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Thesis for Silo City Adaptive Re-use Design

Silo City Thesis study and Design Proposal to create New Age Bauhaus Movement" in Buffalo, New York

The following Silo City proposal study was conducted by Alfred State College student James Jacobik for his Spring 2017 B.Arch Thesis. According to Jacobik, the multi-pronged plan would bring a multicultural center to Buffalo, in the realm of “New Age Bauhaus Movement”.

“Artists and trades people can collaborate to create and showcase their work to the public. I believe this will bring great economic revenue to the City of Buffalo and will be a great addition to the city’s renaissance.  I was able to meet with owner Rick Smith, and fly the school drone for some great “as built condition” photos. I also have reconstructed each silo into 3D computer models at 1:1 scale.”


The unused tombs of Buffalo’s golden age still lay vacant, anticipating another breath of life. Silo City is in need of an awakening to form the city’s esoteric reality of culture.

This thesis focuses on the renewal of Buffalo’s cultural community. By capitalizing on the availability of federal grants from the Buffalo economic development plan, an adaptive reuse of Silo City will connect artists and entrepreneurs with a formerly urban rust belt community.


By 1825 The Erie Canal was constructed, creating a waterway system in the United States that connecting the Great Lakes to the Atlantic. To account for the demand of seven million bushels of wheat and flour annually, private grain companies built “colossal” grain elevators and mills supporting a population of 18,213  people in 1842.

By the late nineteenth century hydroelectric power generated by the Niagara River marked Buffalo, New York as “The City of Light”. Local mills, connected to grain elevators, would benefit from this newly found energy source. Buffalo’s population scaled to 352,387 people and was ranked the eighth largest city in the United States. Due to the Buffalo waterway transportation system, The Lackawanna Steel and Iron Company relocated its operations from Scranton, Pennsylvania to Buffalo. Iron from the Lake Michigan area could be delivered to Buffalo and forged into steel.

  • 1920 The grain trade in Buffalo was at its peak with Buffalo’s population at 506,775 people.
  • 1935 the grain trade was on the decline due to the Welland Canal which allowed Great Lakes ships to bypass Buffalo and eliminating the needs for Canadian grain shipments.
  • 1950 Buffalo had a population of 580,132 people – unfortunately new construction of rail lines, the highway system, and the St. Lawrence Seaway helped to cause Buffalo’s economy to declined.
  • 1980 Buffalo had a decrease in population to 357,870 people, a vast majority of grain elevators were deteriorating and unused. Along with a decline in a middle class population.


“Vacant grain elevators in Silo City, some nearly a century old, overlook the Buffalo River forging an ‘Isolated Architectural Dreamland'” – (Brown, 2009).

“In each instance, whether utopian or critical, the main proponents for the essential architectural merit of these structures were all European, while the American interest in its own architectural heritage has largely been either preservationist or historian. In both cases, entirely based on the importance of these structures for European theorists, and the European theorization/validation of their worth as architectural monuments in their own right.” -Reyner Banham


Despite the significance to Buffalo’s “Golden Age“ and the early modern architectural influence from these early industrial structures. If these abandoned silos go untouched, artists will not have the ability to share their craft, network, or have a community to call their own in such a historically significant space.


By providing a cultural campus to house artists and entrepreneurs of many genres, artists in Buffalo will network and provide the city with a cultural hub.

Economic development will increase as artists and entrepreneurs promote and explore their design, ideas, and products.
Buffalo’s community will connect with artists by daily tours through artists studios.

The grain silos will be adaptively reused into a cultural campus instead of laying mostly vacant and unused – to introduce a multicultural campus for the city of Buffalo.


The grain silos are a manmade wonders, slowly transforming into ruins. These structures were once a symbol, promoting the grain trade, and the achievement of Buffalo’s Industrial success.

The thesis is dedicated to phasing each building of the historic peninsula located in the old first ward district.

  • Silo City’s first phase will include an adaptive re-use of the American Warehouse.
  • Silo City’s second phase will include an adaptive re-use of the American Mill.
  • Silo City’s third phase will include an adaptive re-use of the Perot Malt house.
  • Silo City’s fourth phase will be an adaptive re-use to the Perot Elevator.
  • Silo City’s fifth phase will include an adaptive reuse of American Elevator and Marine “A”.

Architectural Significance:

Walter Gropius published images of American Grain Elevators in Jahrbüch des Deutschen Werkbundes 1913.
Although Gropius would not make it to America until after the Bauhaus, his illustrations would be passed along to many European architects.

“Work of the Egyptians in their overwhelming monumentality.”  – Walter Gropius

Le Corbusier in a series of articles in the journal L’Esprit Nouveau in 1921, and by 1923 Le Corbusier released a series of essays named Toward a New Architecture. Le Corbusier described the elevators as “The first fruits of the new age!”
He understood the American Industrial Age would produce a New Empire, resembling those of the lost classical ruins of Babylon, Thebes, Athens, Alexandria, Carthage, Constantinople, and Rome.

“Two Geometries, dialectal confrontation between sculptural forms and gridded space.” – Le Corbusier

German architect Erich Mendelsohn visited America by the early 1920s, publishing a collection of photographs capturing the American urbanism. These photographs display the great American industrial infrastructure located on the harbors of New York City and Buffalo, New York.

“Mountainous silos, incredibly space conscious, but creating space. A random confusion amidst the chaos of loading and unloading of ships, of railways, and bridges, crane monsters with live gestures, hordes of silo cells in concrete, stone, and glazed brick. Then suddenly with administration buildings, closed horizontal fronts against the stupendous verticals of fifty to a hundred cylinders.”  – Erich Mendelsohn

Among European theorists, artists, and movements designs were more than “influenced” by the grain silos. Their buildings were explicitly adapted from these sources, largely for their symbolic content because industrial structures represented. For European architects, the brave new world of science and technology.

“European derivative of the close forms of American industrial storage containers and of the openly gridded loft space of regular American Factories” – Reyner Banham

Please view the entire thesis book here.

Written by queenseyes


Newell Nussbaumer is 'queenseyes' - Eyes of the Queen City and Founder of Buffalo Rising. Co-founder Elmwood Avenue Festival of the Arts. Co-founder Powder Keg Festival that built the world's largest ice maze (Guinness Book of World Records). Instigator behind Emerald Beach at the Erie Basin Marina. Co-created Flurrious! winter festival. Co-creator of Rusty Chain Beer. Instigator behind Saturday Artisan Market (SAM) at Canalside, Buffalo Porchfest, and Paint vs. Paint. Founder of The Peddler retro and vintage market on Elmwood. Instigator behind Liberty Hound @ Canalside. Throws The Witches Ball at Statler City, the Hertel Alley Street Art Festival, and The Flutterby Festival.

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