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Long Story Short: Build it and they will come

4/15/19



A rendering of the planned AKAG campus

courtesy of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery;

 

A big week for Buffalo development

 

The design is in

Thursday, the Albright-Knox Art Gallery (AKAG) revealed details of its planned two-year expansion project, which will incorporate a major sculptural element titled Common Sky, designed by artist Olafur Eliasson and architect Sebastian Behmann, founding partners of Studio Other Spaces.

 

©2019 Olafur Eliasson and Sebastian Behmann of Studio Other Spaces

 

Not easy to describe

Think of a shallow glass mound over the Gordon Bunshaft courtyard comprising many triangular segments—some glass, some mirrored. This framework curves down into a funnel inside the courtyard (think of those graphics illustrating black holes). The idea is that the weather will—sort of—enter the room, but still stay outside. It looks like the funnel might fill up with snow in the winter, and there has to be some sort of drain, but these are problems for the designers. You can get a look at this, and the rest of the plans on the AKAG website.

 

The museum closes

To achieve this long-awaited transformation, after construction begins around November of this year, the museum will close for at least two years. Unfortunately, some staff will be cut during the work. The remaining staff will create exhibits on Buffalo’s East Side as part of The Northland Corridor Redevelopment Project. But any art that requires environmental control (i.e. all the greatest hits) will go into storage for conservation.

 

My takeaway:

The courtyard—which currently is essentially wasted space—has been a sticking point for architects; they must appease preservationists who feel Bunshaft's 1962 addition should be protected. What the designers have done is ingenious.  By creating a piece of art that encloses the space, they are doing what art museums do—house art. A work of art is harder to argue with than a plain old roof. And it’s not even the first time Bunshaft’s design has been modified by the addition of an artwork. In 2005, curators added Light Matrix, by Leo Villareal, a pulsating grid of glowing white dots, to the building’s north windows. Art can occasionally trump preservation.

 

 

The designs are in

Almost 100 concepts were submitted to Western New York Land Conservancy’s design competition for the abandoned one-point-five-mile DL& W elevated rail line trail between Canalside and RiverBend.

 

On Wednesday, the finalists went before the public at M& T Center at Fountain Plaza. Viewers were given five “vote” tickets to place in bags next to their favorite concept boards (you can view them here), and one red one for their least favorite (which seems unnecessarily mean). The event was packed, suggesting that there’s great public interest in the plan. The ideas are as diverse as they are creative, with all sorts of amenities, attractions, recreational facilities, artworks, and structural references to the bygone days of Buffalo’s industrial past.

 

What happens next?

The “winners” will be selected by a distinguished panel of judges. But the top winner will not be the design that is ultimately built. The competition and public opinion process are methods of collecting ideas from a large number of extremely creative people from around the world. The final design process starts in late summer, will likely last a year, and community feedback will be sought along the way.

 

Who will oversee the project?

That’s to be determined, but Bolivian-American sociologist and urban planner Ana Traverso-Krejcarek is up for the task. She’s one of the judges, and a public land use leader who has been involved with nineteen projects across North America, including New York City’s High Line, the 606 in Chicago, and the Bentway in Toronto. She’s excited about this opportunity. More funds must be raised, but this thing looks like it’s really going to happen.

 

 

Get ’er done, says Cuomo

Speaking of making things happen, Governor Cuomo doesn’t want Buffalo’s Skyway to become another Peace Bridge replacement, i.e., something we debate to death. He’s calling for a decision on its future to be made in six months, which in Buffalo terms is the equivalent of painting the Mona Lisa in fifteen minutes.

 

Tear it down, keep it up—whatever, but do something

Cuomo doesn’t care what’s decided, as long as there’s a decision. He noted that there are other options besides complete removal and restoration. The High Line project in Manhattan turned an unused raised railroad bridge into a wildly popular park. Cuomo admits that he thought that idea was terrible, but he was “100 percent wrong.” (Now if only he would admit to the other times he’s been wrong—but I digress.)

 

Design contest

LLS readers may recall that Cuomo initiated a design competition with a $100,000 first prize for “Skyway alternatives” (seems like designing by contest is the new normal—but I digress). He has now appointed an eleven-member panel to judge the competing plans.

