For a psychiatric hospital built in the late 19th century, the Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane in Buffalo, New York, was remarkably ahead of its time. At the request of physician Thomas Story Kirkbride, who helmed the hospital’s design, emphasis was placed on access to natural light, fresh air, and pastoral views to benefit patient well-being. It was originally completed in 1880, combining Victorian and Romanesque elements.
Deborah Berke Partners (DBP) recently completed the asylum’s metamorphosis into the Hotel Henry Urban Resort and Conference Center. “The intentions for this building were about it being a welcoming and safe space,” said Stephen Brockman, senior principal of DBP. “The graciousness of the space is what’s fascinating. You open these doors, and it’s breathtaking,”
That said, converting the former asylum – located in the central portion of the sprawling National Historic Landmark Richardson Olmsted Campus – into a 191,000-square-foot luxury boutique hotel and conference center without losing its character was not without its challenges.
During early presentations of the project to the local community, conversations with the relatives of people who had spent time at the hospital and felt a close relationship with it created a desire “to make it feel like it was still theirs,” Brockman said. “Our interventions were subtle.”
The hotel and conference center houses 88 guest rooms, multiple conference facilities, a fine dining restaurant, a bar, and a cafe. Of the campus’s original 11 buildings, the hotel comprises three central buildings that were the asylum’s administrative hub and patient housing.
Along with the exterior, original interior elements, including windows, interior shutters, plasterwork, stairs, and tile and wood floors were preserved, while the grand staircase was restored. The spacious hallways, 200 feet long and 15 feet wide, were also kept intact. These corridors, which were originally called “day rooms” and functioned as the asylum’s social spaces, were flooded with ventilation and light to aid patient recovery.
“The grandeur of the building simply cried out to be a destination, so this is a perfect fit,” said Jean Carroon, principal at Goody Clancy, preservation architects for the project. “The exterior is rugged and beautiful. The interior has the high ceilings, natural daylight, and views, which were part of its first life.”
To transform the building into a modern hotel welcoming the 21st-century traveler, a flagstone-and-granite entry plaza was added. A new, second entrance, in glass and steel, glows at night, as do newly illuminated towers, lit internally to serve as beacons. A staircase created within the second entrance features an illuminated glass handrail and leads to the second-floor lobby. An attic was converted into large, loft-like guest suites with partially exposed beams and high, sloped ceilings. Guest rooms were updated in neutral tones and will feature works by local artists.
Landscape architecture and planning firm Andropogon Associates updated and restored the grounds, originally designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, adding a new roadway in Olmsted’s aesthetic, as well as guest parking. Andropogon also planted 125 new trees, interspersed with rain gardens of switchgrass, as well as grapevines and hawthorns.
It was important to pay homage to the hotel’s history as an asylum more prominently as well. To that end, Carroon noted, several patient rooms have been completely restored and will be part of the campus’s historic tours when the Lipsey Buffalo Architecture Center opens in late 2017 as a co-tenant with Hotel Henry. Celebrating Buffalo’s rich architectural history and honoring the site’s legacy, the center will feature a 400-square-foot interactive exhibit about the asylum and the history of mental health treatment in the U.S.
In the countryside outside of Buffalo, New York, Boston Valley Terra Cotta (BVTC) has an impressive industrial terra-cotta operation—a potter’s studio on steroids, with dust and clay scattered around a relatively calm factory. Since 1996 “Rusty” Raymond Conners has spent his days by the window and among his plants, carving intricate designs in the capitals of columns and the faces of tiles.
BVTC started in 1889 as a flower pot business, and has since morphed into one of the leading-edge facade manufacturers in the world, producing a range of baked-clay cladding products that are being used by everyone from Machado Silvetti to Morris Adjmi to Annabelle Selldorf. How did this transformation take place?
In the last five years, something remarkable has happened. In 2011, Omar Khan, associate professor and chair of the Department of Architecture at the University at Buffalo School of Architecture and Planning (UB/a+p), and Mitchell Bring, a researcher and adjunct professor, realized the potential in Boston Valley’s operation. Bring has been working with some former students of UB/a+p to incorporate the latest in digital documentation, design, and fabrication technologies to help BVTC remain at the forefront of the terra cotta industry. What started as a couple of interns is now a whole team of digital designers and fabricators.
