A school and its city

A still from the film, of Assembly House 150.

"Religious Reconstruction": A still from the film, of Assembly House 150, which houses an architectural craft workforce training program in the former Immaculate Conception Church in Buffalo.

See It Through Buffalo reveals the complex history of the City of Buffalo and the university's engagement with the city's contemporary challenges toward a more prosperous future. 

Students, faculty, and staff at the School of Architecture and Planning engage global issues, from economic inequality and refugee resettlement, to food security and climate-change resilience. But the school plays an especially transformative role in the city, propelling Buffalo’s resurgence through economic development initiatives, urban design, community organizing, partnerships with industry, and full-scale construction - planning and building neighborhoods, homes, playgrounds, gardens, and the systems that interconnect them. 

Curators statement.
Statement from the Curators

"In the throes of the city’s decline, the School of Architecture and Planning at the University at Buffalo was founded. And from its early years to today, the full arc of Buffalo’s history—rise and ruin, rust and revival—has maintained a commanding position in the ethos of the school. While students, faculty, and staff engage global issues, it is the transformative role they play in the city that underscores the school’s temperament and drive."
View our curators' full statement from the exhibition catalog

Sites of engagement

  • Water, Wind, and Steel
    Exemplary of Buffalo’s intrepid industrial past, the former site of Bethlehem Steel on the shores of Lake Erie was once the largest steel mill in the world, employing over 20,000 people. Once among the region’s largest energy consumers, the former contaminated (“Superfund”) site now adjoins a nature preserve and produces 35 megawatts of power per year through 14 state-of-the-art wind turbines.
  • City of Trees
    When brought to Buffalo in 1868 to survey potential sites for a park in the city, Frederick Law Olmsted envisioned something bolder—a city in a park. In lieu of setting aside grounds for a single, central park, Olmsted's plan for Buffalo evolved into the firm's first proposal for a system of interconnected parks and parkways woven throughout the city's fabric. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the city in a park notion continued to characterize Buffalo's attitude towards the urban landscape, as the city grew its forestry division and planted over 300,000 street and park trees.
  • Active Connections
    Completed in 1882, the New York Central Belt Line formed a 15-mile loop around the core of the city, connecting Buffalo's major industrial sites and neighborhoods for the carriage of freight and passengers. While no longer serving local commuters through its 19 passenger stations, the tracks remain active for the few remaining industries scattered along the corridor, connecting Buffalo to nearby Niagara Falls and to cities across the border in Canada. On the west side of the tracks, the former National Bisquit Company (Nabisco) plant, now operated by Milk Bone, continues production, as it has since 1922. To the east, the abandoned Wonder Bread factory lies in wait. 
  • City of Good Neighbors
    Known as “the city of good neighbors,” Buffalo has a history of welcoming immigrant and migrant communities—from Europeans in the 1800s, to African Americans from the southern United States in the 1900s, to Latin American and Caribbean populations in the latter twentieth century. This history has evolved with the resettlement of more than 14,000 refugees since 2000. Resettled refugees bring cultural, spiritual, and intellectual diversity to Buffalo’s neighborhoods. Vital participants in community life and development, these new Americans shape education, healthcare, and food systems, as well as houses, recreation spaces, and storefronts.
  • East-West Divide
    While ethnic and neighborhood patterns continue to evolve, Main Street still strikes a dividing line through Buffalo, America's seventh-most segregated city. On the West Side, a recent influx of refugees from Asian and African nations is transforming the demographic, cultural, and spatial composition of neighborhoods once comprised of European and Latin American immigrants. On the East Side, comprised primarily of African American residents, poverty and land vacancy remain major concerns. The leadership of religious institutions and community organizations to improve quality of life in both areas reflects the collaborative perseverance of Buffalo's residents.
  • Religious Reconstruction
    More than 4,000 churches close their doors in the United States every year. For Buffalo, severe population loss has compounded an ever-increasing number of vacant churches—buildings that, while highly regarded in the urban fabric, are notoriously difficult to repurpose. The former Immaculate Conception Church demonstrates an attitude towards adaptive reuse that counters traditional notions of preservation and restoration, treating the building as a site for exploration and transformation. Now home to the Society for the Advancement of Construction Related Arts (SACRA), its interior houses an imaginative workforce training program that pairs social services with workshops that bolster creative thinking and technical skills in carpentry and woodworking.
