True Green Cities / Chalk, Sidewalks and Restaurants

Chalk Makes a Downtown Block Come Alive

Chalkfest on the 500 Block of Main Street.

Chalkfest on the 500 Block of Main Street.

An annual festival called Chalkfest was held on my block this past weekend. With construction almost complete finally, hundreds of artists and families descended on the 500 Block of Main Street – showing what activity on our street could look like. This is Chalkfest’s fourth year, although last year it had to be held on a different street because of the construction.

Having our block alive and active from noon-6PM on a Saturday and Sunday reminded me what a real urban neighborhood can be.  A DJ provided music and talk; vendors sold food and crafts; local restaurants opened on the weekend when they’re normally closed.  People who rarely come downtown, ventured down and spent the day with their family.  Residents had something to look at and even my cats sat by the windows both days enamored with the activity.  And we residents had something to participate in and walk to.

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A professional artist puts the finishing touches on his rendition of The Avengers with Thor and Loki outside my building.

The best thing I heard, when I asked a woman and her two children settled in front of my door drawing with chalk, if they could move aside so I could open my door, “People live here?” “Yes,” I said.  “Look at kids, this is a residence! the mom said, “People actually live downtown!” Yes, we do!

Reactivating Downtown

If you have read my blogs over the past few years you will recall that being an urban pioneer in a downtown under construction has not been the easiest thing at this point in my life/career. Having done this in SoHo in the early 90s, I was not quite prepared to do it again.  But as the reconstruction of Main Street and the lightrail is almost complete, excitement about the restaurants and retail that will soon open is almost palpable.  Restaurants and retail are needed. But so are services like dry cleaners, safe pharmacies and of course, a real grocery store.  Proposals were recently received for a new building with a grocery store about two blocks from me. Granted it will be at least two years before that would open, but it does give us hope.

D'Avolio's, a new restaurant, is expected to open across the street from me next week.

D’Avolio’s, a new restaurant, is expected to open across the street from me next week.

In the past year about ten restaurants have opened or will open within a three block radius of Buffalo’s infamous 500 Block (where I live).  A new brewery has opened. Several new high end hotels have opened.  For decades, this block, which used to be the center of Buffalo’s wonderful downtown, has been pointed to as an example of urban blight and urban flight.  I chose to live here because I was able to get a brand new  work/live loft in a century-old building.  I knew it would be years before it was active again, but I didn’t really realize what that would mean for actually living here until I was living here.  Now that I’ve braved two years of construction beneath my windows, I feel committed to trying to stay and enjoy the rewards.

Big Ditch Brewery opened in reused warehouse two blocks from me.

Big Ditch Brewing Company opened in a reused warehouse two blocks from me.

But, life can’t be a festival all the time. I was walking around downtown from 5:30-6:30 on Sunday night.  Chalkfest ended at 6.  By 6:10, downtown was a desert again. Beside the Hyatt, only one other restaurant was open. Not even the new brewery was open.  I did a loop around downtown and I must say I did not feel comfortable.  Festivals and new restaurants are a start for sure.  So I keep my fingers crossed that once the construction equipment is gone, restaurants will stay open past 3PM and on weekends, and more people beyond me will be roaming around downtown.

If you would like to see more photos of Chalkfest and the art, please click here for Chalkfest.

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True Green Cities / Saving Brutalism Can Be a Lonely Battle

Paul Rudolph's Shoreline Apartments frame Buffalo's City Hall.

Paul Rudolph’s Shoreline Apartments frame Buffalo’s City Hall.

Almost two years ago I was contacted by my colleagues at DOCOMOMO US, wanting to know if I knew anything about the plan to tear down five of the 32 remaining apartment buildings at Paul Rudolph’s Shoreline Apartment Complex in downtown Buffalo. Only a few blocks from me, and always a complex I had admired, I rushed to find out the story.  While these efforts of the few of us in Buffalo who seem to care about their significance have not halted the demolition of these five buildings, the story has started to get national attention.  For two weeks, the five buildings have been undergoing a quietly planned demolition, which is starting to make others in the community take note.  