The digital documentation team uses 3D scan data to enhance more traditional techniques of reproducing historic buildings in preservation projects, such as Louis Sullivan’s Guaranty Building, or New York’s Woolworth Building, which the company is working to restore at the moment. In order to make the process the most efficient, designers use CAD to rationalize the component parts that make up any large ceramic assembly. In a small corner of the factory stands a digital fabrication shop, now led by UB/a+p alum Peter Schmidt. They work with mesh editing software, a 5-axis CNC router, and a 5-axis CNC hot wire cutter to make models that are then translated into molds for the traditional methods such as hand pressing, ram pressing, or slip casting.
Some worried that these new tools would cut into the work of the skilled craftspeople, such as the sculptors who hand-finish many of the more intricate pieces. However, once implemented, these artists found that they actually had more time to focus on the part that they really enjoy—sculpture—because many of the mundane tasks were cut out of the process. John Ruskin would be proud.
In addition to making traditional techniques more efficient, BVTC and UB are working together to think about how digital technology can allow more experimentation with clay-based building systems. This was the basis for Architectural Ceramic Assemblies Workshop, a week-long conference at UB/a+p, where architects, engineers, artists, and other leaders in the industry came together to share ideas and discuss what might be the future of clay and terra-cotta. The conference was a collaboration of Alfred State University, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, UB/a+p, and Data Clay, an art collective that is pushing the boundaries of digital craft and ceramics.
Keynote speakers were Jason Oliver Vollen, architect and principal of High-Performance Buildings at AECOM in New York; Willam M. McCarthy, ceramics professor at Alfred State University; and Neil Forrest, ceramic artist and educator at Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in Canada.
“While many architects design with industrially-produced ceramic components, they may have limited material understanding of clay, and most artists and designers trained in ceramics may have few opportunities to explore the medium at a scale beyond the object,” says Bill Pottle, international sales and marketing manager at Boston Valley Terra Cotta, who helped organize the gathering. “By attending this workshop, they will have the opportunity to collaborate and deepen their understanding of and experience with the potential for terra-cotta in the architectural setting.”
Experiments in Clay
What does clay have to offer? What characteristics are unique of clay, and what can it offer that other materials cannot?
To explore these questions, the group of nearly 20 broke off into three groups, each with a balance of engineers, architects, artists, and researchers. Throughout the week in the top floor of UB/a+p, they combined their broad collective knowledge with computers, 3D printers, clay, and a range of drawing tools to experiment with clay.
On the final day, the four groups presented the findings of their charettes and pin-ups. The first group, led by Adjmi, developed BIO CLAD, a panelized system that used the thermal capacities of terra-cotta to enhance the energy performance in residential applications. Terra-cotta panels—TerraClad by BVTC—would collect heat on the outside and run it through a heat exchanger, which would expel it on the inside via a series of radiant heating tubes. Group two presented “Bundled Baguette,” a set of experiments using the baguette, a basic, ceramic tube that is often used as a louver, could be aggregated in several arrangements including a parallel tumbleweed-like cluster.
The third group set out to try new hybridized methods and constructions. They showed an idea that might use raw and fired clay at the same time, with the raw clay acting as a possible medium for humidity control. In another experiment from the week’s workshop, a classic, two-dimensional extrusion is made, with a 3D-printed form grafted on. This would not only be a new technique that hybridizes these tools, but it also would be the first time that a 3D printer would be used for an actual building component, and not just for prototypes or formwork.
The last group was the most experimental, and they displayed a range of technical and artistic experiments, including a “mono-clay assembly,” or a complete, easy-to-produce wall module that relies only on clay bodies for performance. Another experiment used three different colors of clay to create a psychedelic extrusion.
While these experiments were certainly fruitful, for the most part, they were simply conceptual ideas and the prototypes were almost entirely representational. The research—even when rooted in long-running experiments—is still a ways off. That is probably what makes this workshop so important, however. There were no expectations of the week other than to generated ideas, share research, and introduce these practitioners to the Boston Valley enterprise. The caliber of people was matched by the torrent of ideas, and it is only a positive for the future of ceramics in architecture.
