Tag Archives: architecture

How to Suck

28 Oct

Former WNYMedia.net 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.

Prospectus Day, Texas Style

29 Mar

Many business and real estate watchers in Buffalo, including our own Mark Byrnes, eagerly look forward to the Buffalo New’s Prospectus Day, where the sunniest of forecasts shine an upbeat light on Buffalo’s economic future. It was with great excitement, therefore, that this morning, after getting my free coffee in the hotel lobby, I opened the Killeen Daily Herald to find the 2010 Progress Report for Central Texas.

Killeen is a miserable town populated with miserable people. Located north of Austin and south of Waco and the Dallas – Ft Worth monstrosity, Killeen exists because Fort Hood exists. If Americans have now heard of Fort Hood, it is probably because of the terrorist shooting that took place there in November by the radicalized Muslim shrink Nidal Hasan. But Fort Hood is more than that – it is also the largest military post in the world, headquarters of III Corps, the 1st Cavalry Division, 3rd Armored Calvary Regiment, and major elements of the 4th Infantry Division. There are more soldiers stationed at Fort Hood (over 70,000) than in most nation’s entire standing armies, including Canada, Argentina and Australia. Killeen exists to feed, house and satisfy those soldiers and their families, in a community of nearly 400,000, organized as a twenty five mile long stripmall along the main highway.

Buffalonians will recognize most of the business points of pride from today’s Progress Report. Strong banks that stayed local and didn’t get hurt by the real estate bubble. $25 million in new construction of senior assisted living complexes. New restaurants and shops in a “revitalized” downtown. $4.6 million in public money to renovate a historic church, and convert it into government offices and a non-profit incubator. Federal highway stimulus dollars that kept construction companies busy repaving streets. A modest rise in the unemployment rate, and real estate prices that have stayed level, despite the national trends. A new focus on specialty manufacturing, including recruiting Osh Kosh and Raytheon, and back office professional services and call centers, for Sallie Mae and Convergys.  Record enplanements at a new airport, $100 million expansion at the major hospital, and new initiatives to recruit doctors to new specialty clinics. Sound sickeningly familiar yet?

There is one major point, however, where the stories diverge: population. Buffalo’s is going down, and Killeen, the third fastest growing metro in Texas, can’t keep up with its rise. The north east is taking a beating in the population race, and it is losing more match ups than just Buffalo vs. Charlotte or Pittsburgh vs. Houston. The real drubbing occurs with Syracuse vs. Killeen, where every “little town” in Texas is swelling to the point of bursting.

Killeen is proof that good planning, “authenticity,” great architecture, history, and regional pride are not required to be an economic powerhouse – it is telling that you can’t find a single picture of the town anywhere on the Chamber of Commerce website. $500 million a year in military construction on Fort Hood sure helps, as d0 100,000 local federal jobs. But you know what doesn’t stand in the way? Ugliness, or having US 190 as your main street:

Yes, that is an eight lane highway, and three medians, running through the center of town. Every Walmart, TGIF, and Holiday Inn is along this highway, as is half of the Killeen population, stuck in traffic, at any particular moment. Because Texas traffic engineers love one way frontage roads, with a complicated U-turn system, most trips in Killeen involve driving two miles east to get a half mile west.

What’s the point? That Buffalo’s perceived strengths have become universal, if even Killeen boats the same advantages in its yearly business pep rally rag. That government jobs are a main source of economic growth in other markets too. And that lousy infrastructure seems easily overcome when other economic forces are in the driver’s seat (pun intended).

Buffalo: Architecture in the American Forgotten Land

18 Dec

Architect, author/photographer, Buffalo Rising contributor, and frequent Buffalo Pundit commenter David Steele has a book out, and he’s doing a presentation and book signing tonight. He sends along the details:

My book presentation and signing is Friday December 18, 2009. Please join me if you can for a presentation of my new book on Buffalo Architecture and spread the word to others.

The event is sponsored by Preservation Buffalo Niagara. It is at the spectacular City Hall 13th floor council chamber

Presentation starts at 5:15. There will be a signing before and after the presentations.

Book singing before and after the presentation. More information can be found here and here.

Other speakers include Richard Reisem and Photographer Andy Olenick

I promise to show some amazing photos!

Buffalo: Architecture in the American Forgotten Land – is available for sale at the event, at Talking Leaves Books, at the Martin House Wisteria Shop, At the Historical Museum gift shop and online at http://www.blurb.com

See the book here
Buffalo: Architecture in the American Forgotten Land (www.buffbuildings.com)

Pitts Hotel

7 Dec

The highest and best use of Buffalo’s waterfront isn’t just CanalSide. It’s also the shittiest hotel ever located in a “neighborhood” with the shittiest architecture ever. So, it would follow that the shittiest food ever should be in the outparcels, although they would interfere with the precious, scarce parking there.


Sense, Indeed

14 May

The largest Apple store in the world opens on Boston’s Boylston Street on Thursday morning. It is located just inside Boston’s famous/infamous Back Bay Architectural District. Let’s just say that this organization does not make it easy for developers in the tony Back Bay.

Here’s what the store looks like:

(Photo courtesy CKelly at Flickr)

The store is literally eight years in the making, and the preservationists did not make this remotely easy for Apple.

Preliminary design proposals for Apple Computer’s first Boston store got a cool reception last night from the Back Bay Architectural Commission, but several commissioners said a revised design might address their concerns.

Apple hopes to demolish a small building at 815 Boylston St., which is occupied by a Copy Cop store at street level, and build a flagship store across from the Prudential Center.

Projects involving the demolition of an existing building in the Back Bay Architectural District generally require the commission’s approval

Sounds almost Buffalonian, no?

One concept presented was a three-story building whose front would be largely glass. The building would likely have a green roof, said Bob Bridger, an Apple vice president of retail development.

Glass. Green roof. Definitely modern. Definitely different, given the brownstone-y nature of that neighborhood. But this is the quote that helped to underscore how similar Buffalo and Boston are:

Donna Prince, an alternate on the commission, acknowledged that the design was ”beautiful,” but that it ”doesn’t have a sense of place.”

Luckily, Apple prevailed, and the glass, green building opens tomorrow for business.

Here’s the building with “sense of place” that it replaces:

Photo courtesy Clarkwood at Flickr.