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Buffalo’s Disposable Architecture vs Uninspired New Builds… Need a Tissue?

What would we do without preservationists? Actually, that’s a loaded question. Preservationists get a bad rap, because the effort of saving historic architecture is very controversial. Why? Because a lot of times, saving significant buildings is viewed as a way of obstructing progress. But just think of all of the examples of historic Buffalo buildings that have been saved thanks to the painstaking efforts of preservationists. Structures such as The Guaranty Building, which was going to be demolished before Hodgson-Russ LLP (and the preservation community) stepped up to save the Louis Sullivan masterpiece. Unfortunately, the same can ‘t be said for the Frank Lloyd Wright Administration Building.

“Disposable: Shoreline Apartment Complex” tissue box, 2016. (Kurt Treeby)

Just think about all of the buildings that have been lost in WNY. There are the obvious ones like the FLW Administration Building, but then there are countless historic hotels, churches, breweries, etc. that tragically bit the dust. Actually, a recent Citylab article points to Buffalo artist Kurt Treeby who makes tissue boxes that resemble architecture that has been lost at the hands of progress. There are a couple of tissue boxes that have close ties to Buffalo. First, there’s the Wintergarden in Niagara Falls. While some people don’t lament the demolition, others will never forget, such as Treeby who has managed to whimsically capture the edifice in a package that comes complete with tissues, to wipe the tears away.

I still remember back in 2009 when we were hoping that with Buffalo’s newfound resurgence, we might be able to save the Wintergarden (see here).

Moving on in the CityLab article, we find another “disposable” tissue box dedicated to Paul Rudolph’s Shoreline Apartments, located on Niagara Street in Downtown Buffalo. What’s interesting about this sniffling tribute, is that a big section of these apartments still stands. It has not all been demolished and replaced with modern day uninspired architecture, which is what’s been happening. 

Similar to the Wintergarden, the Shoreline Apartments are at risk because they appear to be outdated and seemingly unimportant. Were they Rudolph’s most impressive designs? No. Are they architecturally significant? Yes. Could they be fixed up and used in a way that would allow them to shine? Yes.

Then there’s the whole “brutalist architecture” debate. Brutalist architecture is not for everyone, but there is a place for it. Rudolph is world renowned and admired for his brutalist designs.

To this day, there is a swell in appreciation for Paul Rudolph structures, but not in Buffalo. As for the Shoreline Apartments, local architecture enthusiast Frits Abell says, “My take on it is that people see the option as binary: leave it as a crumbling/poorly managed mess or demo it. A third option is to fix it up, and well, maybe even put some glass structures along Niagara so that it has better urbanism.” 

I asked Jessie Fisher from Preservation Buffalo Niagara (PBN) whether part of the Shoreline Apartments could be rescued, to be used as a gallery/museum, or some other public reclamation.

“As you know, I strongly oppose this demolition,” Fisher vocalizes. “And I would love to see at least part of the complex preserved. A couple of issues I see with just preserving one as a museum: First, that complex is really a composition, and at least a few bays would need to be preserved to really give a sense of what the architect was trying to achieve so to be really meaningful I think you’d have to do more than just one. Secondly, if we are going to save housing, I’d really like to see it restored and occupied as housing. Additionally, house museums are extremely difficult to adequately fund, even in really wealthy cities. All of the culturals outside of the top five or six here are extremely underfunded in terms of operations, so it’s hard to imagine getting a very warm reception for a house museum in this climate. However, what I do think could be a really interesting exploration, would be to have an existing organization like PBN form a conservancy that could take responsibility for them and actually rent them out as housing. There are people who would LOVE to live in a Rudolph. Funds from the rents could go to support social housing and affordable housing initiatives within the City of Buffalo, and the tenants could be required to open the houses a couple of times a year to tours, the proceeds of which could go to offset PBN’s costs to run the Conservancy.”

There was a time when FLW’s misunderstood Administration Building was considered out of place and dated, so it was torn down. Looking back, the design world scratches its head, wondering how that could have happened.

Currently, I am in touch with Michael Miner from the Frank Lloyd Wright Revival Initiative, who tells me that he feels the iron is hot for rebuilding the structure.

I will have more on that FLW dialogue coming soon in another article, but in the meantime, we lost the Wintergarden, we saved the Guaranty Building, we have a chance to rebuild the FLW Administration Building (maybe with a modern spin?), and we’re still in the process of demolishing Paul Rudolph’s Shoreline Apartments? Does something not add up here? How can we still be making the same old mistakes, over and over again? What will the next generation of Buffalo architecture enthusiasts think, or the rest of the world for that matter?

Lead image: From a photo essay and story on Buffalo Rising in 2014

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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