Curbed National: Can Architecture Bring a City Back?

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Welcome back to Critical Eye, Alexandra Lange‘s incisive, observant, curious, human- and street-friendly architecture column for Curbed. In this edition of her monthly column, Lange hits the streets of Buffalo, New York, to analyze how urban and architectural renewal can bring a city back from the brink. And ICYMI, catch up on her past columns about architectural gamer paradise Monument Valley, the new Whitney Museum, and the sidewalk-level impact of waterfront development around the Brooklyn Bridge.

Minoru Yamasaki’s One M&T Plaza in Buffalo. Photo by Vik Pahwa.

CAN ARCHITECTURE BRING A CITY BACK?

I don’t mean the Bilbao effect, where a single extraordinary building designed by an out-of-town architect suddenly makes a city present to the wider world. Imagine the opposite of that, where a city’s existing landmarks and infrastructure, built over preceding decades (sometimes by the Frank Gehrys of their day) are maintained, upgraded, restored, and repurposed for the 21st century. Where the grain elevators captured in their grace and precision by Charles Sheeler, once thought of locally as eyesores, become havens for extreme sports and small-batch beer. Where a psychiatric hospital, once an experiment in humane treatment, reopens as a hotel, a farm-to-table restaurant situated on the ruins of the hospital’s therapeutic conservatory. Where renewal can be visualized by asking What Would Olmsted Do? It’s too soon to declare the recovery complete, but all of these things are currently happening in Buffalo, New York.

Why Buffalo? >>

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