Another Reason to Move to Buffalo: The Architecture Is Amazing

City Hall in Buffalo, NY
credit: Kayla Jonas

A year ago I wrote If You Really Want To Get Off Oil, Move To Buffalo, about its incredible infrastructure. I wrote:

A hundred years ago Buffalo was known as "The City of Light"- "so abundant was the electricity delivered by the falls and Westinghouse generators. The electricity would be an added draw for firms, such as Union Carbide and the Aluminum Company of America, that needed plentiful power." It was a shipping powerhouse as well, moving 2 million bushels of grain per year through the Erie Canal to New York. But then, post World War II, it began its long decline, along with other cities along the canal and in the midwest's "Rust Belt."
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Guaranty Building

credit: Kayla Jonas

I concluded:

So many of those things that caused the trouble for cities like Buffalo, like suburban sprawl, the private automobile and air conditioning, are looking less and less tenable every day. What our Great Lakes cities have to prepare for is a reverse migration, to attract people back to cities like Detroit and Buffalo.

And indeed, while at the

conference in Buffalo, that is what I saw, a rebirth and revitalization of a city that I remembered very differently. Old industrial buildings were being turned into lofts, you could eat off the floors of the bus station, the streets were clean and the people just couldn't do enough for you.

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Guaranty Building Detail

credit: Kayla Jonas

Sullivan and Adler's Guaranty Building is one of the most important in the country, a modern steel frame covered in gorgeous terracotta. Sullivan said "It must be every inch a proud and soaring thing, rising in sheer exultation that from bottom to top it is a unit without a single dissenting line," and it is. Designed to take advantage of the supply of electricity from Niagara Falls, it was truly one of the first modern skyscrapers.

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Statler Hotel

credit: Kayla Jonas

All over town, buildings are being upgraded and restored. I wrote about the Statler in The History of the Bathroom Part 3: Putting Plumbing Before People; it was the first hotel in North America to have a bathroom in every room. It has been empty for years, but its ballroom was restored in time for the convention. Hopefully soon they will restore their website.

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Darwin Martin House

credit: Iwan Bann

Frank Lloyd Wright was big here too, and while the City has not been forgiven for letting the Larkin Building be demolished, it has made amends with the magnificent restoration of the Darwin Martin House, which Frank Lloyd Wright modestly called " the most perfect thing of its kind in the world- a domestic symphony, true, vital, comfortable."

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Kleinhans Hall

credit: Lloyd Alter

Everywhere you go, the great names of American architecture jump out at you. The Kleinhans Music Hall was designed by Eliel Saarinen and his young son Eero, who went on to design wonders like the TWA terminal at Kennedy Airport and the "Black Rock" headquarters of CBS.

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Richardson Olmsted

credit: Barbara Campana

H. H. Richardson was only 30 when he designed the Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane in 1869, with Olmsted & Vaux. It has been vacant for decades, but is now being restored. Architect Barbara Campana describes the lessons one can learn from it:

What this complex still has to offer from its original design are passive design features which make use of the building’s siting, its durable materials, lots of natural light and beautiful landscape to spare – all key features of any green design today and the kind of design that will help you achieve LEED platinum.
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Visiting Richardson Olmsted

credit: Lloyd Alter

The Richardson Olmsted building is rarely opened, but was during the national Trust conference, for visitors and to Buffalonians. As there is no fire protection or proper exits, only 150 people were allowed in at a time, and we had to stand for 45 minutes in freezing rain for our turn. I never saw so many cheerful architecture fans willing to go through such hell to see a building. When I left, I was running down the driveway chasing a cab, a cop in a police car pulled up beside me and rolled down his window. I expected a few questions like why I was running in the dark, and instead was asked "want a lift?" and drove me back to where I could catch a bus downtown. That has never, ever happened to me before.

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Olmsted Parks

credit: Buffalo Olmsted parks

Then there is the absolutely extraordinary network of parks designed by Frederick Law Olmsted.

Found lacing throughout the city, the 1200- acre Olmsted parklands are connected along shady avenues and parkways linking together six major parks. Punctuated by planted traffic circles, the parkway system invites urban dwellers to step outside their homes and walk to a nearby park under the shade of mature trees, Buffalo’s “green lungs.” The Olmsted Parks are at the heart of a proven restoration strategy that builds healthy communities and healthy citizens.
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credit: Kayla Jonas

I was not in Buffalo for very long; I did not go to the parts of town where there are 10,000 abandoned houses. But what I did see took me completely by surprise. Here is a city with water, railways, electricity, a temperate climate and affordable housing. It has a booming neighbor to the north. It has both infrastructure and architecture that can't be matched. As I noted in my earlier post:

Our rust belt cities have water, electricity, surrounding farmland, railways and even canals. Phoenix doesn't. In not too long, these attributes are going to look very attractive.