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Whoa! A Plastic House I like!

I had breakfast with Queenseyes a few days ago, and he
offhandedly showed me a picture of a very unusual new house under construction
in Buffalo.  Of course, I could not wait to see it in person.  The
House is on Bird Avenue at Ashland.  It is wedged into a tight urban site.
 Though it could easily be imagined as a NASA prototype for living on
Mars, it also fits well in its more local Buffalo urban environment.  It
fits so well, as a matter of fact, that I had to circle the block twice to find

The new house was designed by architect and UB School of
Architecture professor Adam Sokol (presumably for his own residence).  Its
shape is both radical and not so radical at the same time.  Though its
composition and use of materials is not traditional in any sense it does take
many cues from its surroundings.  You could describe the house as a modern
take on the shingle style.  The shingle style, like this house, used
exuberant and experimental compositions with taught surfaces of wood shingles
to create a new form of Architecture. In place of wood shingles, this new
Buffalo house is covered with charcoal black shakes, made of  environmentally
sustainable recycled rubber/plastic. 


Its highly experimental shape gives the house a dynamic
sculptural presence.  But it respects its urban constraints, allowing it
to exist in peace with its much older neighbors.   Its asymmetrical
roof line takes cues from adjacent houses, matching up with their eves. 
Its setback from the road also matches adjacent houses.  A dramatic
cantilever offers a simple solution to the need for the evil parking space and
could double as a front porch by simply moving the car.  It is hard to
convey the true qualities of this house in photographs.  The shape changes
as you move around, and the striations on the shingles provide a subtle play of
light and texture.

When looking at this Bird house I could not help thinking of the
scattered plastic-sided houses being built on the East Side of the city in
increasing numbers.  These new East Side houses offer nothing special to
the city, nothing unique, nothing that will provide for a sustainable
environment, and nothing that will  create urban environments to last
generations.  This Bird house is probably too expensive and custom to be a
prototype for new-builds on the East Side, but it certainly it offers a clue as
to what should be planned for that distressed part of the city if we are ever
going to attract new people with new ideas to – not just the East Side – but
WNY in general.

I have an email in to the architect.  I will update the
story if I hear back from him.

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  • sbrof

    This is kind of project and creativity needed to bring new ideas and people into the city. I would like to know how he acquired the site and was allowed to rebuild to the historic lot lines…. I am sure that process would shed a huge light on the dysfunction of city hall for individuals.

  • PaulBuffalo

    How soon can this house make it into a Dwell Magazine article?

  • Tahooter

    Steel, you’ve lost your mind! You want a significant part of the East Side filled with this concept? There is nothing about this structure that is modern or futuristic. It is dark and blank and lends little to the street–or as you said doesn’t take “cues” from its neighbors. I can’t imagine anyone wanting to own a structure like this on any street in any area and be surrouned by same or similar builds.
    While small, the red cottage at Ashland & Bryant, is a prototype of the charm and style I want to see blossom around town.
    The Bird house is fine, as long as it’s the only one in town ever built again.

  • queenie

    Preposterous nonsense! Modern architects take themselves much too seriously. “Dramatic cantilever”! Photographs don’t convey the “true qualities of this house”! Give us all a break. Tahooter is absolutely right: one of these cheerful bunkers is enough in any neighborhood; maybe one too many. Perhaps the large plate glass window on the first floor is for the “working architect’s office” that Steel thinks would be such an exciting element of a streetscape.

  • jstraubinger

    There are several of these types of houses in Newton and Cambridge, MA. The window placement usually is the basis for the first comments about the houses in terms of lack of symmetry and the need for more. However, they don’t stick out that much and some people like them.

  • hamp

    I think it’s great. Shows creativity and it’s something new. I’d like to see more.

  • sbrof

    If it takes houses like this to properly fill in a site then so be it.. I would rather see a street of differing and odd houses like this than a street of cap cods and habitat homes. It is a matter of taste on one level but the thing that this house does do is follow many of the urban cues of the neighborhood that most new construction throws to the wayside.
    A neighborhood of homes like this could reinforce and create the density needed to support and revitalize streets like grant, Jefferson, Broadway.
    A neighborhood like the near east side only reinforces a strip plaza here and a strip plaza there. There is not enough density no matter how many suburban houses you build to support the kinds of retail and commercial districts that maintain the continuity and history and feel of the city.

  • UnionAMG

    I walked by this thing yesterday… and I’m not exaggerating when I say it has to be the most hideous house ever built in Buffalo.
    I won’t pretend to be an authority on architecture and what is good-pushing-the-boundaries and what is bad. All I know is if I owned the house next door, I’d be pi$$ed. Though it may bump up housing values in the short term out of novelty, this eye-sore will surely make the surrounding houses a tough sell in the future.

  • onestarmartin

    If the East side was even lucky enough to get property’s like this it would be a viable and desirable area. You personanly don’t like the style, thats OK, I personaly think it looks good, modern yet fits in on the block which is difficult to do in a city like Buffalo with the size and historic integrity of the homes. I bet the interior will be green with envy material, I hope BRO does a post on that when completed.

