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Suburbanizing the GLF Elevator Site

By Ryan Kucinski

The design of the grain elevators was a bold attempt to marry a new aesthetic form with its function and left us with an awe-inspiring, irreplaceable industrial setting.  The design of the RiverWorks development, now under construction, should embody the original innovative spirit that defines the grain elevators and all of Buffalo’s additional architectural treasures to reimagine how we can incorporate former industrial infrastructure into our 21st Century lifestyles focused around sustainability and the human experience.  Instead, this development replicates suburban development patterns that have degraded our built and natural environments.  While the RiverWorks development is good idea for adaptive reuse for the district, the positive uses are overshadowed by a poor site design.


The element which most contributes to the poor design is the inappropriate and damaging scale, layout, and placement of the surface parking lot.  The site layout does not create connections to adjacent uses and destroys any ease and enjoyment in which people that will arrive to the site by means other than a car – the urban users.  The users who care about the temporal pattern of a built environment that evokes an emotional response created by the total participation of traveling to, arriving at a destination, and experiencing the internal space.

Furthermore, many uses that could potentially enhance the public realm, such as the Riverwalk and Beer Garden, are privatized and enclosed, hidden behind the buildings and surface parking lot; only accessible by travel through those uses first.  Additionally, framing the grain elevators should be a focal point of this development because of the inherent uniqueness in form and history.  This view is the preeminent feature of the site, there should be more imagination and creativity in this site plan rather than just following development patterns that are “standard” and familiar of buildings set behind parking.  Overall, the setting and heritage of the district is sacrificed for convenience.

There are some simple elements and principles that can improve the design of this project.  First, parking should not be so expansive and concentrated but separated and spread throughout the site. Separate parking lots could place people closer to the uses they are visiting, be partially hidden behind buildings, pedestrian structures, and landscaping elements, and allow for adaptability over time.  Integrating landscape elements would make it easier to employ environmentally sustainable interventions throughout the parking lots such as bioswales and denser landscapes.  It would allow for the creation of multiple, distinct entrances which would signal a hierarchy and formal entrance into the development for cars and pedestrians. Lastly, by placing structures throughout the site visitors can become surrounded and immerse themselves in the total landscape and uses of the development and future adjacent uses.

Reyner Banham observed that, “great buildings do not occur in isolation; they grow out of flourishing architectural cultures where the habits of good construction and imaginative planning have solidity and momentum.”  A pioneer development like this will set the tone for the expectations and future development standards in the area.  We only need to look around our city to see destructive examples of running a collective vision for short term and shortsighted gain.  Instead of designing in a vacuum, the RiverWorks development should strive to become another well-designed asset that embodies and connects with Buffalo’s architectural and planning masterpieces.



Ryan Kucinski Ryan graduated with honors from the University of Southern California with a Masters Degree in Urban Planning specializing in Urban Design and Historic Preservation and received a Certificate of Real Estate Development.  Before that, Ryan completed his undergraduate education in his hometown at SUNY Buffalo with a B.A. in Environmental Design and a Architecture minor.  Ryan currently works as an Assistant Planner in Los Angeles for an environmental consulting firm.  He also acts as a guest critic for graduate urban design studios at the University of Southern California.

The full version is located on Ryan’s website.

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