Future of Ceramics
What is next for Buffalo? What are Boston Valley and University of Buffalo School of Architecture cooking up?
To understand what is happening at the nexus of Buffalo’s industrial history, university research, state-of-the-art industry partnerships, and the specified knowledge of ceramics, it is important to start with Governor Cuomo and the Division of Science, Technology, and Innovation (NYSTAR) Centers of Excellence. They have set up eleven of these centers around the state to foster collaboration between the academic research community and the business sector. As part of a larger initiative to make Buffalo a center for manufacturing again, they have established the Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences (CBLS) at the University at Buffalo.
There is an ongoing collaboration as part of the Buffalo Center for Excellence called SMART, or the Sustainable Manufacturing and Advanced Robotic Technologies, which will join forces with the Department of Architecture and the Department of Engineering. There will be a second workshop—supported by Boston Valley—in the late summer of 2017, which will focus less on experimentation and more on advanced manufacturing. Thus the increased number of engineers in the second round, as well as a partnership with a company called BuiltWorld a leader in advanced manufacturing.
“The ceramics world is not yet as advanced as far as the digital fabrication world, but that is where we are trying to push it. And Boston Valley is very supportive of this. They are probably the most important manufacturer in the US working with architectural ceramics.” Khan told AN.
"Last year's workshop was an open forum with all the participants owning their intellectual property. BVTC has the right to use that material for publications and advertisement. Moving forward to this year, intellectual property will be more focused as the teams are more deliberately constructed," Khan explained. "Hence the teams will own the intellectual property with Boston Valley and UB having the rights to publish the work unless otherwise requested by the teams. The University is much more formal. This is why industry collaboration normally happens around sponsored research grants, which have clear intellectual property rules with the University as the major beneficiary."
These partnerships are certainly going to push both the school and the industry to the edges of knowledge, and there will be plenty of money to accomplish whatever they can dream up. As with any intra-disciplinary partnership, it is important to remember what the goals are: to push the boundaries of the profession—in this case, ceramics—and to provide the students and faculty with opportunities for learning. If at any time it becomes too proprietary, it could jeopardize the integrity of the research and the value added for the students, the taxpayer, and the university. So far, so good.
On Tuesday, December 27, New York’s Buffalo Common Council unanimously passed the United Development Ordinance, also known as the Buffalo Green Code.
The code aims to shift the city's transportation focus from cars to walkability. It eliminates minimum parking standards and aesthetic standards for parking lots, as well as making provisions for broadening sidewalks, and adding green spaces, all with the aim of creating a more enjoyable experience.
The Buffalo Green Code website states it was “designed to reinforce the City’s walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods and strengthen its economic centers.” Brendan Mehaffy, executive director of the Office of Strategic Planning, told The Buffalo News "There was little appreciation of our historic neighborhoods and even buildings. This code adjusts to the city's historic form."
Buffalo hopes to move from a suburban model of development to a progressively urban model. “Sprawl is, in fact, the legally required outcome under our current zoning code, and under the new code, mixed-use, walkable neighborhoods will be the default development option,” said Chris Hawley, a city planner in Mayor Byron Brown’s Office of Strategic Planning, to the Sustainable City Network. In addition to reducing light pollution, bringing older structures back into code, and protecting old trees, the code makes a wide range of new elements permissible, including chalkboard signs on sidewalks, residential wind turbines, open-air markets, artisan industrial programming, and rooftop-mounted PV panels.
This is OMA week. After unveiling the refurbished Fondaco dei Tedeschi in Venice, the New York- and Rotterdam-based firm announced that they have received the commission to design an $80 million expansion to the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, NY.
This will be the firm's first art museum project in the United States: OMA beat out four other offices—Snøhetta, BIG, Allied Works, and wHY—for the job, dubbed AK360, which will expand exhibition space for Albright-Knox's modern and contemporary art collection. Firm principal Shohei Shigematsu will be leading the design team.
The board of directors approved a development and expansion plan two years ago to accommodate a collection that's quadrupled in size since 1962, the year of the museum's last major (SOM–designed) expansion. Currently, Albright-Knox can only display 200 to 300 of the 8,000 works in its permanent collection. The expansion will double exhibition space, as well as add space for education facilities, dining, and events space while better integrating the museum with the Olmsted–designed park around it.
