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Multimodal Architecture: Connecting Buffalo Through Transportation, Movement, and Form

Guest Author: Alex Farrell


Transportation plays a key role in the success of any urban environment.  A reliable and sufficient public transportation system is important for the success of a city.  Public transportation creates corridors that become focal points for the community and influence economic and social activities.  The high rate of reliance on a personal vehicle in cities like Buffalo, NY, has fractured those communities as public transit systems lay unfinished and underutilized. What many successful U.S. cities have in common is a central transportation hub located directly downtown which allows and encourages people to move freely to and from the heart of the city.  The architecture of this new station must not only serve as a public transportation hub, but must also energize the public and create a place for civic engagement in order to be successful.

As part of  a graduate thesisI proposed that a new multimodal station be located at Canalside on the site of the previously demolished Memorial Auditorium. I believe that my proposal will prove both that this site is ideally and strategically located, and that this type of design is what Buffalo needs at this time to continue its economic and developmental resurgence. Years of economic hardship and disinvestment in public transit have led to a sparsely populated downtown with a lack of density and development.  But I am confident that this properly placed project would be a pivotal piece of Buffalo’s continued re-development.

Plans for a new train station were recently revealed.

Centrally located architecture that integrates all modes of transportation, including pedestrians, cars, bikes, buses, trains, etc., will better connect Buffalo’s thriving waterfront with the resurging downtown core by placing more emphasis on more efficient modes of transportation. The new multimodal center will be a large public space where everyday users and tourists can interact and make their way to their destination.

The City of Buffalo continues its resurgence, working to redefine itself after the industrial decline. Making a significant and strategic investment in public transit will help Buffalo ease the burden on the aging infrastructure, improve urban mobility and increase the potential for sustained density and economic growth.

Why Canalside: Transportation Terminus 

The site located at the corner of Exchange Street and Main Street in Buffalo has had a long history of being Buffalo’s transportation hub.  Throughout Buffalo’s history this location has been the downtown terminal for anything coming in by train or boat.  It is adjacent to the demolished Lehigh Valley Terminal, which before the construction of the Central Terminal on the city’s East Side, was the terminus to all passenger train travel to and from Buffalo.

Once train traffic was diverted from downtown, the train depot and tracks were removed and the area would become the home of the I-190 Highway that still cuts through downtown.  This left the belt line that navigated the circumference of the city as the only operable passenger track in the city.  While not used today, the train tracks can be revitalized to transport people around the city again.

This strategic site has many benefits for a new multimodal transportation center:

  • Located on Existing Rail Lines and Light Rail Line
  • Connector Between Canalside and Central Business District
  • Utilizes Underdeveloped Real Estate
  • Close Proximity to Arena and Baseball Stadium
  • Historically a Rail Terminus

Proposed Design

This building explores how movement and exterior forces around the site influence how the building is designed in order to enhance the urban fabric. The design recognizes the different edges along the site like the highway and canal. These elements, along with the flow of motorized traffic are conditions that cannot be altered.  But what can be altered is how people move through the building.  Different users want different experiences.  The user new to the area will need direction.  The frequent user wants to get from point A to point B quickly. Architectural expression and wayfinding will be used to help the different users move efficiently throughout the building.


The City of Buffalo currently lacks a central transportation hub that connects commuter transit with larger-scale transportation. Buffalo’s waterfront was a driving economic force of the city’s establishment in 1832 and it has once again become the heart of downtown’s revitalization. Cars, trains, boats and pedestrians all move in and around this hub of the city making it an ideal location for a central station and transportation hub.

A central station at Canalside would be a natural extension of the continued growth Buffalo has already seen in this area. The station would serve as a new gateway to the city, impacting what people see and how they travel to and around Buffalo. Furthermore, this site offers the potential for a catalytic effect on the city’s public transit system. It would connect the current transit systems as well as make available the use of additional rail lines long left vacant.

The current and potential movement this type of project could bring to the site was the key influencer in the design of this station. The study of how people and various modes of transportation will move through and around the proposed site have dictated the form and contents of the architectural design. The sweeping form naturally gestures people to and from downtown and the waterfront. The tower serves as a focal point, recognizable to locals and out-of-town travelers seeking a central location.

Alex Farrell graduated from Boston Architectural College in May of last year.  His graduate thesis was a multimodal train station at Canalside that would connect all modes of transportation in Buffalo.  The thesis project was timely because soon after choosing this as his thesis topic the current Exchange street station’s roof collapsed, calling for the replacement of the existing station.  

Farrell would spend the following year researching multimodal architecture to try to determine the ideal location for such a station.

Written by BRo Guest Authors

BRo Guest Authors

It’s not unusual for authors to come and go. Guest authors range from collegiate interns to writers who will be contributing for a short stint of time. Guest authors might also have a series in mind. Authors are encouraged to submit their ideas to BRO (Buffalo Rising Online), upon which time we will work with the writer towards a productive end.

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