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“I came to Kleinhans for the chair, but I stayed for the architecture.”

One of the city’s greatest architectural assets is getting some nice attention. Kleinhans Music Hall, designed by Eliel and Eero Saarinen, is currently featured in Architect magazine. The article does the music hall justice in various ways – it’s a truly fascinating read. The author, Witold Rybczynski, paid a visit to Buffalo when he was researching chairs designed by Eero Saarinen. The chairs led him to Kleinhans Music Hall, where he discovered a lot more than he ever anticipated. 

What is so special about the article is that it tells the architectural tale of the music hall. Along with sensational photographs, the reader is clued in to just how important the building is to Buffalo – not only the exterior, but the entire interior. Most people are not aware of the full architectural treatment because they simply walk in, attend a concert and then walk back out. But as you can see in this detailed coverage, there is so much more to discover other than the lauded focal points.

Not only did the building get an impressive writeup, the Buffalo Philharmonic was recently spotlighted in the New York Times. It’s good to see the building and the BPO getting some sensational press.

Lead image: Bilyana Dimitrova – Staircase to second-level lobby

Written by Buffalo Rising

Buffalo Rising

Sometimes the authors at Buffalo Rising work on collaborative efforts in order to cover various events and stories. These posts can not be attributed to one single author, as it is a combined effort. Often times a formation of a post gets started by one writer and passed along to one or more writers before completion. At times there are author attributions at the end of one of these posts. Other times, “Buffalo Rising” is simply offered up as the creator of the article. In either case, the writing is original to Buffalo Rising.

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  • OldFirstWard

    Maybe people walk in attend the show and immediately walk out because the hall is not that impressive to the casual viewer. There is really nothing to admire or look at in the interior. Now juxtapose Kleinhans with Shea’s and the differences are miles wide. Shea’s is elegant and ornate while Kleinhans is very bland and unadorned. I think Kleinhans gets its reputation more so from modernist outsiders rather than locals. Of course many will follow the lead of these outsiders and heap praise on the facility. That being said, Kleinhans, from the moment you walk in the door, appears to be more of a utilitarian venue than a traditional classical musical house. I see more character in the remaining intact lobby of Shea’s Seneca Street theatre than in any corner of the interior space of the Kleinhans building.

    • Jeff

      Your comments are completely BS and I now realize you just post so you can see that silly avatar on the screen. Your comparison of Shea’s to Kleinhans interior holds about as much water trying to compare a Model T to a Indy Car. Two totally different time periods and architectural styles…both having huge merits.

      • Chad Johnson

        As usual from this guy.

        • Jeff

          any chance OFW is paid to create traffic? Food for thought….. I am not the first to think this I can’t believe

    • Let Buffalo Rise

      Please stop… you do not know what your are saying. These are two completely different architectural examples you are citing here, they cannot be compared that simply. Shea’s interest comes from ornamentation not the architecture. Kleinhan’s is Architecture with a capital A, it does not need ornamentation to make the space beautiful and interesting.

    • greenca

      What a foolish comment, but I am not surprised. Shea’s is stunning in an ornate way, typical of its period. Kleinhans is stunning in a restrained, elegant way, also typical of its period. You probably think Salvatore’s is the high water mark for restaurant decor.

      • OldFirstWard

        “Most people are not aware of the full architectural treatment because they simply walk in, attend a concert and then walk back out.”

        Let’s see, I wonder why the author made those comments? Maybe because there is nothing to see. The only people talking up Kleinhans architecture, are people in those circles. Musicians love the sound, but we are not debating acoustics. The audience for years were treated to dirty carpets, old chairs and lackluster in-house marketing and concessions. They really could care less about the space because it is boring. I’ve heard that from guests. People go there to support the orchestra and hear the show. What type of comments are the people making about Shea’s? People notice and appreciate beautiful architecture and spaces, and tend to ignore the banal walls of the unembellished music hall.

        Honestly, I don’t consider restaurant decor to be architecture. I could care less what a restaurant looks like since I would be paying to dine there, if I ever dine there, (though I do care about cleanliness tremendously). It is a very very distant second or third to a building design.

        • Randy503

          “The audience for years were treated to dirty carpets, old chairs and lackluster in-house marketing and concessions.”

