a new initiative of public tours on the second Saturday of each month. Starting June 12, tours will be available from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Advanced registration is required. For more information, visit assemblyhouse150.org or email Olivia McManus.