The commission comes fresh off of the completion of the Pierre Lassonde Pavilion at the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec, another project that knits a city's landscape to a museum.
It's fitting that OMA will be working in Buffalo, a city that capitalizes on its rich architectural heritage to spur tourism and investment. The museum, which is situated adjacent a local cultural district, hopes that the OMA project will have a spillover (uh, Guggenheim) effect on the ailing postindustrial city that's nevertheless experiencing a modest uptick in economic fortunes compared to neighboring cities. Shohei Shigematsu, along with artist Mark Bradford and Albright-Knox's director Janne Sirén, will give a talk at Art Basel next week on the role of art museums in social change.
There's no date for construction as of yet, although the next phase of the "envisioning process" will begin this September.
172 families currently reside in American architect Paul Rudolph's brutalist Shoreline Apartments housing complex in Buffalo, New York. Now, however, owners Norstar Development U.S.A., LLC have told tenants that they must leave by November 1 so demolition can continue. This is despite past promises that demolition would be phased over several years.
Plans for the demolition and the site's redevelopment are still to be approved by the Buffalo Planning Board, which could give the go ahead as early as June at the next Planning Board's meeting.
Completed in 1974, the complex was bought by Norstar Development who planned a $14 million overhaul of the site, replacing the former 426 units with eight new buildings, accommodating 48 apartments. According to news agency WIVB, current tenants are now panicking as they scramble to find low-cost housing alternatives.
“I think we are being scammed,” said one, “I think we are being railroaded.” Roy Gilbert, who resides in the complex on Niagara Street with his two daughters said, “They are trying to bring the higher people from the outskirts of the City of Buffalo down here, and take the lower income people and move them out.”
“I think they are trying to get the fixed income people out—the minorities, the disabled—out of here, and get the people that have those jobs in here,” another tenant added. Meanwhile, Linda Goodman, Vice President of Norstar Development replied saying that “Although we could not give them anything definitive, we are working on a plan to help with assistance financially.”
Rudolph's buildings are no stranger to being the subject of scorn. Last year, his Orange County Government Center was in line to be demolished, dubbed an "eyesore and financial drain." That same year however, the late Zaha Hadid came to Rudolph's rescue penning a letter in the New York Times. "Rudolph’s work is pure, but the beauty is in its austerity. There are no additions to make it polite or cute. It is what it is," she said.
On the subject of social housing, the Robin Hood Gardens Estate in East London by the Smithson's is currently enduring a similar fate to Rudolph's Shoreline Apartments. Likewise, support for its conservation has come from another esteemed British architect, in this case Richard Rogers who, incidentally was a student of Rudolph's at Yale University.
Back in Buffalo, Goodman told WIVB that Norstar will be sending out updates plans to residents.
Some claim that the city of Buffalo, New York, was not named for the large plains mammal but for the beau fleuve, the beautiful Niagara River, that empties into Lake Erie near the city. Regardless of whether this story is true or apocryphal, it's undeniable that Buffalo is reprising its environmental heritage with the Green Code, a comprehensive update to the city's zoning and land use regulations.
Approved by the city council on October 22nd, the Green Code follows Denver, Cincinnati, Miami, and others, employing form based codes to cultivate a specific aesthetic and program for Buffalo's 24 neighborhoods and 94,000 parcels.
The Green Code marks a shift in the city's development trajectory and self-conception. Ideas for the code began 2006, with the Comprehensive Plan, but its development started in earnest in 2010. It is the first comprehensive update to the city code since 1953, and the first land use overhaul since 1977. Buffalo's Office of Strategic Planning partnered with Chicago-based planning firm Camiros and Goody Clancy, Buffalo's Fisher Associates, Watts Architecture & Engineering, and the Urban Design Project to formulate the code.
The length and complexity of the old code frustrated homeowners, businesses, and developers, city officials claim. The code's deep dives into the minutia of fence height and sidewalk width often stymied major development. Edits, with an emphasis on explanatory graphics, reduce the length of the code from 1,802 pages to 322.