  • clockhill

    This house is a great fit, if you get over wanting to see a typical two-story frame Buffalo house. The black shakes don’t bother me a bit, considering how green they are.
    Kudos to Adam Sokol for this ambitious, and (I think) successful project!!!

  • MJ Worthington

    Might as well give my two cents…
    1) Great to see new build built with with urban site in mind.
    2) The look itself comes off as a bad 60’s 70’s facade “update”. The shigles look not much different than all those asphalt shingles currently covering up a good portion of Buffalo’s clapboard and details. Using the same material on both the roof and sides makes it look like the builder innapropriately covered the whole house in roofing material. Drawing shapes that a kindergarden kid could may be daring but is not necessarily easy on the eyes. Too each their own.

  • davvid

    great news. The negative comments we see here are to be expected.

    Hopefully a few good examples like this house locally can open some minds. Other cities around the world are peppered with amazing modern buildings. With the low cost of living in Buffalo, risk taking and experimentation should be encouraged. If we can drop our inhibitions regarding modern architecture we can then claim to live in a city that truly appreciates architecture — instead of a city that just likes old buildings.

  • PaulBuffalo

    Dwell Magazine is sold in a brown wrapper at Buffalo newsstands.

  • Architorture

    no gutters or downspouts?
    first winter i’d expect some freezing trouble

  • Lorem Ipsum

    It reminds me of someone with cognitive impairment. All around him, people are speaking in complete sentences, proper grammar and syntax, and OK conversational skills, even though they are people of humble means or immigrant origins.
    Then there’s the man, beloved though he may be, whose best hope is a 2nd grade education, who can make simple declarative sentences (“I like the Sabres, do you like the Sabres?”) but can’t really participate in adult conversation.

  • onestarmartin


  • Crisa

    We tried to see this house up close. It took a while to get near it because we had forgotten the secret of Bird Avenue–it is two separate one-ways!!!
    Google 2006, which, incidentally, shows spaces longer than the actuality, shows a tight, tiny empty lot 30′ frontage or less.
    It is definately not ‘American Middle-Class Style’ and it is not “suburban-style” either–no suburbs would allow it. and it has a postage stamp backyard–no chance to raise chickens; no room to grow food–it is sooo out of step.
    How it get built past the legalities of disallowing 30′ or less frontage for a building permit? Was that done to force the issue of allowing structures to be built on 30′ lots?
    And did it happen simply because the houses to the left and right and all around must be owned by REIGs/ REITTs–(or live-in homeowners who did not have the political clout to object?)
    Although the grape house to the right appears to be in fine condition “from the curb”, the white house to the left badly needs at least a paint job (repairing the front porch is a work-in-progress), and, that little structure to the left is a falling-down garage or storage shed.
    While the owner of the white house can tear down that garage to make space, the grape house owner has no such option.
    It’s bad, it’s sad and it actually is the same dark high-gloss grey from ground level on up to the tippy-top point!

  • Pegger

    I think it is a great fit. It is very considerate of its neighbors especially when you read from many contributors to this forum that it is difficult to find. My guess is that an eyesore would be easy to spot in the dark.

  • Magnum

    I’m no expert, but the thing is too flat. Looks like the back of a typical house, not the front. Would have been nice to see the lower floor recessed in. It definitely needs some kind of break between the upper and lower unit. Hopefully, there is more to this.

  • Crisa

    It actually IS black. It can’t be seen in the dark (unless there is a full moon)!
    We had a hard time finding it, but when we were driving AWAY, it can be seen for the next couple of blocks because that strange roof looks like a church steeple minus a cross–or a black cone shaped thing among recognizable rooftops–or–or–
    BREAKING NEWS!! This is what happened… A monster witch had just landed so hard she cratered herself into the ground!
    Yes! That’s it! We realize now, a witch had just landed! We know that because, once we came up to herself all stuck down, there were splinters of her broom on the ground!
    (Or were they wooden planks?) We won’t be going back to check; too nightmarish!

  • GHenghis

    I read once that good art should provoke a reaction, some reaction — adoration, disgust, lust, fear, joy, whatever…
    This house is not for those who would like their architecture served up as the equivalent of what TOP 40 radio is to music. Which is to say: so mainstream as to provoke very little of anything.
    Don’t like it? Good. Love it? Great! Can’t stand it? Even better.
    Say what you want, but Adam Sokol took some risks here and achieved good art. Our reactions are proof.

  • flyguy

    Thanks Magnum, my thoughts exactly. No front facade detailing, a big flat plane? Really?

  • flyguy

    The same can be said about putting a big smelter, toxic waste dump, or paper mill next door to a residential home. If it gets a reaction its art and thats good always? Architecture can come across as arrogance to the rest of the community who has to absorb the art. I dont live there and its not my fight and I havent seen the place up front and personal however I dont think a “concept” house is just great because its “art”.

  • skweeki

    no gutters? the foundation should look great in a few years