Assembly House 150: when a church becomes a working sculpture
The former Immaculate Conception Church is becoming a project space and classrrom.
Images by Dennis Maher, Zach Todtenhagen, and Charles Alaimo.
Artist/architect Dennis Maher is probably best known for his Fargo House, a deconstructed, reassembled, and intricately embellished West Side residence that, incredibly, the artist still inhabits. Fargo House has been toured by hundreds, featured in the New York Times, and has its own website as a constantly mutating construction. Maher, who also teaches in the University at Buffalo’s architecture department, had always intended Fargo House to be a laboratory for other artists and artisans who could also briefly inhabit the house, making their own mark on it and learning a different way to think about construction in the process. Maher now has a much larger building to work with.
In 2014, the artist purchased the former Immaculate Conception Church at 150 Edward Street, where it meets Elmwood. After three years of stabilizing the structure and adapting the interior for his purposes, Maher is ready to unveil the building as a project space and training center. Entitled the Society for the Advancement of Construction Related Arts (SACRA), Maher’s training program is undertaken in collaboration with the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo Public Schools, and the Department of Social Services. Through this program, adult students will learn skills they need for employment—such as carpentry and woodworking—and, even more important, learn to use their imaginations to solve interesting problems.
Maher has already invited some University at Buffalo architecture students into the space, which is lined with ornate mixed-media constructions. At its core (the former church transept) is a monumental black hollow sculpture, big enough to hold rooms where classes could be taught and workshops held. Just as Maher does with the Fargo House, students will inhabit what they are creating.
Also like Fargo, parts of the ceiling of the church have been stripped away, revealing the multiple layers that make up the structure (Maher is quick to note that the formerly damaged roof has been rebuilt and is now completely sound).
It is interesting to imagine what kind of creative builders will emerge from this new program, but construction is an area where creativity and the ability to reuse and restore what has been discarded or damaged are valuable skills.
Look for announcements for a formal opening of Assembly House 150 sometime this fall. In the meantime, visit assemblyhouse150.org for more information.
Elizabeth Licata is editor of Spree.