Architect Toshiko Mori was in Buffalo on Thursday for the unveiling of the Eleanor and Wilson Greatbatch Pavilion, the newest addition to the Darwin Martin House Complex on Jewett Parkway. Designed by Mori, the glass building will act as a visitor welcome center, orientation space and exhibition gallery.
In his address to the crowd that gathered, Jack Walsh III, President of the Martin House Restoration Corporation (MHRC) welcomed Mori and marveled that the building, though it took one year to build, is part of a larger project and has “had the gestation period of two baby elephants.” It seems a relatively short time when one considers the monumental restoration efforts that have gone into this important Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Buffalo landmark. And then there is this outrageously superb new addition.
Past president of the MHRC Howard Zemsky put it best when he said, “We sought to complement through contrast rather than imitation of Frank Lloyd Wright’s design. We didn’t try to compete, and what we got is a technological tour de force.”
Sliding across the glass panels, the orientation movie, made up of the crackled, vintage stills of Martin and his family, points out the disparity in Martin’s own life that is mirrored in this architectural marriage of past and present. It seems odd to say that an orientation movie for the Martin complex may be one of the most deeply powerful productions of the year, but the fact that this entire architectural masterpiece came about through Martin’s emotional need to build a home that couldn’t be broken (his family was disbanded upon the death of his mother when he was 6) speaks to the enormity of the home’s importance to Martin. And Mori has built a monument to it.
“I was excited, but intimidated,” Mori says of her initial involvement with the design of the pavilion. “We came in just three weeks before the deadline, and my objective was to keep with the past, but with present constraints.” Other than the steel, 15 geothermal wells and digital technology, Mori’s columns mimic the bones of the Wright pergola in that they are all 7-feet, 7 1/2-inches apart. Mori made mention of her great respect for the fact that this started as a grassroots project that spurred a cultural, civic and economic stimulus for Buffalo.
In agreement, MHRC Executive Director Mary Roberts said that this new addition to the complex is where “the best of our past will meet the best of our future.”
Though Mori was not a Wright expert before the design of the pavilion, she had vast knowledge through what she taught her students at Cooper Union. “I studied Wright as a way to present his work to my students, but I wasn’t fully immersed,” Mori said. She had visited Buffalo years ago when she was working with the City of Lockport on trying to establish a tourist attraction built around the Locks. Though that particular project never really left the ground, Mori said she is aware of, and pleased with, Buffalo’s headway with the Canal Side project.
Saying that while she visited Lockport, she came into Buffalo a lot, mainly for beef on weck, Mori had visited the Wright buildings – prior to any rehabilitation – and she was impressed by Temple Beth Zion on Delaware Avenue.
As her final say on the Martin Complex, Mori reiterated, “The energy that spurred this is amazing.”