Tag Archives: design

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.

The Common Tern Memorial International Crossing (aka Peace Bridge)

15 Dec

Governor Paterson’s office has released five alternate bridge designs (.pdf) from which to choose and reject, and about which to argue.

Thank God they all contain the words “Signature Bridge”. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be signature bridges. Or something. I’m pretty sure we’ll still be talking about this in 2019.

Some Good News for Buffalo

3 Mar

The Elmwood Village now has uniform design standards, and they’re not advisory – they’re the law.

…lawmakers approved new standards that would require developers to build structures close to sidewalks, locate parking lots in the rear, and advance mixed-use projects that would include upper-floor apartments over businesses.

There would also be new restrictions on demolitions, tougher public notification procedures before development occurs, and dozens of other requirements. Mayor Byron W. Brown supports the new design guidelines, a spokesman said last week. But the mayor also wants to make sure concerns raised by the city Planning Board are addressed, spokesman Peter K. Cutler said.

Last week, the Planning Board warned that some new restrictions could foster a “cookie-cutter approach” to development along Elmwood.

But the executive director of the Elmwood Village Association disagreed, insisting the new standards will protect a thriving commercial strip from seeing the type of big-box retail development that occurs in other areas, including imposing signs. “We never want to see these things on Elmwood Avenue. That’s cookie-cutter,” said Justin Azzarella.

On the positive end, at least now developers wanting to build or rebuild along Elmwood will know exactly what’s expected of them, and what they’re getting into. I don’t quite understand what big-box retail has to do with anything, but I’m sure there was a phenomenally compelling reason for Mr. Azzarella to bring it up.

Saturn Dealers Don’t Want to Close

19 Feb

Some Saturn dealers, upon hearing that GM wants to kill the brand, want to spin the marque off from GM. Recall that Saturn dealerships are singular and free-standing.

I would tend to agree with this notion, because it’s become quite evident that the domestic automakers’ attempts to compete with Japanese, Korean, and European cars have almost uniformly become a game of catch-up. So, if Chevy, GMC, Pontiac, Buick, and Cadillac can’t compete effectively with Honda, Toyota, Nissan, Acura, Lexus, BMW, Mercedes, or VW, it makes some sense to retain the Saturn dealership network and use it to try and compete.

Because Saturn was just getting interesting.

After a decade, give or take, of selling tinny crap with plastic doors that looked like it was designed in 1988, Saturn was starting to get good. The Aura, the new Vue, the Astra, the Outlook – these are not only good cars, a couple of them are cars I’ve actually considered buying because they’re well built and well designed.

Saturn is supposed to get the new Opel Insignia, which is about as close to BMW luxury as a domestic automaker would ever get for under $30,000. The Astra is built in Belgium. The Outlook is as good as the last-generation Honda Pilot.

So the Saturn dealers might be able to band together and keep the brand alive through a deal with Opel, GM’s European brand. Opel is the source of the Insignia (Vectra’s new name, and the 2011 Aura), the Astra, and could decide to bring the Meriva and the Zafira – its mini-MPVs – to the states to compete with the Mazda5 and the European Fords that are supposed to start being shipped over here soon. The Corsa could easily compete with the Toyota Yaris or Honda Fit. Opel offers an entire range of stylish and fuel-efficient vehicles. With some tweaking, its diesel engines could be adopted stateside.

On the other hand, if GM puts Saturn for sale, it might provide one of the Chinese automakers like Brilliance or BYD an entree into this market. On the other hand, there have been rumors that Renault might be looking to re-enter the US market, and a ready-made distribution and dealership network are just waiting to be gobbled up. (My personal preference would be to see Škoda come to the US. Their cars are more conservatively styled than VW’s, cheaper, and better-built.)

Even though the economy is in the tank right now, this is not going exist in perpetuity. Now is a good time for an ambitious company to strike on re-entering the US market to compete on the design and fuel-efficiency front.

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.


There’s a White Chevy Cruze in Town

4 Dec

When I see a small Chevy that resembles a Honda Civic driving around at night in the rain, and catch only a glimpse – enough to recognize the make, but not the model, and it has a European plate frame on the front, but no front plate, it had to be a Chevy Cruze. And it was on Sheridan near North Forest a couple of nights ago.

Well, I’m 99.9% sure that it’s a Chevy Cruze, and if anyone has any information about who’s got it, I’d love to take a look at it and possibly a spin. I think the Cruze is a huge part of GM’s future, and may be a first step for a domestic automaker to realize that small cars don’t have to be entry-level tinboxes, but can have great design, great interiors, and great performance as well as class-leading fuel economy.

Tielman, Continued

10 Dec


In our ongoing attempt to tag team issues with our differing approaches and attitudes, BuffaloPundit posted a comprehensive and intellectual response to Tim Tielman’s WBFO interview. During the 20 minute interview, Tielman stated his desire to move the proposed second span of the Peace Bridge upriver, re-route the I-190 onto abandoned railroad tracks, and build teacup rides underneath the Skyway.

Buffalo, V2.0, Designed by Tim Tielman.

