Since the highly anticipated release of the Albright-Knox’s addition plans on June 21st, the public has been able to digest the experience and provide a response. Here is a rundown of events…
On June 21st, Shohei Shigematsu and Michael Van Valkenberg released the proposed plan for the revamping of the Albright-Knox campus. Shohei Shigematsu, leading the team from OMA New York, explained the addition design. The addition splits into two parts, one being the Park Gallery, and the other the Floating Gallery. The Park Gallery faces Elmwood and is designed to join into a common space designed by Michael Van Valkenberg. Its roof will be open to the public as part of a terrace that will connect to the western terrace of E.B. Green’s 1905 building. The building will also hold gallery space on the first floor and hide parking beneath.
The Park Gallery has not upset most critics, particularly because it is intentionally lost in the landscape, and continues the marble pedestal present in both the 1905 and 1962 buildings.
The other part of this design, the Floating Gallery, has become the center of attention in the debate that has built since the release of the expansion plans. The Floating Gallery is in the southern end of the gallery, placed between the 1905 and the 1962 buildings. This design includes a two-sided entrance courtyard, which allows the restaurant and gift shop to remain open while the gallery is not. This courtyard is surrounded by glass and topped with gallery space built taller than the current buildings. The addition, as of June 21st, received a lot of good press; people were impressed and happy with the design. This came more from shock value than from real understanding.
This sort of attention, in which nothing bad could be construed from the addition, continued into June 23rd, when the Buffalo News released an editorial which implied that “Big Thinking is Leading to a Dazzling Transformation of the Albright-Knox Gallery.” In the great burst of adulation put forth by the News’s editorial board, they described the plan as “spectacular,” and that “it’s good to dream big.” They went on to say that “because they dared to aim high, they have produced a plan that will help to transform that part of Buffalo and push along the revival that is propelling this remarkable city.”
This moment, where all things great seemed to be found in this design, was refuted as early as June 27th by Mark Hogan, an architect from Buffalo, in an article he wrote for Curbed.com titled “OMA’s Albright-Knox proposal undoes the work of Buffalo’s Most Famous Architect.” He explained how Bunshaft created a masterpiece in the 1962 expansion, and that the current placement of the entry plaza ruins his artistic goals. He explained “the basic premise of this proposal is to demolish the galleries and courtyard of Gordon Bunshaft’s spectacular midcentury addition in favor of a bloated, ill-defined, glass-walled lobby with gallery space on top.”
And is he wrong? Since the release of the design, many members of the preservation community both locally and nationally have come to the defense of the 1962 building as a pivotal piece in modernist architecture. I explained its importance in design back in March of this year in my piece, “Arguably Buffalo’s most famous homegrown architect – Gordon Bunshaft.” There is a specific design element that can be honored or ruined by the current addition, and this idea was picked up by Citylab on July 7th in the article “A Modernist Masterpiece under Fire in Buffalo.” In it, Mark Byrnes extolled the virtues of the 1962 addition in its principle of “leave it alone.” He went on a path, in which he explained the utter lack of interest on Buffalo’s part in understanding and learning and taking an interest in the work of Bunshaft, or Modernism for that matter. But back to the Albright-Knox.
Photos Courtesy of Buffalo News
The wave of protest that has grown more intense since June 21st drew Jeffrey Gundlach, who the new addition is being named for, into the critique. Gundlach expressed an interest, in an article published June 29th by the Buffalo News, to make the building even more dazzling and more noteworthy, and also to give more money to the Albright-Knox. This vocal interest by Gundlach has given credence to those that are interested in preserving the 1962 building as Bunshaft intended it, and give more room for OMA to change the design. In two issues of the Buffalo News, on June 30th and July 7th, the Preservation interests in Buffalo started to impart their understanding into the mix.
Shohei Shigematsu Gordon Bunshaft
I personally am a fan of Bunshaft’s work, and I believe in the design of his 1962 building. He made it his masterpiece, and even he considered it to be one of his best works. The raised glass box, the “leave it alone” principle, the continuation of the marble pedestal, the separation between his and the 1905 gallery, the complete control in the modernist courtyard, it all joins together to make a beautiful and impressive building, and if one of these basic ideas are assaulted, the entire building is assaulted. Shigematsu’s design for the addition is not impressive, but obstructing; it has little interest in the two surrounding buildings. And it is at this point, where Buffalonians start to ask, why do I care?
In Buffalo, we are proud of our architecture, even to the level of kitsch, as in FLW and Arts and Crafts. This city cannot loosen its grip as an “architectural classroom;” it cannot say that one style is more important than another. It is in our heritage, and as custodians of our heritage, both bad and good, it is up to us to make sure that Bunshaft is recognized and preserved in his hometown. More needs to come out of this addition.
Timeline of Events:
June 21st– design proposal by MVVA and OMA New York
June 23rd-editorial in Buffalo News supporting addition “Big Thinking is Leading to a Dazzling Transformation of the Albright-Knox Gallery”
June 27th – Curbed .com article “OMA’s Albright Knox Proposal Undoes the Work of Buffalo’s Most Famous Architect”
June 28th– Buffalo News Interview with Jeffrey Gundlach
July 7th – Buffalo News article “AK Expansion Plans Stir Controversy Among Bunshaft fans”
July 7th – Citylab article “A Modernist Masterpiece under Fire in Buffalo”