It wasn’t until I happened to randomly come across the following image of the Robert Jackson Federal Courthouse that I realized that there was an intriguing architectural and artistic section of the building that I was completely unaware of. Of course I was familiar with the front of the building that faces Niagara Square, and the Elmwood and Delaware sides, but up on top of a landing there is another view that looks onto an exterior courtyard that acts as a backdrop to artist Robert Mangold’s colorful, soaring glass panels (photo GSA).
After seeing the image, I decided that next time I was visiting Niagara Square I would stop over to take first hand look. Yesterday turned out to be that day. When I reached the top of a short flight of stairs, I found myself face to face with the architectural gem. As I walked around the terrace that faced Niagara Square, I couldn’t help but think that Buffalo was missing out on something that had been dreamed up and constructed, but was obscured from public view. There was a missed opportunity here that need needed to be rectified.
While the “gallery” that you see (above) is accessible via glass doors, there is also a promenade that could accommodate a number of café tables and chairs. I am aware that this is a Federal building, but it seems like such as shame that there is no life at all on the side of the building that faces Elmwood Avenue and City Hall. There appears to be a disconnect from the rest of the building, which in this case can be viewed as an opportunity. In fact, it looks as if this area was actually designed to accommodate just such an amenity. Even if tables and chairs could not be placed in front of the building where the 4,536 words of the United States Constitution are etched into the glass, there is still plenty of room in front of the “gallery” to put a nice sized café.
Of course the Federal Courthouse building is designed to keep the general public away from the building, and is not in the business of operating a café… but I see no reason that they couldn’t contract with a small operator to provide a cup of coffee and bagel for people who are visiting Niagara Square. After all of the thought that went into creating such an attractive, inviting, gallery-esque courtyard and promenade, this architectural feature goes completely unnoticed and is totally underutilized. It’s a real shame.
As a city, we need to begin to reawaken different features of our city that have been slumbering for decades. Just as the Albright-Knox decided to reinvigorate a dead space in the front of the gallery facing Elmwood (see portico), the Federal Courthouse could extend an invitation to passersby that would say, “We are proud of what we have built and we would like you to take a closer look at the building… we’re actually not that intimidating.”