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Buffalo Spree Architectural Panel

AV’s Justin Sondel reports on last night’s panel on Buffalo architecture at the Burchfield Penney Art Center, sponsored by Buffalo Spree:

Architects, academics, writers, and a developer took the stage in Burchfield Penney Art Center Thursday night to discuss the state of architecture in Buffalo.

The well-credentialed group included architect David Stieglitz, architecture critic Barry Muskat, architect and University at Buffalo professor Kelly Hayes McAlonie, architect and former UB professor Bonnie Foit-Albert, architect Gerald Strickland, and developer Rocco Termini.

The panel discussion was part of a series put on by Buffalo Spree, and Elizabeth Licata, the editor of the magazine, led the talk.

The panelists spent most of their time commenting on important buildings in the city, and they named quite a few, but the focus repeatedly came back to two buildings: the Richardson Complex and the Statler Towers.

Another recurring topic was the importance of historic preservation for Buffalo’s future.

Rocco Termini views the city’s biggest challenge to be educating the citizenry and elected officials on the importance of architectural history to the region and then securing funding to save the history that exists here.

“In most major cities the business community has a real interest in preserving buildings in the community,” Termini said. “We lack that interest here in Buffalo.”

He went on to say that Buffalo has been unable to raise sufficient funds through historic and new market tax credits, and that the city has no fund set aside for the purpose of preservation.

Termini’s Signature Development Company has taken on the challenging restoration of the Lafayette Hotel, which has moved past the planning and funding stages and into the construction stage of the project.

Buffalo's new federal courthouse. Photot by K. C. Kratt.

At one point David Stieglitz made an interesting point about the nature of preservationists. He described an idea for the Statler Towers that might make it easier to rehabilitate.

The building has three wings connected by a spine hallway. “From the sky it looks like the letter E.) Stieglitz suggested that by taking out the middle wing, views on the other two towers would be freed up and the massive size of the project would be reduced. However, to take the middle wing out would disqualify the project from receiving State Historic Preservation Office tax credits and would make it even less economically feasible than it is intact.

“We get in our own way,” Stieglitz said.

The panel unanimously touted Buffalo as an architectural history powerhouse, placing it among the country’s most relevant and important cities.

Three of the most important architects in American history—Louis Sullivan, H. H. Richardson, and Frank Lloyd Wright—all have buildings in Buffalo.

“We and Chicago are the only cities that have representations from those three architects, and we have very good representations of those three,” McAlonie said.

She went on to name a litany of important American architects with buildings in Buffalo including Louise Bethune, the first woman architect to be recognized by the American Institute of Architects and the lead architect on the Lafayette Hotel.

“The whole history of American architecture is played out here in Buffalo,” McAlonie said.