The old code encourage rigid land use programs: factories in one area, commercial/retail in another, and housing in a third. The Green Code is more flexible, promoting new urbanist ideals like form based codes, which regulate space primarily on the physical form of a building, not its use. The development the Green Code promotes is decidedly mixed use and urban, incorporating smart growth principles and density metrics. The code places special emphasis on revitalizing the waterfront and rehabilitating brownfield opportunity areas.
Portland still dominates the American Community Survey ranking the 70 largest cities with the highest share of bike commuters, but the list shakes up some preconceptions when you count which cities had the largest growth in the share of bicycle commuters from 2000 to 2013.
The League of American Bicyclists runs the numbers every year, pulling data from the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey. This year's bike culture report card, as it were, has Portland, Washington, San Francisco, Minneapolis, and New Orleans topping its list of bicycle commuters as a percentage of total population. In total 13 cities report more than 2 percent of their population biking to and from work.
Growth in that number is more startling. They're small overall numbers, perhaps inflating the percent change figure, but the growth since 1990 for eight cities is over 100 percent. The following cities had the largest growth in the share of bicycle commuters from 2000 to 2013:
The Circus for Construction has taken its gallery-meets-event space on the road this fall, bringing a mix of dialogue and exhibitions on contemporary art and architecture practices, via a custom-built truck, to several east coast cities. After winning a competition by Storefront for Art and Architecture last May, this traveling Circus— conceived by Ann Lui, Ashley Mendelsohn, Larisa Ovalles, Craig Reschke and Ben Widger— got its wheels thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign.
The design team— involved in every step of the process from conception to build out— transformed a 25-foot-long trailer and pick-up truck into the mobile Circus after six weeks of construction in August. Designed to adapt to different sites and programming needs, the truck is outfitted with exterior panels that serve a dual purpose as peg boards and shading components, while interior aluminum frames can be adjusted to increase the height of the space to allow for large-scale works and also for projecting images in the evening.
The Circus began its journey in East Boston, and then headed north, to Buffalo, where it parked on the grounds of the abandoned Silo City, and invited local speakers to discuss “Buffalo’s Radical Re-imagining.” Next up, they’ll make stops in Downtown Boston (where AN's own Bill Menking will speak about the Architecture Lobby), and Ithaca. If this three-ring circus hasn’t rolled up to your city yet, you can stream the workshops, lectures, and live events on Circus TV, available on the project's website.
Manufacturing is returning to Buffalo, New York in a big way. In late September, SolarCity broke ground on a 1.2-million-square-foot solar panel manufacturing plant that will be the biggest facility of its kind in the Western Hemisphere. The company, which Elon Musk chairs, is investing $5 billion into the project that will rise on the site of a former Republic Steel factory. When fully operational, the panels produced at the factory are expected to generate one gigawatt of energy, that's roughly enough power to power 145,000 homes.
New York State has also put forth significant funds for the project. "Under the deal with SolarCity," explained the Buffalo News, "the state will spend $350 million to build the sprawling factory on South Park Avenue and provide $400 million in funding for equipment, with the state following the economic development model that it used to build up the semiconductor industry in the Albany area. Under that model, the state invests in state-of-the-art facilities and equipment that typically are too costly for companies to acquire on their own and then signs agreements with companies, like SolarCity, that want to access it."
The facility is expected to open in 2016 and provide 3,000 jobs for the Buffalo region, according to the Cuomo administration.
It is well-known that Frank Lloyd Wright was an automobile enthusiast, both foreseeing the prominence that this form of personal mobility would occupy in American life and, indeed, laying much of the foundation of how architecture might be designed for and around the car. Less-known is the fact that in 1927 he designed a gas station for Buffalo, New York, which was never built—or never until very recently.
Nearly 90 years after its design, the Buffalo Transportation Pierce-Arrow Museum has constructed Wright's vision of where Americans might fill their tanks. As of today, Friday, June 27, visitors to the museum will be able to experience Wright's design first hand, a rather idealistic vision that imagines the gas station as a comfortable, enjoyable, even civilized destination.
The two-story facility features an observation deck, copper roof, and gravity fed pumps. Buffalo Filling Station, as it is called, will remain on permanent view at the Pierce-Arrow, where it will join the museum's extensive collection of historic automobiles, bicycles, and transportation memorabilia.
