Developing American Architecture
"By way of our Declaration of Independence and what we call democracy this gives America a chance to build a culture unparalleled in the history of the world. We don't have to follow the Greeks. We don't have to follow anybody. We have a new freedom that will enable, eventually, an architecture to appear that will astonish and delight the Greeks if they ever get a chance to see it. They would think: 'How foolish and how silly we were to do what we have been doing all these years.' But we have been doing it. We have been standing columns up just for the sake of columns. A bank didn't have credit unless it had columns up in front!"
-Frank Lloyd Wright
Frank Lloyd Wright was to develop an architecture that could be considered uniquely American. In the twentieth century, Americans no longer wanted to look to Europe or tradition for their ideas; they wanted to make their own mark on the world. Just as American musicians created Jazz and American painters developed Abstract Expressionism, a distinct form of American architecture was taking shape. Frank Lloyd Wright was essential to this movement.
The following terms are features found in American Architecture.
A style of residential architecture popular in the American Midwest from 1900 to 1916. Prairie houses feature open, flowing spaces and evoke the horizontality of the prairie.
Prairie style houses usually have these features:
- Low-pitched roof
- Overhanging eaves
- Horizontal lines
- Central chimney
- Open floor plan
- Rows of small windows
- One-story projections
(United States of North America)
In 1936, when the United States was in the depths of an economic depression, Frank Lloyd Wright developed a series of homes he called Usonian. Designed to control costs, Wright's Usonian houses had no attics, no basements, and little ornamentation.
Usonian homes usually have these features:
- one story
- no basement and no attic
- open carport
- concrete slab flooring
- board-and-batten walls
- built-in furniture
- construction materials drawn from nature
- little ornamentation
- abundant natural views
The resurgence of classical Greek architectural forms, epitomized by the Court of Honor at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago.
Related to a living organism. Wright frequently used the word "organic" to encompass his vision for an architecture that exists harmoniously with nature. Former Wright apprentice Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer explains that by "organic architecture" Wright meant "architecture that is appropriate to time, appropriate to place and appropriate to man.... By 'appropriate' to time he meant a building should belong to the era in which it is created.... He defined a building as 'being appropriate to place' if it is in harmony with its natural environment, with the landscape, wherever possible taking best advantage of natural features.... By 'appropriate to man' he meant that a building's first mission is to serve people. In that respect he planned his structures with the human as the unit of measure. He extolled human values, and his architecture did likewise."
Top of Page
Buffalo's Architectural Treasures
The city of Buffalo is home to many buidlings designed by leading American architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Sullivan, H.H. Richardson, and Richard Upjohn.
Buffalo has more Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959) buildings than any other city except Chicago. These include the Darwin Martin Complex, George Barton House, William Heath House, Walter Davidson House, and the Graycliff Estate, as well as the now demolished Larkin Administration Building.
In addition to Wright’s creations, the city boasts several other works by noted architects.
Louis Sullivan (1856 – 1924) is cosnsidered the “father of the modern skyscraper.” He designed Buffalo’s Guaranty Building. It was one of the first steel-supported, curtain-walled buildings in the world. When it was completed in 1895, its thirteen stories made it the tallest building in Buffalo and one of the world's first true skyscrapers. The building is known for its remarcable terra cotta façade.
The H.H. Richardson Complex, originally the State Asylum for the Insane, is Richardsonian Romanesque in style and was the largest commission designed by prominent architect Henry Hobson Richardson (1839-1886). The grounds of this hospital were also designed by Frederick Law Olmsted. Though currently in a state of disrepair, New York State has allocated funds to restore this treasure.
Other notable designers and their buildings: Gordon Bunshaft, Albright-Knox Art Gallery; Eliel Saarinen and Eero Saarinen, Kleinhans Music Hall; Max Abramovitz, Temple Beth Zion. Grain elevators were invented in Buffalo in 1842. The city’s collection is the largest in the world.
The country's largest intact parks system designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, including Delaware Park, is also located in Buffalo. It was the first city for which Olmsted designed (in 1869) an interconnected park and parkway system rather than stand-alone parks.
