Buffalo, New York

Buffalo, New York

By Miyoko Ohtake
Last week I traveled back East to my hometown of Buffalo, New York. Though we may not be able to consistently win a football game, we Buffalonians do know good architecture when we see it. The Queen City has recently been praised for its buildings, as well as its livability, and for this installment of Three Buildings, I'm pointing you to my personal favorites.

The Darwin Martin House. Image courtesy Flickr user Gmeadows1.

Buffalo is blessed with numerous Frank Lloyd Wright buildings—and a community willing to invest in restoration and preservation. The most iconic FLW in the area is the Darwin Martin House, designed by Wright for Martin and his family and completed in 1905. Nestled in a residential neighborhood just a short walk from the Buffalo Zoo, the complex comprises the main house, a pergola, a conservatory, a carriage house, a stable house, and Barton House, built for Martin’s sister and brother-in-law.

Having grown up in Buffalo, I’ve been lucky enough to watch the restorations in progress—from tours of the main house during major renovations to the reconstruction of the pergola, conservatory, and carriage house, to a backstage glimpse at the efforts to return original furniture to the home when I wrote an article years ago as a summer intern at The Buffalo News.

The Eleanor and Wilson Greatbatch Pavilion. Image courtesy Toshiko Mori Architect.

On my trip back to western New York last week, I took a drive over to Jewett Parkway, on which the house is located, to see the new Eleanor and Wilson Greatbatch Pavilion visitors’ center, designed by Toshiko Mori Architect. Despite its modern use of glass and a simple white palette, the building fits in perfectly with its surroundings. Tucked behind the home next door with lines and proportions that follow those of the Martin House, the pavilion sits quietly in the neighborhood rather than looking like an institutional building that fell from the sky.

The Martin House and Greatbatch Pavilion alone are worth the trip to Buffalo, but the greater western New York and northwestern Pennsylvania area also offers a handful of other FLW gems, including Graycliff, Kentuck Knob, Fallingwater, and the recently completed Fontana Boathouse, originally designed in 1905 for the University of Madison and completed in Buffalo along Lake Erie just last year.

Buffalo City Hall

East elevation of Buffalo City Hall, circa 1981. Image courtesy the United States Library of Congress' Prints and Photographs Division.

After the Frank Lloyd Wrights, Buffalo’s City Hall is likely the most renowned building in the city and is also one of my personal favorites. Completed in 1931, the building is located on Niagara Square, a small park in the middle of one of Buffalo’s many traffic circles.

I have two favorite ways to experience this building. The first is from the top. When City Hall is open, there is free and public access up the slightly archaic elevators to a few flights of stairs, and, finally, to the central peak of the building, nearly 400 feet above street level. There you have a near-360-degree view of the city and are able to get a sense of its layout and the way it fits in the larger landscape.

The second is in the audience at one of the weekly outdoor concerts held as part of the annual summer Thursday at the Square music series. Hosted in Lafayette Park, the concerts are performed on a stage that has its back to the building. From the audience, City Hall appears to rise above the top row of stage spotlights. The cover of the official 2009-2010 Buffalo-Niagara visitors guide features a great photo of City Hall—plus both my dad and sister posing on its steps as tourists.

Buffalo News building

The Buffalo Evening News, watercolor by Dr. V. Roger Lalli.

Far more obscure and tucked in the middle of several tall buildings in downtown Buffalo is the Buffalo News building. As I mentioned above, I had the pleasure of working as the arts reporting intern at The Buffalo News one summer when I first began writing and I was able to report here each day. The building rises five stories, and we were told the top floor was once a residence, which accounts for the balcony that wraps around the uppermost level as well as the interior garden. Today the top floor is used as a cafeteria for the paper’s staff. When I was there, we’d take our lunches and eat on the balcony—when the humidity dropped below 95 percent. Another fun fact that I love about this building is that not all of the elevators descend to the basement. The reason: the Erie Canal once flowed below where the building is today and due to this, the elevator shafts could not be extended down past the first floors.

The above buildings are my favorites in Buffalo, but it wouldn’t be fair not to give a nod to two others: the Guaranty Building and the Nabisco grain elevators. Designed by Louis Sullivan, the Guaranty Building was one of the first modern skyscrapers and one of the first to use curtain-wall construction. The Nabisco grain elevators, are located just north of Buffalo in Niagara Falls and their simple construction are said to have caught the eye of Le Corbusier, who included reference to grain elevators in Toward an Architecture.

Fellow Buffalonians (and all those who feel the Buffalove), nominate your favorite building in the city by adding a comment below.


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