How to Suck

28 Oct

Former writer and current fellow at the Atlantic Cities, Mark Byrnes (you may remember him from such blogs as “All Things Buffalo“), now expatriated to Baltimore, MD, comments on Brian’s thought-provoking postmortem on the big preservationist conference that rolled into town last week. I reprint it here because I think it’s spot-on, but also because it’s a very clear and concise rebuttal on the “at least they’re trying” coddling of mediocrity in which we engage too often here in Buffalo.

Let’s look at stuff done by local firms only so KPF’s courthouse design is excluded.

The two things that stand out to me as genuinely good architecture by a local firm is 285 Delaware (by HHL) and the Northhamton Lofts @ Artspace, also by HHL (although I believe they recieved significant assistance from a Toronto firm on that design). Cannon is technically local but they know their market well, they know Buffalo is fine with crap so they usually give their clients crap (I’m oversimplifying for the sake of my argument but w/e).

Niagara Center was right before Buffalo Rising, and if that site existed, maybe they would not have gotten away with such crap. But with that location and those clients and that scale of a project-its the most embarrassing building done in Buffalo in my lifetime.

And the Avant is an amazing project that you can’t question. But if you want to pick nits, the curvy form on delaware that pops out is awkward and could have been handled infinitely better (the original drawing was much worse). I feel bad critiquing it because its such a great project but there are some subtly laughable design elements inside and out to those who care.

But it’s not just architecture. Web design is awful in Buffalo because no one cares to pay for a good website, so the good web designers leave (12 Grain Studio is a rare exception). There are no standards for typography or print design in general (Hero, White Bicycle, Montague/Fraser/, Block Club, Martin Group are rare exceptions).

Basically, Buffalo’s problem is that no one is allowed to say that something sucks as long as someone really tries (see what happens when someone tells Newell on BRO that his writing is atrocious). I was not a good designer until I left because I couldn’t find people who had the background or the balls to tell me my stuff was shitty. No one felt comfortable telling me my writing needed serious improvement until I moved away. Buffalo needs to be okay with being told we suck as long as it comes from a good place that is meant to help point us in a better direction.

All of that is so incredibly true. Something to think about. Have a nice day.

20 Responses to “How to Suck”

  1. Ethan October 28, 2011 at 8:14 am #

    Well, ok- but there’s a huge difference between constructive criticism and telling people they suck, no?  Or as my mother always told me: always be humble but correct.

    • Alan Bedenko October 28, 2011 at 8:43 am #

      Sometimes, telling someone something sucks is quite constructive indeed.

  2. tom October 28, 2011 at 8:39 am #

    I don’t think keyboard warrior criticism is useful at all. I think people getting into the arena and accomplishing things is useful. Do something beyond being critical.

    • Alan Bedenko October 28, 2011 at 8:43 am #

      tom – funniest comment this week. Thank you.

  3. Mark October 28, 2011 at 9:15 am #

    @Ethan- “telling someone they suck” in this context of my comment is just a blunt way of saying “critique”. 

  4. Jesse October 28, 2011 at 9:23 am #

    So if architecture sucks… it’s kind of too late, isn’t it?  The thing is built.

    I hate multi-colored brick office buildings like you see everywhere else in America.  We are really getting homogeneous and it’s sad.  Green code, shmeen code, I say the only rule should be “build it to look like it was built in the 1920’s”!

  5. Good Grief October 28, 2011 at 9:25 am #

    Holy shit. Totally right. I just read this piece and learned how to suck at life.

  6. Ward October 28, 2011 at 9:40 am #

    “Buffalo’s problem is that no one is allowed to say that something sucks as long as someone really tries.”

    Really? Buffalo is the Bitching Capital of the world. People bitch about their sports teams, about their politicians, about proposals for redevelopment, about proposed bridge designs, about Bass Pro, about food trucks, about food critics, about pizza, ad infinitum. Twenty years of proposed Peace Bridge designs simply sank into the quicksand of bitching.

    The truth is that everybody is allowed to say that everything sucks; and the result is nothing. Except, of course, that things get done when people like Rocco Termini refuse to listen to bitching.

    • Alan Bedenko October 28, 2011 at 10:09 am #

      Yes, but at least they tried. So it’s all positive!