  • Industry and Innovation
    Boston Valley Terra Cotta, one of the leading ceramic façade manufacturers in the world, began operations in 1889 making bricks and clay pots. In 1981, the company shifted their focus to architectural ceramics. Their first project was the complete façade restoration of Louis Sullivan's Guaranty Building, an exemplar in ornamental terra cotta. Beginning in 2011, the School of Architecture and Planning has partnered with the company to propel ceramics-based research and implement new technologies in digital fabrication. The work maintains the value of handcrafts at the industry's core, while transforming the potentialities of ceramic production and use.
  • Food, Energy, Shelter
    The house of the future will likely take many forms. New materials, new construction techniques, and new in-home technologies will shape the spaces in which people live and the ways that they live. One form this might take is a radical pairing of high-tech energy-efficient design with a return to low-tech, at-home food production. To explore this concept, more than 450 students, faculty, staff, and partners designed and built the Garden, Relax, or Work (GRoW) Home, which finished second in the international 2015 Solar Decathlon. The GRoW Home broadens the view of what Buffalo's next generation of housing might be.
  • Upturned Soil
    While a great number of Buffalo's vacant industrial buildings still languish in stagnation, a recent economic upturn and the enactment of historic preservation tax credits have given rise to reuse. Vacant for the last 20 years, the 240,000-square-foot (22,000-square-meter) complex of the former Niagara Machine and Tool Works will see new life as a site for advanced manufacturing and workforce training, serving the surrounding community of the East Side.
  • Conceptual and Material Limits
    It is imperative that architects and planners not only gain explicit knowledge, but also build tacit knowledge through hands-on trial and error. Propelling the work of the school are spaces of exploration and inspiration: a materials and methods shop for working with wood, metals, and ceramics; a digital fabrication lab for laser cutting, 3D printing, and CNC milling; and a cutting-edge Sustainable Manufacturing and Advanced Robotic Technologies (SMART) factory for large-scale simulation and construction. These facilities enable faculty and students to test the limits of both materials and ideas.
  • From Surface to Structure
    Buffalo is a city of tenacity, grit, invention, and reinvention. Rigidized Metals, a family-run company spanning over 75 years and three generations, illustrates this legacy. A global leader in the production and distribution of textured metals for architectural interiors, the corporation is partnering with faculty and students to reimagine uses of thin-gauge, textured metals, such as for structural purposes. This will enable new forms of architectural expression while significantly reducing the amount of material needed in construction.
  • Building Minds
    The locus of architecture and planning education—the studio—encourages playful learning, creative problem solving, and engaged collaboration, preparing students for the global challenges that lay ahead. Alongside motivated faculty, Buffalo's students work in newly renovated historic buildings, including Crosby, Hayes, and Parker Halls. Hayes Hall in particular serves as a metaphor for learning—embracing both tradition and innovation, while integrating knowledge, skills, and methods from a variety of domains.
  • Siloed Dreams
    The 1825 opening of the Erie Canal established Buffalo as the central point of connection between the developed ports and population centers of the Northeast and the newly-seeded towns and fields of the Midwest. Industries flourished around the transshipment of grain and, in 1842, the first steam-powered grain elevator in the world was constructed on the bank of the Buffalo River. The city's concrete grain silos and daylight factories provided a direct source of inspiration for modernism in Europe, and photographs of Buffalo's grain elevators appeared in the seminal texts of Walter Gropius, Erich Mendelsohn, and Le Corbusier. While changes in transportation patterns in the mid-twentieth century led to the gradual abandonment of the silos, they live on as monuments of American ingenuity.
  • Creative Adaptation
    Unlike other industrial or more densely populated cities, Buffalo residents have exemplary access to parks and recreation areas. This includes both the historic system of green spaces and emergent spaces of play. On the hand, property vacancies degrade neighborhood quality and hinder community development; on the other, these spaces provide opportunities for appropriation and creative adaptation, such play for all ages.
Grounding the future of architectural education

"This film and exhibition is an effort to ground this future of architectural education and its global reach in the communities that host the educational enterprise.We learn from our city and region every day and they learn from us. Together we reach for the global impacts that rebuild our cultures, sustain our planet, and substantiate the relevance of architecture and planning in the twenty-first century."

- Dean Robert G. Shibley, excerpted from the exhibition catalog