At some point every day, I go for a walk in my neighborhood in Berkeley. It is a modest neighborhood of mostly one-story bungalows , an occasional apartment building, and a scrappy commercial district . But every few blocks, there is a larger house or building that isn’t part of the pattern. And I am fascinated with these exceptions to the rule. The Fish-Clark House … Continue reading Neighborhood Stories- 3 Houses
A new condo building went up in the neighborhood recently. Here it is:
I like this building’s reinterpretation of a two apartment wide block of flats with bays. I think its interest lies in its tweaking of the massing, angled center section with bays rising to the top, rather than contained within, the main box of the building, as well as the use of materials- steel and concrete in particular. It’s received a fair amount of adulation in the press, which surprised me a bit, since despite my comments above, the building really doesn’t break any significant new ground. What it does do impeccably, is reflect the current fashion of the day, namely checkerboard window and textural patterns , oriented vertically if at all possible, something poor XIP Cleaners next door doesn’t have going for it.
This building is a crisply detailed modern building, and as such, one of its key features is the floor to ceiling glass. This glass does 2 things, it lets a large amount of light (and heat) into these south-facing rooms, but it also lets the passerby glimpse in, perhaps, at the hoped for exquisitely furnished modern digs. And herein lies the classic problem for the modernist, controlling the interior. For in the condo, building, once its sold and you turn over the keys to a buyer, they likely have their own ideas. So architects hurry to get the interior photos shot before someone moves in. So how has this turned out here:
Ghosts, and there are many, abound in Buffalo. They are alternatingly beautiful and heartbreaking. This a brief tour of some of what I saw, with some thoughts on the future.
The old waterfr0nt in Buffalo was the engine that got things rolling in the 19th century. Well into the 20th century, ships with cargo from Midwestern cities would travel the Great Lakes, unload in Buffalo, and then the cargo would be later shipped by train or canal to East cities and beyond. The grain elevators, invented in Buffalo in the 1840’s, were basically large storage containers for grain on its way to a final destination.
It must of been quite a site in its heyday. In the early 20th century, the French modernist architect Le Corbusier, who among other things, popularized those glasses he’s wearing, came to the US and marveled at the industrial beauty before him, simple machine-like forms at a staggering scale. It had a profound influence on him.
While the focus of my trip back East was my Dad’s birthday, I did manage to squeeze in a side trip to Buffalo. I went to college in Buffalo, and have a long-standing love affair with the place. Buffalo’s unique history has resulted in an incredible collection of buildings and landscapes unrivaled by any other American city its size. Most date from the first half of the 20th century, Buffalo’s golden years. Like many rust-belt cities, the second half of the century was difficult; the city lost half its population;( in 1900 it was the 9th largest city in the US, today its 69th). So, like Detroit , Cleveland, and others in the area, Buffalo has much that has been abandoned. Its part economics, and part just numbers- imagine San Francisco suddenly having 400,000 fewer people living here. So, this duality; the glorious past that is lovingly maintained and thriving, and that which has been abandoned, at least for now, is the subject of these two posts.
PART 1- THE QUEEN CITY OF THE LAKES
Its 1901, Buffalo is at the height of its glory, and it shares its wealth and beauty to the world in the form of 1901 Pan-American Exposition, seen below. Buffalo is a center of industry, it is superbly located at a confluence of land, water, and rail, it had produced two presidents, and , not surprisingly, had become a place of great wealth. With this wealth, came the natural desire to create landmark buildings. And this desire called on the best architectural and planning minds of the day. These were great years in Buffalo, with the only pockmark (and perhaps a portent of things to come), the assassination of President McKinley at the Exposition.