Wright did design one gas station that did get built—in Cloquet, Minnesota. That station proudly displays the sign, "The World's Only Frank Lloyd Wright Service Station."
The Congress for the New Urbanism has released their annual list of Freeways Without Futures. The organization selected the top 10 urban American (and one Canadian) highways most in need of removal. The final list was culled from nominations from more than 50 cities. Criteria for inclusion included age of the freeway, the potential that removal would have to positively effect the areas where the roadways are currently situated, and the amount of momentum to realize such removals. Additionally the CNU highlighted campaigns in Dallas, the Bronx, Pasadena, Buffalo, and Niagra Falls, that are taking significant steps towards removing freeways (some of which have been included in past lists) as illustrations of broader institutional and political shifts on urban infrastructural thinking.
I-10/Claiborne Overpass - New Orleans
The already aging Interstate 10 was heavily damaged in 2005 during Hurricane Katrina. The Unified New Orleans Plan (UNOP) suggested that the removal of the elevated portion of the highway would allow for the reclamation of 35 to 40 city blocks and 20 to 25 blocks of open space. With the help of public engagement Livable Claiborne Communities outlined a plan for a similar removal that would improve living conditions in the neighborhood in the immediate vicinity of the expressway.
I-81 - Syracuse
This road, including an elevated portion that runs through downtown Syracuse, was built in the 60's. Advocates for the transformation of the most urban portion of the freeway could be replaced by a boulevard that would connect neighborhoods, inject economic activity into the area, and be cheaper to maintain. Numerous local politicians have spoken in favor of such a plan and the Syracuse Metropolitan Transportation Council and the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) co-led the I-81 Challenge to examine traffic patterns and alternatives to the current state of the highway.
Gardiner Expressway - Toronto
Unpopular with local citizens, the overworked Expressway requires more than $10 million annually in repairs. Recently, the City of Toronto and WATERFRONToronto finished work on the Gardiner Expressway & Lake Shore Boulevard Reconfiguration Environmental Assessment & Urban Design Study which will dictate the future of the portion of the Gardiner overlooking Lake Ontario.
Route 5/Skyway - Buffalo
The Skyway Bridge and Route 5 mar public views of the Buffalo River, diminish land values, and create a web of confusing traffic patterns predicated on inefficient one-way streets. The Department of Transportation rates the Skyway bridge as "fracture critical" while the Federal Highway Administration classifies the bridge as "functionally obsolete." It is likely to cost more than $50 million to maintain over the next two decades.
Inner Loop - Rochester
The Loop was built for the city Rochester once was, rather than the shrunken metropolis that stands today. For this reason much of the beltway carries traffic that could easily be carried by a urban avenue. Furthermore it constricts the downtown area, inhibiting development and isolating adjacent neighborhoods. In 2012 the city was awarded a USDOT TIGER grant to replace the eastern portion of the Loop with a two lane boulevard flanked by street parking.
I-70 - St. Louis
I-70 separates the city from the waterfront of the Mississippi River and Saarinen's iconic arch. Calls for bridging this divide by converting the expressway into an urban boulevard have been long simmering. Park Over The Highway is a $380 million project for a park and pedestrian and bike path that leaps I-70 in connecting the city to the area abutting the river.
I-280 - San Francisco
Meant to be part of a larger web of freeways that was ultimately halted by mid-century protests, the removal of this highway stub would increase the land values of the area by $80 million according to a report by Fourth and King Street Railyards. Replacing the strip with a urban boulevard would open the area for further redevelopment and allow for greater fluidity between neighborhoods. The city's Center for Architecture + Design has hosted a design competition for such a project.
I-375 - Detroit
This 1.06 mile strip served to divide portions of the city and contributed to the isolation and subsequent decay of once thriving black neighborhoods. Detroit's drop in population has lead to a 13% decrease in usage since 2009. In December of 2013, Detroit's Downtown Development Authority moved forward with alternative plans for the highway, with particular focus on converting the road into a more pedestrian-friendly thoroughfare.