Top of Page
Buffalo, Queen City of the Lakes
Buffalo is New York’s second-largest city, after New York City, and is the county seat of Erie County. The Buffalo-Niagara metropolitan area has a diverse population of 1.1 million. Buffalo's thriving arts and cultural scenes are nationally recognized.
Buffalo lies at the eastern end of Lake Erie near the mouth of the Niagara River, which connects to Lake Ontario. European-Americans first settled there in the late-18th century. Growth was slow until the city became the western terminus of the Erie Canal in 1825.
By the turn of the twentieth century, Buffalo was one of the country's leading cities, and by far its largest inland port. It had a growing population and a burgeoning economy. Immigrants came from Ireland, Italy, Germany, and Poland to work in the steel and grain mills which had taken advantage of the city's critical location at the junction of the Great Lakes and the Erie Canal.
Hydroelectric power harnessed from nearby Niagara Falls made Buffalo the first American city to have widespread electric lighting -yielding it the nickname, the "City of Light". Electricity was used to dramatic effect at the Pan-American Exposition in 1901.
The huge grain elevators and industrial plants that the canal spawned began to disappear in the mid-twentieth century. The city's importance declined in the later half of the twentieth century for several reasons, perhaps the most devastating being the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1957. Goods which had previously passed through Buffalo could now bypass it using a series of canals and locks, reaching the ocean via the St. Lawrence River. Another major toll was suburban migration, a national trend at the time. The city, which boasted over half a million people at its peak, has seen its population decline by some 50 percent, as industries shut down and people left for the employment opportunities of the South and West.
Distancing itself from its industrial past, in the early part of the twenty-first century Buffalo is redefining itself as a cultural, educational, and medical center. The city was named by Reader's Digest as the third cleanest city in America in 2005. In 2001 USA Today named Buffalo the winner of its "City with a Heart" contest, proclaiming it the nation's "friendliest city." Long known as “The City of Good Neighbors” Buffalo won the All-America City Award in 2002.
(adapted from Buffalo, New York – Wikipedia )
Top of Page
Buffalo's Lost Treasure
The Larkin Company Administration Building
One of Buffalo's architectural treasures, the Larkin Soap Company Administration Building, was lost to the wrecker's ball more than a half century ago, "an act of destruction," one of Wright's biographers has written, "subsequently recognized as cultural vandalism." Wright, in his Autobiography called the Larkin Building "the first emphatic protestant in architecture against the tide of meaningless elaboration sweeping the United States." He said the brick and stone structure was "a genuine expression of power directly applied to purpose" that represented "affirmation of the new Order of this Machine Age."
There is no question that the building was one of the finest Wright ever designed. Completed in 1904 at a cost of $4 million, it was constructed of dark red brick, utilizing pink tinted mortar, and it was notable for its block-like vertical structure and large central atrium rising the full height of the building. Side gallery offices were illuminated by the central court and windows between the brick piers. The upper level contained a kitchen, bakery, dining rooms, classrooms, a branch of the Buffalo Public Library and a conservatory.
A roof garden, paved with brick, served as a recreation area for employees, families and guests. The entrances of the building were flanked by two waterfall-like fountains. Above them were bas-reliefs by Richard Bock, a sculptor who worked on other Wright creations. He also designed the globes on the tops of the building's central exterior piers.
Natural and artificial light was provided by a Wright-designed innovation, hermetically sealed double-paned windows. There were Wright-designed electrical fixtures that enabled the employees to work in comfort at their Wright-designed metal office furniture while breathing air from a Wright-designed "air conditioning" system, another first for a major office building.
A Wright biographer wrote of the Larkin building, "It was a spectacular concept, handsomely executed, an extraordinary structure," that received international acclaim and was written about in contemporary architectural journals. Wright described his Larkin building as "noble," and added, in response to a critic, "It may lack playful light and shade, but it has strength and dignity and power."
Retailing trends resulting in declining sales forced changes in the Larkin operation. In 1939, it was decided to move the Larkin Retail Store from across the street into the administration building where there was more floor space. An extensive renovation was completed that altered the Wright-inspired character of the building.
