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DOCOMOMO

The funny
title of this story stands for “Do
cumentation and Conservation of buildings sites and neighborhoods of the Modern Movement. The name is self-descriptive of the
group’s mission.  I bring up this group because frequent BRO writer West
Coast Perspective recently sent me a picture of the Tishman Building showing on
going construction work being done at street level.  The first thing that
popped into my mind was DOCOMOMO
.  

The Tishman
Building is one of a very small number of mid-century works of architecture in
the city.  Apparently the current owners are remodeling the lobby to make
the building more attractive to tenants.  The Tishman building was built
in the 1950’s and was Buffalo’s first major downtown building after the long
drought of WWII and the depression. With its then fantastically modern
skin of glass soaring up from the sidewalk, it was also a radical departure
from every other building in Buffalo at the time.  It is not an
architectural masterpiece, but today remains as a solidly positive contributor
to the urban fabric of downtown Buffalo.  

Thumbnail image for tishman full.png

Aside from
the fact that it replaced a stunningly beautiful Victorian building on this
site, it is hard to find fault with Tishman as a city building.  It fills
its site and provides a great urban wall for Lafayette Square.  Its size
and simple form, along with its contrasting glassiness, makes for a great
partner for the adjacent Deco styled Rand Building.  It has big plate
glass storefront windows that give the building a friendly, open face to
pedestrians.  Its glass skin was very striking in its day.  It was
nothing like anything else in Buffalo at the time.  I am sure it made a
big stir when it opened.  At only 20 stories, this is a tiny building as
far as skyscrapers go but the architects used a simple trick to give it a much
bigger presence.  By breaking up the shear glass walls with smaller window
pains, the building appears to be twice as tall–giving it a much more powerful
presence on the street.  

Alas,
Tishman is now well into its most dangerous period of existence as a building.
 By the time many buildings reach 40 or so years in age, they start to
fade.  They no longer reside on the “A” list of properties.
 Their initial tenants have often moved on.  They can no longer
provide the amenities demanded by society, and often their architectural style
is seen as tired and dated.

Imagine
yourself back when Tishman first presented its slick modernism to Buffalo.
 It probably instantly transformed Buffalo’s impression of what an office
building should be. Buildings of an earlier era would have looked dull in
comparison.  The mid-century was a time when people yearned for clean
modern buildings.  It was a time when the rush was on to get rid of all
the dark old buildings and replace them with new buildings with new modern
materials, materials that matched the new technological age of mid-century. At
this same time, the storefront facades of old Main Street were also being
covered with extravaganzas of modernism not unlike the architecture of the
popular world’s fairs of the time. Tishman joined in by replacing the wonderful
old and tired German Insurance Building and so on. 

Now Tishman
has reached that critical building lifetime threshold.  Its original
tenant is gone.  It is too small, has no parking, and its once high-tech
skin is no longer the marvel of modernism it used to be.  Therefore, when
I saw the renovation picture of this building, my first reaction was worry.
  Will this owner make improvements to this building that are in keeping
with its original architecture, or will some ill-conceived
“improvement” be made?  Only time will tell, but if history is a
guide, the “improvements” to this now aged building may be less than
stellar.  

Mid-century
modern architecture is the poor orphan child of the preservation movement.
 Many don’t recognize these buildings as a part of an important heritage
worth protecting.  They don’t have the highly handcrafted, highly detailed
forms that older buildings have, and they have only recently fallen on harder
times.  With so many older buildings in distress, it is often hard to
focus on newer structures that are also in need of preservation.  Buffalo
has never had a large collection of mid century architecture and already a vast
majority of what was here is gone.  

Virtually
all of the modern retail facades on Main Street have been removed, and the old
modern AM&A store hangs on by a thread.  This is the reason that
DOCOMOMO
 was started.  The preservation
of modern architecture is a growing issue throughout the US and the world.
 Early efforts at calling attention to the plight of modernist works of
architecture were tenuous and were not treated seriously by the public and
government agencies.  The movement has gained a lot of momentum in recent
years but, even today, the struggle to impress on people the importance these
buildings represent to our heritage is an uphill battle.  A Google search
results in many articles on the subject.  Almost every city in the country
has been faced with the issue of loss to its collection of mid-century
heritage.  Seeing this happen to buildings from my youth gives me new
insight into how we decimated our earlier heritage so easily. Here is a
small sample.

Interesting
side note:  There is a slightly larger twin to the Tishman Building in
Cleveland
at 1717 East 9th Street.
 Both buildings were erected in 1959
according to the Emporis database.

A few sample
mid-century preservation stories:

Here @ Illinois

Here @ Ecoabsence

Here @ Dallas

Here @ Commercial Appeal

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