Terminal Island Freeway - Long Beach
As it stands the freeway currently serves a mere 14,000 vehicles a day, numbers that could drop further if plans to expand the Intermodal Container Transfer Facility come to fruition, a development that would redirect significant freight traffic in the area. Local nonprofit urban design studio City Fabrick have spear-headed a movement to convert the road into a greenbelt that would act as a buffer between residential districts and industrial port infrastructure. In 2013 the plan was awarded a Caltrans grant.
Aetna Viaduct - Hartford
This 3/4 mile stretch of elevated expressway was completed in 1965. In running directly through downtown Hartford the Viaduct destroyed historic architecture, public spaces, and severed inter-community links once easily traversed by foot. Initially set for costly re-surfacing that would increase its lifespan by 20 years, new plans are being considered for the heavily-trafficked road. Hartford officials and Capitol Region Council of Governments (CRCOG) are currently considering plans to re-align nearby rail tracks that would open 15-20 acres of nearby land for redevelopment.
2013 has proven to be a difficult year for post-war concrete architecture. While some iconic structures have managed to emerge from the maelstrom of demolition attempts unharmed, including M. Paul Friedberg’s Peavy Plaza in Minneapolis and (tentatively) the Paul Rudolph–designed Orange County Government Center in Goshen, New York (the fate of which still remains uncertain), others have been less lucky.
John Johansen’s daring Mummers Theater in Oklahoma City, Richard Neutra’s Gettysburg Cyclorama and, more recently, Bertrand Goldberg’s Prentice Woman’s Hospital in Chicago have all been doomed to the wrecking ball. Despite architectural historian Michael R. Allen's claim that the demolition of the Prentice’ Woman’s Hospital would be Modernism’s “Penn Station Moment,” the trend still pushes on.
The next in line to fight for its survival is a set of Paul Rudolph buildings in Buffalo, New York. Tomorrow, November 6, at 8:15 a.m., the Buffalo City Planning Board will convene to decide the fate of five buildings included in Rudolph’s 9.5-acre Shoreline Apartment complex.
Completed in 1972, the 142-unit low-income housing development was featured in both the September 1972 issue of Architectural Record as well as the 1970 exhibition at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Like many of their contemporaries, the inventive, complex forms and admirable social aspirations of the development have been overshadowed by disrepair, crime, and startling vacancy rates (30 percent in 2006 according to Buffalo Rising). Now, Norstar Development USA, who have owned the property since 2006, are moving forward with their plans to replace five of Rudolph’s complex, brutalist townhouses with eight new buildings containing 48 new housing units.
"With few exceptions, Paul Rudolph's buildings can be recognized by their complexity, their sculptural details, their effects of scale and their texture,” wrote Arthur Drexler, the longstanding Director of MoMA’s Architecture and Design Department, in 1970. Drexler exhibited Rudolph’s original, much more dramatic scheme for Buffalo’s Shoreline Apartments alongside pending projects by Philip Johnson and Kevin Roche in an exhibition entitled Work in Progress. The projects on display were compiled to represent a commitment “to the idea that architecture, besides being technology, sociology and moral philosophy, must finally produce works of art.”
Rudolph’s original scheme, composed of monumental, terraced, prefabricated housing structures, provided an ambitious alternative to high-rise dwelling that was meant to recall the complexity and intimacy of old European settlements. Drexler wrote in the exhibition brief that, despite the project’s massive scale, it was “designed to suggest human use, affording both inhabitants and passersby a kaleidoscopic variety."
The Shoreline Apartments that stand today represent a scaled down version of the original plan. Featuring shed roofs, ribbed concrete exteriors, projecting balconies and enclosed gardens, the project combined Rudolph’s spatial radicalism with experiments in human-scaled, low-rise, high-density housing developments. The project's weaving, snake-like site plan was meant to create active communal green spaces, but, like those of most if its contemporaries, the spaces went unused, fracturing the fabric of Buffalo.
Since 2006, Norstar Development has reportedly spent $19 million sprucing up the complex, adding new facades, windows, and railings to some of the buildings, and combining smaller apartments to make larger family units. The next step of their redevelopment includes the demolition of five currently-vacant Rudolph buildings. This is only “Phase 1” of Norstar’s operation, so stay tuned for more (heart)breaking news from the Queen City.