  7. peteherr October 28, 2011 at 10:01 am #

    Painful as it is to say..I actually agree with Ward.

  8. Bbill October 28, 2011 at 10:17 am #

    Ward seems to be bitching about bitching.

  9. Pauldub October 28, 2011 at 10:52 am #

    No one pays attention to the critique. How can you learn from your mistakes if you refuse to admit you made one?

  10. Eric P. October 28, 2011 at 12:34 pm #

    What is the point?

    This post (and comments) suck.  I mean that in the most constructive possible way: and its coming form a “good place”.

    I hope that helps.


  11. Dan October 28, 2011 at 12:43 pm #

    > Web design is awful in Buffalo because no one cares to pay for a good website, so the good web designers leave (12 Grain Studio is a rare exception). There are no standards for typography or print design in general (Hero, White Bicycle, Montague/Fraser/, Block Club, Martin Group are rare exceptions).

    Something I’ve always said: Buffalo has a collective lack of design consciousness. Consider the crappy municipal Web sites compared to what you might see for peer communities elsewhere in the country. Consider amateurish business logos and signage, and the region’s embracing of Brush Script, a typeface that is otherwise despised among most designers, making it the region’s iconic typeface in the same way Gill Sans is so heavily associated with the UK. Consider the lack of architectural design and landscaping standards in local zoning codes. Consider the generic appearance of display ads for local businesses in the Buffalo News. Consider newspapers, both large and small, with a design aesthetic that places them solidly in the 1990s. So much of this is explained away by the homer crowd as “authenticity”; that real Buffalonians shun what seems too polished, too professional, too “fee-YAN-see”.

    Buffalo seems to forget that the little things in the public realm are all part of the big picture. Weeds left untouched along curbs. Street signs many left bent at odd angles for years. Rusted and mangled median dividers. Parking lots cluttered with massive white and red “PARKING RESTRICTED ALL OTHERS KEEP OUT” signs. Overpasses that reassure visitors the region’s “Rust Belt” nickname is well-deserved. Buffalonians think this is the norm throughout the country. It’s not.

    What do ordinary folks in Buffalo do with the historic houses they call home, the unique semi-bungalows and two-flats built in the 1920s that define the region’s architectural vernacular as much as what’s printed in the tourist guides? They cover them in asphalt and plastic. They enclose the porches that once provided eyes on the street which kept their neighborhood safe. They rip out the original wood railings and replace them with “clee-YASS-ee decorative iron, looking not to the Arts-and-Crafts movement that influenced the original design of their houses, but to Sopranos wannabes on Staten Island. They replace solid casement windows with smaller vinyl specials from Valu Home Center. They butcher their dwellings with an intensity and enthusiasm that just isn’t seen in peer cities with the same abundant frame housing stock.

    In short, Buffalonians don’t give a shit about their visual environment.

  12. Max October 28, 2011 at 1:20 pm #

    Well stated, Dan. All that you describe is the outcome of a collective lack of self esteem as well as regional self-loathing.

  13. STEEL October 28, 2011 at 1:37 pm #

    Hmm, Alan says I am not allowed to say things suck in Buffalo because I don’t live there but if a WNYMedia alum says Buffalo sucks from afar he is put on a pedestal. WTF?

  14. Dan October 28, 2011 at 2:17 pm #

    Thanks, Max. Unfortunately, my comments were deleted.

  15. MJC October 28, 2011 at 3:36 pm #

    I have always said that the problem with Buffalo is that it has too damn many Buffalonians in it.

  16. Eisenbart October 28, 2011 at 7:39 pm #

    These comments are great. I think you guys are honestly over thinking it.

  17. Black Rock Lifer October 29, 2011 at 10:22 am #

    Sounds like just more elitist bullshit. Can’t speak for the whole city but here in Black Rock nobody is afraid to tell you something sucks. In fact blunt honesty and realistic expectations sets us apart from the pretentious critics that rarely contribute anything other than their own opinions. We have doers here, people that actually accomplish things, one of them is worth a dozen whiners that always seem ready and willing to point out the shortcomings and problems we have here in WNY.

Contribute To The Conversation

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: