The Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, designed by Green & Wicks and Gordon Bunshaft/SOM

The Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, designed by Green & Wicks and Gordon Bunshaft/SOM

Puppies, National Historic Landmarks and Living the Green Life in Buffalo? Believe it or not there is a theme here. I find myself in Buffalo again for the second time this summer. Originally intending to just come for 2 days for a board meeting, I decided instead to stay for a week (which morphed into 10 days), so I could sit quietly in my sister’s backyard and actually get some work done. When Joanne discovered that I would be here for that length of time, it motivated her to buy that rare Barbet puppy she’d be thinking about. So my first day here we drove up to Kitchener, Ontario and came back with our new little immigrant, Finley. Now I would suggest that there are very few places in America where you can walk out the front door and take your puppy for a walk by National Historic Landmarks built by Sullivan, Richardson, Wright, Gordon Bunshaft, McKim Mead & White and Saarinen, without ever getting in a car (let alone a plane!).

A Sustainably Built Urban Fabric

Kleinhan’s Music Hall, Buffalo, a National Historic Landmark modernist masterpiece designed by Saarinen

Kleinhan’s Music Hall, Buffalo, a National Historic Landmark modernist masterpiece designed by Saarinen

If you’ve never been to Buffalo for the architecture, you’re missing one of the greatest architectural experiences ever. Really, no kidding. I grew up here and went to architecture school here and I can think of almost no other place that can give you such a perfect living laboratory for what’s great about architecture. (It is also a living laboratory for what can go so wrong with cities, but that’s a topic for another blog.) With a streetscape and park system inspired by L’Enfant and then expanded by Olmsted & Vaux, Richardson’s first use of the “Richardsonian Romanesque’, Sullivan’s first skyscraper and Wright’s best Prairie House peppering neighborhoods whose background buildings surpass landmarks found in any other city, Buffalo is a tapestry of the innovative, the beautiful and the best. And much of it remains intact because the economy is one of the worst in New York State and has been for a very long time. When there’s no development pressure, there’s no need (or less need) to tear down the bungalows for the McMansions. Of course there are the heartbreaking losses like the demolition of Wright’s seminal Larkin Building, whose site 30 years later, remains a parking lot. But stories such as that are rare compared to what is still here. So, in some respects, in a place like Buffalo, we have preservation and sustainability by neglect.

The Richardson Complex and Early passive climate control

H.H. Richardson’s largest building is in Buffalo – the former Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane, and has been vacant and deteriorating on and off for 40 years. New York State assigned $70 million to a new nonprofit board created in 2005 to oversee the development of the site. A portion of that is dedicated to creating an Architecture Center as one use in the complex. I wrote my first architectural history paper in college on the complex and continued to be involved in saving the site since 1980, including writing my master’s thesis on a reuse for the site. I was appointed to the Richardson Architecture Center Board in 2007 – so I always tell my students and interns to choose a topic for your thesis that you love because if you are as fortunate as I’ve been, you may find it carrying you through your career.

Building 10 at the Buffalo Psychiatric Center, designed in 1872 by Richardson, Olmsted & Vaux.

Building 10 at the Buffalo Psychiatric Center, designed in 1872 by Richardson, Olmsted & Vaux.

The complex was designed by Richardson with Olmsted & Vaux using the Kirkbride Plan which promoted the use of architecture and landscape as key to the actual treatment of mental illness. Here was an incredibly sustainable approach to architecture and living. The buildings were placed to gather the best possible southern light, used 15 foot high ceilings with cross ventilating windows and transoms and took advantage of 2 foot thick sandstone bearing walls. When I designed the adaptive use of one of the ward buildings into an office in the late 1980s, we went back to incorporating this smart, passive climate management system into the "new" building, and successfully opened the office using no air conditioning. No one complained, and in fact there was a wait list for offices in the building. But then unfortunately, just a few years later in the mid 1990s, a new director at the Psychiatric Center decided he didn’t want to be in the historic buildings at all, despite the rehabbed one confirming that it could be done. The complex was vacant yet again. So, with a dedicated board and some decent seed money, one can hope that this National Historic Landmark (only one of 7 in Buffalo) will find a way to become a vibrant center to Buffalo’s primary cultural neighborhood – the Elmwood Village and Buffalo’s West Side. And that we can remember the inherent sustainable design aspects of the original design.

Living Locally, Living Green

A local arts festival in Buffalo, the Elmwood Arts Festival, that focuses on selling and buying from local businesses.

A local arts festival in Buffalo, the Elmwood Arts Festival, that focuses on selling and buying from local businesses.

I don’t know about where you grew up or you live now, but our new green world is encouraging the growth of local businesses in every urban environment around the country. I did my best on this trip to go everywhere on my bike or walking. I rode my bike to the Richardson complex to check out its latest condition, spent an afternoon photographing Buffalo’s astonishing modern heritage on my bike, and walked to the farmers market and the Art Festival that only had local artisans and a whole area called “Environmental Row”. Every meal we cooked was filled with fresh vegetables and pastries from local businesses. Sometimes I worry that this new focus on local will make us all too insular, but I hope that after so many decades of global blandness, it will just help to balance our lives instead. So, as I get ready to drive back the 435 miles to DC and contribute heavily to global warming, I hope also that my carbon offsets, support of local businesses wherever I am, and walking as much as I can with our new puppy, will offset my job-induced carbon guzzling.

And mark October 2011 in your calendar – that’s when the National Preservation Conference comes to my hometown of Buffalo, one of the most perfect centers of American architecture!

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Barbara Campagna

Barbara A. Campagna, FAIA, LEED AP BD+C was formerly the Graham Gund Architect of the National Trust in the Stewardship of Historic Sites office. She is currently a sustainability consultant to the National Trust and can be reached at bcampagna@bcampagna.com.

Notes from New Orleans: New Hope for Charity Hospital

Posted on: August 23rd, 2008 by Walter Gallas

 

Rendering of the proposed main entrance. (Click to enlarge.)

Rendering of the proposed main entrance. (Click to enlarge.)

This week the architectural firm of RMJM Hillier released its report on the condition of the Charity Hospital building in New Orleans. The firm had been engaged by the Foundation for Historical Louisiana, a National Trust statewide partner, to assess the building's structural condition and its potential to return to use as a modern hospital. Hillier's response is unequivocal: "We believe that this venerable landmark can have a great future as a world class medical facility that will symbolize the rebirth of New Orleans." Earlier this year, the National Trust for Historic Preservation placed Charity Hospital and the adjacent neighborhood on its annual list of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.

Rendering of the proposed Tulane Avenue side.

Rendering of the proposed Tulane Avenue side. (Click to enlarge.)

The report states that the cost to create a 21st-century hospital within this 1938 Art Deco structure would be $484 million. To acquire property and construct a comparable facility from the ground up would cost $620 million, according to figures provided by VJ Associates, an experienced estimator of hospital and historic preservation projects. In addition, the work to reopen Charity Hospital could be completed in three years versus five years for new construction.

This documentation and analysis will play an important role in the on-going discussions about what medical care in New Orleans will look like and how historic buildings and neighborhoods will be impacted.

To see the RMJM Hillier executive summary along with more images and a video of the proposed hospital make-over, visit www.fhl.org and www.hillier.com.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Repair, Not Replacement, for the Tomb of the Unknowns

Posted on: August 20th, 2008 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 4 Comments

 

Preservationists took heart this week when Federal officials released a long-awaited report to Congress on the future of the Tomb of the Unknowns. Bowing to public outcry, the Department of the Army, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and Arlington National Cemetery have done an “about face” and have informed Congress that the Cemetery now will conduct much-needed repairs to the 1932 Tomb Monument.

While this is an important victory for preservationists, the report to Congress makes it very clear that replacement of the authentic monument still is seriously being explored as an option. The Cemetery’s stubborn fixation on replacement has amazed some observers, especially in light of the fact that officials now concede that replacing the 48-ton marble block would “diminish the integrity” of historic Arlington National Cemetery and cost taxpayers substantially more -- an estimated $2.2 million to construct a replica monument compared to only $65,000 to properly repair the original Tomb.

The National Trust and our allies in this fight will continue to closely monitor the Cemetery’s treatment of the Tomb Monument.

Many thanks to so many Members and friends who contacted Cemetery Superintendent John Metzler and Members of Congress about the historic Tomb Monument – your support was critical in this important victory. Visit www.preservationnation.org/tomb to read a copy of the report or to find out how you can help.

-– Robert Nieweg

Robert Nieweg is the director of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Southern Field Office.

Updated 8/21/2008 to correct the size of the Tomb (48 tons).

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.

Housing Bill Enhances the Federal Historic Tax Credit

Posted on: August 19th, 2008 by Sarah Heffern 2 Comments

 

Federal tax policy is a complicated thing - and something that, despite years of being a taxpayer, I don’t even begin to understand. One piece that I am able to grasp, however, is that offering tax credits for the rehabilitation of older and historic buildings helps make real gains in linking historic preservation to community revitalization nationwide.

Thanks to the housing bill passed late last month that included several key enhancements to this incentive, the federal historic tax credit will work even better in the future. Given that, in 2007, it sparked more than $4 billion in private investment and created more than 40,000 new jobs, the fact that it was improved even further is amazing.

What does the tax credit do? It rewards building owners who choose to renovate and rehabilitate historic and older structures for use as rental housing and other commercial purposes. In lower income areas, where the overlap between historic buildings and households in poverty is greatest, this transformation of what is often considered “blight” can help stabilize neighborhoods, reduce displacement, and build vibrant communities.

Follow the links to learn more about the National Trust's work to improve this great preservation tool and to find out more about commercial preservation funding.

-- Patrick J. Lally, Director of Congressional Affairs at the National Trust for Historic Preservation, contributed to this story.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Sarah Heffern

Sarah Heffern

Sarah Heffern is the social media strategist for the National Trust’s Public Affairs team. While she embraces all things online and pixel-centric, she’s also a hard-core building hugger, having fallen for preservation in a fifth grade “Built Environment” class. Follow her on Twitter at @smheffern.

New Help for Teardowns

Posted on: August 18th, 2008 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 1 Comment

 

As we all watch and wait to see how the slumping economy and struggling housing sector either rebounds or continues to fall, one has to question if teardowns – the demolition of houses for larger replacement homes, often referred to as McMansions -- are likely to continue or even make economic sense in the near future. While the demolition of perfectly good houses doesn’t meet our sustainability goals, the practice has developed a strong foothold in many communities around the country, and in Canada and Australia. As I’ve watched this trend grow into a profitable niche market and, most recently, have seen it slowdown in the last year, I’m not convinced teardowns are finished. If anything, teardowns are likely just on a hiatus and, in many places, continue full steam ahead despite the gloomy national economic outlook.

What this current economy does offer us though is a cooling off period to get a handle on this issue and be proactive before teardowns start up full force again. The ways in which communities are responding to teardowns are diverse in approach and overall effectiveness. So in places like Downers Grove, IL, the community is trying to balance the needs of newcomers while also addressing a reduction in affordable “starter” housing, storm water drainage impacts caused in part due to teardowns, and the overall loss of original community character. In Westport, CT, community leaders are responding to teardowns by increasing the period for a demolition delay from 90 to 180 days. Sometimes efforts are being done on a house-by-house basis, such as in Seattle, where a resident is currently making a last ditch effort to save an intact 1908 Craftsman-style home by moving it out of harms way. And in Raleigh, an organization called Community Scale has formed to advocate for approaches that guide infill construction while also preserving the integrity and diversity of the city’s older neighborhoods.

There’s no single tool out there to solve the problem but rather a combination of strategies works best. Recognizing that most people don’t know where to start or go for best practices, a new online tool has been developed called Teardown Tools on the Web. Created as part of the Teardowns Initiative of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, this tool is intended as an easy-to-share, user-friendly, one-stop-shop highlighting approximately 30 tools and more than 300 examples of best practices being used around the country. Check it out at http://www.preservationnation.org/issues/teardowns/

-Adrian Fine, Director Northeast Field Office, National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.