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Birdhouse Unveiled

A while back I wrote about an unusual new house being built on Bird Avenue in the Elmwood Village (see post).  That story garnered a predictable set of pro and con views on the radically contemporary design (mostly pro).  Now we can unveil the finished product – inside and out.  The new house was built on the site of a house that had burned 10 or so years ago.  That house was taken down before this house was planned.  The burned house was basically a carbon copy of its still existing neighbor.  The new house, dubbed the “Birdhouse” by its owner as a fun play on its street address, uses the exact same footprint  and similar volume of the original house on the site.  It is anything but a copy.
The Birdhouse was designed to be environmentally responsible using abundant day lighting, passive heating and cooling, and active thermal mass.  It also makes use of locally produced materials such as the recycled composite shingles and marine plywood on the exterior.   The dramatic light filled interior is organized around a spiral path upward via an exciting bridge like stair.  A clear story draws views upward while allowing light to pour in bouncing off the angular walls to filter through the structure.  Windows are strategically placed to frame views for privacy creating the distinctive exterior form.  A spectacular view of the nearby Richardson towers is a payoff for your climb to the 3rd floor. The interior is warm and welcoming.  This is accomplished with intimate spaces, attention to detail, extensive use of birch plywood, and polished concrete.  Limited use of interior partitions creates friendly open environment with intriguing vignette views to other spaces in the house.
The house was designed by architect Adam Sokol of Adam Sokol Architecture Practice PLLE (also known as ASAP building LLC).  Adam notes that this house is not in a historic district so there was no pressure to build in a historic revival style.  With that said the architect did not ignore his context. The house is designed by taking cues from the surrounding buildings, views, and neighborhood including neighboring roof eve heights and building volumes.  Even with its aggressively contemporary form this attention to context allows the house to occupy its site in complete compatibility with its neighbors.  The architect did, however,  need to jump through a few city hoops to get permission for the design.  Adam notes that he did not have any special or unusual difficulties getting permits from the city.  He emphasizes that the entire zoning and approvals process in Buffalo, relative both to other parts of the country and to Buffalo suburbs, is extremely overcomplicated and excessively daunting.  For example he had to get several variances even though the house is the same size and same use as others nearby (including the former house on the site) and that many aspects of the local zoning tend to encourage low density uses – lots of parking and sprawl in general, rather than trying to steer Buffalo toward a more sustainable future.  Adam says that “For example the zoning in this district requires a 40 foot minimum lot width [much wider than this lot] and as I recall the lot was less than the minimum area as well, and then I wanted to match the setback of the adjacent house which was also less than the minimum [required by zoning]”.  He says that the city did not give him a problem getting the variances but that he did have to jump through all the hoops, pay the fee, wait a few months, etc.
40 feet is very wide and unusual in the city and especially in the Elmwood village. A rule like this which forbids building in a way which matches the  dense building patterns of the highly sought after Elmwood village is absurd.  It is amazing that it took until now for The City to start thinking about revising laws which currently outlaw its most popular and fastest growing neighborhood.  Even with its wildly different appearance and materials this house is in comparison to the surroundings, it still fits well with its neighborhood and improves the city.  It should not have taken extra approvals to build.  This is a great example of how form based zoning, if implemented, can work to improve the urbanism of the city without limiting creativity. From what I hear, the current zoning code is a disaster and can’t be gotten rid of fast enough.  We should not need to ask for permission to do build in an urban way in the city.  Congrats to Adam on a great new addition to Buffalo’s architectural tradition of innovation and great design. Can we please have another sir?
For more information on Adam Sokol Architecture Practice click here.

Written by STEEL


Architect ( a real one, not just the armchair type), author of "Buffalo, Architecture in the American Forgotten Land" ( ), lover of great spaces, hater of sprawl and waste,
advocate for a better way of doing things.

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  • grad94

    glad to see it completed, because the last time we walked by, it looked abandoned. and props for local & recycled materials. i agree completely that we can’t get a form-based code soon enough.
    having said all of that, it still looks like the autistic, ‘special needs’ version of its neighbors.

  • hurkkrui34a


  • Itchy-Face

    [Deleted – posting under multiple names is not allowed]

  • bugjrki93


  • brownteeth

    just curious Steele, did the owner or architect indicate the total cost? If so was it more or less than buying a similar sized home in this neighborhood?

  • saltecks

    Nice minimalist design, especially the interior. Looks like a house one would find in the Pacific North West. Kudos to the architect for attempting something which is different and controversial, yet plays well with its neighbors. .

  • phrank

    Nice house. It would be nice to get it published in Dwell to tell the world that Buffalo can be a good place to build a cool house. With all the recent, well-deserved attention on our great existing buildings in Buffalo, it’s important to remember that new buildings do need be built too and they don’t have to look exactly like a building from the 1800’s.


