Development / Update on Albright-Knox
A new Albright-Knox expansion concept may have the buy-in to move forward
An installation by artists Olafur Eliasson and Sebastian Behmann, Common sky, will add a canopy of glass and mirrors to the 1962 courtyard.
Detail of Common sky rendering courtesy of the Albright-Knox and Studio Other Spaces
AK360 by the numbers
Years in progress: 5
Money raised: $165.5 million (and counting)
New structures planned: 3 (addition, bridge to addition, courtyard sculpture)
Public meetings held: 2 rounds of 10 meetings in 2014 and 2016, 1 meeting (so far) in 2019
Number of entities overseeing the project: 4 (AKAG, Olmsted Conservancy, City of Buffalo, State Historic Preservation Office)
Number of comments on Facebook Design Block group: 200 plus
It’s been three years since the Albright-Knox Art Gallery selected architecture firm OMA/Shohei Shigematsu as its partner for an expansion the museum calls AK360. An initial design featuring a large addition hovering over the museum’s courtyard was brought before the public in summer, 2017. The city’s Preservation Board, as well as many others, objected to this proposal on the grounds that it detracted from architect Gordon Bunshaft’s award-winning 1962 addition.
Working closely with the Pres Board, the AK360 team has moved forward with a new design. In March, the team announced a second concept, one that includes a new building to the north, a scenic bridge leading to that structure, a sculptural enclosure of the Bunshaft courtyard, underground parking, restoration of the west staircase of the 1905 building, and a new entrance on the east side of the 1962 addition.
The new building is connected to the 1905 building by a scenic walkway.
These are not mere aesthetic embellishments. The AKAG has long run out of space to display its always-growing collection. A new building doubles the museum’s exhibition space. Beyond the space issue, AKAG’s current facilities suffer from disrepair and lack of state-of-the-art technologies. Behind the scenes, loading docks are too small and systems like climate control desperately need updates. The crackling tiles of the second-floor sculpture court are auditory metaphors for a complex in dire need of long-delayed improvements.
Some of the changes included in the new design concept are intended to increase public accessibility to the institution. The new enclosed courtyard, with its sculpture funneling down from a glass-and-mirror canopy, is open to all, whether they pay admission or not. A new lawn, covering buried parking, prioritizes people over cars.
If—and it’s still an if—this plan goes forward, the AKAG will be closed for two years. In the meantime, the museum plans to use a 15,000-square-foot space at 612 Northland, on Buffalo’s East Side, for exhibitions and other programming.
As the project waits for final approvals, many Buffalo preservation activists and others are still unhappy with the project, as shown by sample comments from a local Facebook discussion group, Design Block:
On the new building: “As I wander in this city, all this new, mediocre architecture gives me nausea and this one is the cherry on top of the cake.”
On the courtyard/sculpture: “It would be better to put a glass roof up, which interferes minimally (fewest mullions, thinnest structure, etc.), than to do what is proposed.”
On the debate: “No matter what gets built, I hope a printout of this discussion is put in the cornerstone time capsule.”
We’ll let Spree art critic Bruce Adams, who’s been blogging on this for weeks, have the last word: “Each of us has his or her personal priority. Mine is getting more space for exhibiting the museum’s growing internationally renowned collection. I would love to get an architectural masterpiece in the bargain, but I’ll settle for a compromise design, rather than debate it for another decade.”