 

The clock is ticking.

 

 

A tenuous understanding

The Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy has reached a “memorandum of understanding” with attorney and community advocate Kevin Gaughan, who is proposing a world class public golf course next to South Park. Gaughan got legendary golf pro Jack Nicklaus to agree to redesign the golf course at Olmsted’s Delaware Park (which many people believe should never have been put there in the first place—but I digress). Nicklaus also agreed to design another course near Olmsted’s South Park, which would allow removal of the current ill-conceived South Park course and restoration of Olmsted's renowned Arboretum. And he’ll do all this at cost. In addition, Gaughan proposal includes an Education Center to provide vocational training to Buffalo's inner-city youth. The plan has received support from a Frederick Law Olmsted advocacy group in Washington, D.C., which will work to raise necessary private funds to make it happen.

 

The conservancy initially balked.

 

Now there's a “deal”

“We all know that every journey begins with the first step,” Gaughan said in a Buffalo News article, “But what we learn here in Buffalo is that sometimes that first step can be the most challenging. No kidding.

 

Gaughan has been working on this plan since 2014 and first announced Jack Nicklaus’s involvement in 2016. The conservancy still wants to see feasibility studies and a business plan, but they finally agreed to a “framework of cooperation.”

 

Meanwhile, Jack Nicklaus is 79. The clock is ticking.

 

 

You’ve heard of Larkinville; meet Chandlerville

Local developer Rocco Termini is converting several former industrial buildings on Chandler Street in Blackrock into Buffalo’s newest food and entertainment district. Adding to the existing businesses, gym, and salon, Termini plans a “pool club,” complete with poolside baked-to-order pizzas from Tappo Pizza, which will be somewhere between Buffalo- and New York-style. A Thin Man Brewery (which opened Friday), should be turning out the first home brew by May, and will then begin marketing across the northeastern US.  Barrel + Brine will feature pickled foods along with brunches and other veggie-heavy specialties—and kombucha, because that’s still happening.  Termini also has plans for an indoor mushroom farm—fungi from a fun guy. Blackbird Cider bar and restaurant rounds out the plans, which will certainly continue to grow as Buffalo discovers the latest cool place in town.

 

 

Housing: supply and demand

The Buffalo News reports that homes in the area are scarce—a twenty-year low is how they put it. They also say the local economy is doing well, with low unemployment, and lower mortgage rates, so people will be hankering for a home this spring. But with so few available, it’ll be a sellers’ market.

 

This means that if you plan to buy a home, you’ll probably have to offer more than the asking price just to have a chance. But only a chance, because someone else might bid even higher. And houses are selling faster than ever, so there’s no time to hesitate, or think.

My takeaway:

My wife and I bought a home forty-three years ago, in what is now perhaps the trendiest neighborhood in the city. We get solicitations all the time from realtors who would love us to put it on the market. But where would we be then?  We’d have to buy a new home, and right now, that doesn’t sound fun.

 

The question is, why aren’t they building more homes?

 

 

And one sports story

What a difference 24 hours makes.

 

Sunday’s sport’s headline in the Buffalo news: Housley expects to be back as coach.  Monday’s front page headline: AFTER 2 DISMAL SEASONS, SABRES FIRE HOUSLEY (yup, page one, all caps).

 

Buffalo sports teams continue their tradition of revolving-door coaches (What is it, something like eight coach hiring and firings in nine years, between the Bills and Sabres? But I digress). Though the Sabres had a truly abysmal year, it’s questionable whether Hall of Fame defenseman Phil Housley deserves the blame. Even general manager Jason Botterill admits, “We didn’t put the proper roster out there. We didn’t give Phil enough players, enough tools to have success out there.”

 

The Sabres now carry the title of team with the longest playoff drought in the NHL. The Bills had the same record until recently in the NFL. Maybe one of the teams should try sticking with the same coach for a while. Could that be any worse?

 

Long Story Short is an opinion column by artist and educator Bruce Adams, a longtime contributor to Buffalo Spree.

 

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