          Although I disagree 100% with you, this comment is noteworthy (haha). I agree — we should have an architect design the concessions to look better, they should have better concessions, and the carpets should be cleaned regularly.

          You know that Saarinan said that this was his attempt to show what frozen music would look like, right? Which is why you see beatiful rhythms in the main hall. Haven’t you noticed the gorgeous walnut veneer in the Lobby? The artful lighting on the stage that makes Radio City Music Hall like like a precursor? And besides, you should be focusing on the music, not the ceiling, during concerts.

          But if you do look around, you’ll see amazing beauty.

          • greenca

            I have a hunch that OFW hasn’t been inside Kleinhans much.

          • OldFirstWard

            Well I wasn’t there when Led Zeppelin played in 1969 but I did catch Peter Frampton with Nazareth, Donovan in the Mary Seton room, BB King, The Temptations and the Four Tops etc…and a slew of BPO concerts, classics not pops when possible. Plus my daughter was in the Symphony Scholars for four years which allowed me to get discounted tickets for shows.

    • eagercolin

      Yeah, Kleinhans should really be gussied up with a bunch of old timey bric a brac.

    • Mr. B

      “Shea’s is elegant and ornate while Kleinhans is very bland and unadorned.”

      Uh-huh. Its called Minimalism. Look it up.

      You gotta laugh at the same one who regularly whines about painted brick, complaining about a space being unadorned . . .


    • robert biniszkiewicz

      Shea’s is ornate, but NOT inspiring. I’d take Kleinhan’s over Shea’s any day of any week if I could have only one. Acoustically it’s astounding, but I far prefer it’s streamlined high style vs. Shea’s overwrought gingerbread.

      • Randy503

        Ever climb the stairs? I have, many times. They are the most elegant stairs I have ever walked. Seriously — the rise is low, but the treads are deep. You CANNOT run up and down them. Instead, you are forced to slowly ascend or descend, and your posture will automatically correct itself.

        I feel like the Queen of England every time I use those stairs!

        • PaulBuffalo

          Agreed. I love those stairs. When inside Kleinhans, I feel like I’m in an Edward Hopper painting.

      • OldFirstWard

        “Shea’s is ornate, but NOT inspiring.”

        Tell that to all the volunteers who worked tirelessly over the years with q-tips and tiny paint brushes cleaning and restoring the interior.

    • tanklv

      Wow – what an ignorant post – but to be expected from you. Just – wow…

    • tanklv

      This design is a reaction to the over – embellished maze of decoration that Shea’s and others like it were. “Form follows function”. Simplicity. Like the Lever House in NYC is to the Gothic revival and other “revival” fashions in architecture of previous eras.
      Now we have the faux mishmash of designs in one building that don’t make sense at all like Cimnelli’s latest developments. That is not “architecture” – it’s “facadism”.

  • PaulBuffalo

    I was an usher here some decades ago and spent a lot of time exploring the interior. I loved the experience. Since its opening, Kleinhans has been world famous for its acoustics and austere architecture. Classical pianists have always had a fondness for this performance space. The purity of sound and minimalist interior combine for an almost spiritual experience.

    • Randy503

      I’ve always wondered what the Ladies Lounge is like. I imagine women with mysterious black hats and veils over their faces, reapplying some fire engine red lipstick. Even the men’s lounge is rather stately — you don’t look good unless you have a suit on.

  • Randy503

    So glad the NY Times wrote an upbeat (haha) article on the BPO. It deserves it.

    The only bad part is that nearly half the seats of concert are empty. I always say that empty seats are a failure of imagination. They should give away those seats to area high school students and their parents who play in the school orchestra and band. It’s about building future audiences and donors. Fill up the hall! It doesn’t cost them any thing to give away a block of seats they know will be empty anyway.

  • Randy503

    I’m surprised that BRO didn’t know who Witold Rybczynski is. He is an architect, author and professor. I’ve read his books, Home: A Short History of an Idea, The Most Beautiful House in the World, and Waiting for the Weekend, and excellent, deeply scholarly, and yet very fun to read. He also wrote a book about Olmsted.

    He is one of our leading architectural and urban living critics, and this is a significant article.

    • OldFirstWard

      I know who he is, I passed up on his Olmsted book due to some so-so reviews.

  • Michael Jarosz

    Shea’s is a Meyerbeer opera. Kleinhans is a string Debussy.