In 1943, the administration building was sold to a Pennsylvania contractor who had no plans for it. When the Larkin store lease ran out, the new owner abandoned the building and it was taken over by the city in a 1945 tax foreclosure. Despite a national advertising campaign to try to sell the building, no buyer could be found for the city's asking price.
Vandals had begun stripping anything of value. As Larkin historian Jerome Puma wrote, "By October 1947, the building was virtually useless. Every double-paned window was broken, the iron gate had fallen off its rusted hinges, and the iron fence surrounding the building was sacrificed for a wartime scrap collection."
Several proposals to buy the structure were rebuffed as being too far below value. Finally, a local buyer with the intention of tearing down the building took the property off the city's hands and demolition began in 1950. It took more than four months to take down the building, however, because the floors were built of reinforced concrete and supported by steel beams. It was said that Wright took perverse pleasure in the fact that he had built the Larkin Building so well that it was hard to tear down.
Thus, an important piece of Buffalo architectural history was lost in less than a half century, a victim of economic times and changing attitudes that favored "new" over what had been, not too long before, revolutionary in concept.
Top of Page
In the first decade of the twenty-first century, Buffalo is undergoing a resurgence. There is a palpable spirit of optimism. Several new projects are in the works and a handful of older projects seem ready to come into fruition.
Interestingly enough, several Frank Lloyd Wright projects top the list. In 2004 Forest Lawn Cemetery saw the completion of Wright’s Blue Sky Mausoleum. Although commissioned by Wright’s friend Darwin D. Martin in 1928, it was never built during their lifetimes. Based on extensive research into Wright’s drawings, notes, and correspondence, the mausoleum was built as Wright had envisioned and Martin had desired.
A Rowing Boathouse designed by Wright will be constructed near the Black Rock Channel. In 2000 a local group purchased Wright’s design for a 1920s boathouse that was never built. Through generous donations and fundraising efforts, construction on this new Wright attraction began in 2006.
Finally, a gas station designed by Wright and a smaller “greasing station” are due to be constructed from his original plans on the corner of Michigan and Cherry Streets in downtown Buffalo. They will be situated near the Buffalo Transportation/Pierce Arrow Museum.
But, it is not only in Wright designed buildings that Buffalo is experiencing a rebirth. A new world-class biomedical corridor is nearing completion on the city’s Near East Side. Adjacent to Buffalo General Hospital and Roswell Park Cancer Institute, the state-of-the-art Life Sciences Complex will consist of over 400,000 square feet. The Buffalo Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and a new Hauptman-Woodward research facility anchor the project. At ground breaking, Governor George Pataki said, “…we’re breaking ground on a brighter, stronger future for the people of Buffalo.”
The Cobblestone District, near the new HSBC Arena in downtown Buffalo, surged into prominence due to the planning that preceded the building of the Arena. Preservationists became alarmed when several historic brick buildings were threatened with demolition in and around what had been the Erie Canal Harbor District to make way for the new arena. Eventually, the arena was built, but city officials restored four cobblestone streets: Illinois, Mississippi, Baltimore, and Columbia.
Today the Cobblestone District boasts beautifully refurbished industrial buildings with spacious new loft apartments. It is an increasingly popular neighborhood. It seems right that this potential for new economic growth would occur where the Western terminus of the Erie Canal once stood.
By far, the area of Buffalo that is truly being reborn is the waterfront. There have been many previous plans and dreams for the waterfront, but now it seems as if the city is ready to capitalize on its most plentiful and beautiful natural resource. The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority owns many prime acres of land on the outer harbor. The Authority has recently signaled its willingness to hand over the land for mixed use.
Like many other post-industrial cities, such as Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Baltimore, Buffalo is reinventing itself for the twenty-first century by offering cultural tourism for visitors, a high quality of life for residents and a beautiful waterfront for everyone.
Top of Page
A Letter to Buffalo's Next Generation
A Letter to Buffalo's Next Generation PDF