Well, no intellectual response here…seeing as how I have limited time, let me dispense with some quick analysis of his I-190 plan in bulleted fashion.

  • I’m sure that Tim is a nice guy and he is certainly well-intentioned, however, I can’t imagine meeting someone in Buffalo that I disagree with more often than I do with him.
  • The base premise of re-routing what amounts to two to three miles of the I-190 away from Riverside into the Tonawanda Rail Corridor seems like a good idea on the surface. Until, of course, one contemplates just what would be involved with such an endeavor. Seeing as how we are currently celebrating the 20th anniversary of planning and design for two miles of roadway on the Outer Harbor (where no one lives), I find it to be a tall task to convince the thousands of people who will now have a highway running through their backyards to sacrifice for the better of the waterfront.
  • The people who live along the rail corridor will undoubtedly be up in arms over the idea of running an Interstate through their backyards and will fight the idea to the death. An assumption? Not really…have you just moved to Buffalo? Welcome to NIMBY/BANANA central, baby.
  • Years of EIS, surveying, public comment periods, design, phases of design, further public comment periods, lawsuits, challenges, and arguments will take the better part of a generation to achieve consensus on such a plan.
  • Without an idea of cost estimates and no political will to accomplish a massive highway project that could run into the hundreds of millions, what is the direct benefit to the public? Governments tend to approach these types of projects using a cost/benefit analysis. Will it drastically better the lives of the majority of people in the region to invest a significant chunk of available highway monies into such a reconfiguration? If arguing that the idea of traffic = bad, are we not simply shifting the problem?
  • Congress tends to fund projects of this scope in areas where there is a significant demand or economic significance. Highway expansion and removal projects are typically reserved for areas where there will be tangible benefits to the region as a whole. Dallas, Denver, Phoenix, Atlanta, Seattle, etc. are all competing for federal highway dollars and have a definite need, becaus they are, ya know, growing.
  • What does this do to reconnect the downtown street grid that is currently separated by the I-190? Nothing. After all, why redesign roadways in an effort to improve the economic and development climate when you can redesign them so we can have yet another park on the waterfront.
  • As an aside, rather than planning pie in the sky proposals, can Tielman come up with some plan to move the sewage plant somewhere else? The stretch of the I-190 near the old Breckenridge toll booths, Squaw Island Park and Scajaquada stinks to absolute high heaven. Talk about past planning boners…
  • Finally, can we stop with the endless piecemeal proposals to rehabilitate Buffalo’s Waterfront? Can we build one master regional plan with sections devoted to the waterfront, highways, road improvements, infrastructure, public utilities, businesses, parks, etc? This is growing quite tedious that every swingin’ dick with a pencil and a cocktail napkin can get airplay for a cockamamie idea. We’re all guilty.

In the end, this project can be filed under “wouldn’t it be nice” rather than “need to have it”. As always it comes back to the same issue…it’s the economy, stupid.

The presence or non-presence of a roadway along the waterfront is not an inhibitor to local economic development. There, I said it. The economy is an inhibitor to waterfront development.

If we focused instead on fixing our local economy, lowering our collective tax burden, incenting companies to build here, and creating jobs, there would be an impetus to design and implement such projects. Tielman’s plan is “cart before the horse” as they say…

Until we get to the point where Buffalo and Western New York are again economically viable businsess locations, projects like this will simply be fodder for blogs and public radio.

Wow, that wasn’t very quick, now was it?

Welcome to WNYMedia.net, Version 2.1

4 Dec

A few months back, we went to a new uniform design that we had hoped would streamline delivery of our content and provide for a better overall user experience. Well, that didn’t work out so well. The uniform repudiation of the new design was heard loud and clear and we have been busy (in our after work hours) to bring the sexy back.

We asked our good friend Nathan Strang to design us a whole new template for the frontpage and for use by the bloggers. We decided to roll out this new template to a few of our bloggers at first so we can gauge reaction and make tweaks as necessary. The individual WNYMedia.net bloggers will be able to again choose from a set of templates to best suit their individual personalities/organizations.

So, no more black template, no more uniform look across all sites, no more untweakable sidebars, no more limited SEO, and on with what we hope will be a building block for bigger and better things.

If you like it, let us know. If you don’t, well, tell us that too. If you want to host a blog here or move your existing blog over to WNYMedia, we’re always looking for fresh contributors.

Much Better

4 Dec

So, it was only a day late, but here’s the present I was alluding to the other day. A new template. Black on white, easier to read, cleaner design, proper WordPress template. The blogroll is back in full effect, and I’ve neglected it, so if you want your site added, or you find a link that goes to something that hasn’t been updated in over six months, drop me a note.

Also in the sidebar you’ll see my Twitter feed. Twitter can be described as a microblogging platform, and generally Tweets answer the question, “What are you doing?”.

Welcome the return of a search box at the top, and “recent comments”/”recent posts” in the sidebar. There’s also a drop-down box for archived material going back to April 2005, when I first used WordPress at WNYMedia.net.

Anyhow, if you see anything you like or don’t like, as always, let me know.