Written by David Rose
The City of Buffalo and the Eastern Great Lakes region, as a whole, bears a wealth of history that spans well beyond great architecture and landscape design. At every corner there is a story that is sown deep into local, national and international memory. Robert Shibley, the Dean of Architecture & Planning at SUNY Buffalo, suggests that in order to be familiar with the city one must learn the story of Fredrick Law Olmsted’s system of parkways, Joseph Ellicott’s radial grid and the diverse functionality of the water throughout the city’s history. The narratives that frame the architecture and design features of Buffalo have great depth, building a legacy that has immensely contributed to the development of the city. If we commit to a holistic understanding of these stories then we may find ourselves getting through to Buffalo “for real.”
Consider, for instance, the social implications of Fredrick Law Olmsted's abolitionist disposition as we peruse his masterfully created system of parkways throughout the city. Olmsted, who took to the southern United States just prior to the Civil War and reported on slave life in the ‘Cotton Kingdom’, calling on President Lincoln to stop the spread of slavery out west, was a social designer. His conceptualization of ‘The Parade’ in Buffalo, now Martin Luther King Park, took into account the celebratory culture of German immigrants that resided in close proximity to its locale.
We may also draw connections between Joseph Ellicott's radial grid street plan, his Quaker heritage and familial ties with Benjamin Banneker, a man of African descent who was commissioned by the Ellicott family to survey the nations capital. Joseph Ellicott’s radial grid plan was inspired by the outlay of Paris in the same manner as his brother Andrew and Benjamin Banneker’s workings for Washington DC. The intent was to bring communities of people together. I am sure that Olmsted and Ellicott believed that they were laying the groundwork for what would be the city’s social conscious, by design.
Finally the water was the key element in producing the city’s hydropower and industry. It existed long before Olmsted, Ellicott, Sullivan, Richardson, Wright and countless other place makers in Buffalo developed their crafts. The water sustained the livelihood of American natives for centuries, being used most notably as a vessel that brought fugitive slaves to freedom. It is such socio-architectural underpinnings that aid in preserving the past while cultivating a social meaning for those who are often left at the periphery of the preservation movement.... Read More →