    I did not ask the cost but he did indicate that it is difficult to build new like this in Buffalo because the real estate market is so depressed. People can buy an existing very big very beautiful house in Buffalo for relative pennies. In other cities houses in an Elmwood village type neighborhood would bottom out in the half mil range where in Buffalo you can easily find some of the best houses in the neighborhood for less than 300,000. Buffalo’s cheap housing has its pros and cons.

  • Travelrrr

    Love this design, and really appreciate how this architect shows that new can be quality and can compliment the old stock.

  • BigBrother87

    I walk by this house a lot, at first I did not like but it has grown on me as I’ve seen its progress.
    I really like the way the address is on the front of the house, it’s really cool since it is sideways and a font that is not normally used on houses.

  • davvid

    This isn’t just about one house. This is about Buffalo being a place where creative people have the freedom and support to produce work like this.

  • Dagner

    Just concerned about how quickly an ambulance driver can detect, then read, a sideways number.

  • brownteeth

    I know a lot of homes in the neighborhood sell in the $200-300k range. It would be nice to know the new build cost as it may inspire more custom homes in the city if it turns out to be comparable to existing housing. I completely understand if the homeowner wants to keep that info private.

  • Nicholas Tyler Miller

    Seriously cool.

  • BigBrother87

    It is easier to read this than small black letters above the front door of a houes. It is very big, the numbers and BIRD are spaced apart…an ambulance wouldn’t have any issue.
    Also, I am fairly confident that ambulances use GPS and not paper maps…they’d be able to find a house regardless if it has good signage.

  • not so common tern

    The black exterior is kind of depressing…would have been better ANY other color…

  • Crisa

    Is that 541 Bird Avenue that is listed online at city properties as owned by Adam M. Sokol, purchased 12-7-06 for $3,000–and has no easily found updated listing of ownership?
    Is that some sort of screening on the far-between railings of that staircase? And if it is, is it to protect children from the child-endangering design elements of this far-out house?
    What next in Buffalo and featured on Buffalo Rising? A stacked-containers house (just as ugly but safer for kiddies)?

  • biniszkiewicz

    I like the exterior, love the interior, and porches, too. One detail I’d like to see emulated: the car park. It is incorporated nicely into the footprint.

  • Nicholas Tyler Miller

    This is seriously cool.

  • Texpat

    I like the interior and love the concept. The exterior is a little bland but I get it. I’d love to see more modern in-fill. I’ve often thought that something like this is what I’d want for myself if I came back to Buffalo. I prefer a modern home.
    This house does a great job of understanding its context. What I wouldn’t want to see is existing homes being demolished for contemporary homes but I don’t think that is much of a risk in Buffalo at the moment. Land values aren’t high enough to support that. There is also enough fallow land for development.
    Even well kept homes in my neighborhood in Houston are being demolished to get the land to build new on. The current homes sell for anywhere from $350k to well over a million and are scraped off within the month. Two months after that there is a new home priced at at least $900k waiting for a new owner.

  • summersh

    really that’s your comment about this house. Some people really just have to find something to complain about. While I dont love the exterior myself I can see a lot of people falling in love with this house or at least the main elements of it. This really does showcase what can be done in the city. It’s modern without looking out of place and was created in the footprint of a previous house. I wouldnt mind seeing more homes built or remodeled in this fashion.

  • TheRealBuffaloBill

    I’m glad to see someone have the freedom to make what they want on there property. I think its a hideous building, but I like the ideal behind that they could build it without having to conform to some code, or outside peoples demands. I’m sure it cost allot.

  • Dagner

    Yeah, safety and ease of navigation are pet topics of mine, and address numbers in particular. The purpose of house numbers is to locate the home and its neighbors. While sideways numbers may fit the home’s aesthetic, they are a barrier to readability since their orientation is different from the neighboring properties. Thus they do not serve the primary function.
    Go down a street looking for a particular address today and see how difficult it already is. Script house numbers commit the same usabilty crime.
    It is far more efficient for way finders to see identifying information directly on the target without having to refer to a secondary, technology source.

  • Dan

    I don’t think this is the greatest example of modern architecture, but I’m nonetheless excited to see architects and homeowners in the Buffalo area get more adventurous. It’s the risk taking that was made when Buffalo was a growing city that resulted in the treasures we now enjoy.

  • queenie

    I like his house and its interior (more appropriate for someone else less tradition bound than I), but I wouldn’t want a street of them. This house works only because it provides an interesting counterpoint to the historical fabric of the street.

  • gregory.delaney

    Best work of architecture built in Buffalo since the Toshiko Mori pavilion at the Martin House. Hands down.