Demolition of five of the 32 remaining buildings at Shoreline began last week. Photo courtesy David Torke/FixBuffalo.

Demolition of five of the 32 remaining buildings at Shoreline began last week. Photo courtesy David Torke/FixBuffalo.

Mark Byrnes, an alumni of the University at Buffalo School of Architecture & Planning, and an associate editor at The Atlantic’s CityLab who writes about design, history, and photography, took on this complex tale and just published a quite well written and researched article, The Slow Death of A Brutalist Vision for Buffalo. As per Mark:

Campagna is fighting a surprisingly lonely battle. In her efforts to help save a piece of Buffalo brutalism, (Buffalo) the city that takes pride in its collection of concrete grain elevators has remained mostly silent in the case of Paul Rudolph. “I don’t really consider myself an activist but nobody else was stepping forward,” says Campagna. “Somebody needed to speak for these buildings.”

While I find it heartbreaking to have to drive past these ruinous hulks now, I am encouraged that their plight is now getting national attention.  Stay tuned.

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True Green Cities / Celebrating Four Years – “Isn’t MCM So Dang Cool?”

The Gateway Arch looks different from every vantage point.

The Gateway Arch looks different from every vantage point.

It’s been four years since I launched Barbara A. Campagna/Architecture + Planning, PLLC and while many things have changed, my goal to work on “greening what’s already here” continues to be met, often in places I never expected. Many people are finding new ways to integrate historic preservation and green building practices, which makes my new venture a delightful and intellectually inspiring one. This is blog five of my anniversary week.

Isn’t MCM So Dang Cool?

Last week I attended a truly fabulous symposium in St. Louis – Mid Century Modern Structures Symposium sponsored by NCPTT and the World Monuments Fund. Franklin Mares, Deputy Superintendent of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial set the tone for the week by welcoming us all and proclaiming, “Isn’t MCM so dang cool?” And yes, we all think it is, which is one of the reasons I suspect many of us find ourselves working on it.

Some warehouses in Laclede's Landing which all have been adaptively reused.

Some warehouses in Laclede’s Landing, which all have been adaptively reused.

Walter Sedovic, a New York-based preservation architect at Walter Sedovic Architects, discussed the “Mad Men” phenomenon, which has certainly revived an interest in the late 50s and 60s. He reminded us that however amazing and cool we might find the Arch, it was the site of a former cast iron district, some of which remains adjacent to the Arch in the Leclede’s Landing neighborhood. But that is one of the great ironies of the modern era. Many modern buildings, neighborhoods and even icons replaced earlier buildings and neighborhoods that we would consider historic today. But that is all part of the evolution of our cultural and architectural history.

“The Architecture of Today”

The Arch and Laclede's Landing with some of the remaining cast iron buildings.

The Arch and Laclede’s Landing with some of the remaining cast iron buildings.

Presentations on new modern materials and new building types rounded out the symposium.   Caroline Guay, a conservator at Conservation Solutions explained how Googie architecture reflected the optimism of the time and helped launch space movement design. Evan Kopelson of Vertical Access and Nancy Hudson of Robert Silman Assocations shared their examination of the Tent of Tomorrow at Philip Johnson’s 1964 NY World’s Fair Pavilion, identifying damaged cables and steel structure corrosion on these structures, which were intended to be temporary, but are still standing 51 years later. Conservator Mary Jablonski shared the work her students in the Columbia Conservation Workshop conducted on objects made from Fiber Reinforced Plastics (FRP) at the 1964 World’s Fair. It was a wonder material that was intended to be “A better way to a more carefree life.” They conserved an original plastic (polyester resin) bench for the Queen’s Museum.  Some of the original aluminum frames of the benches have had their FRP slats removed and replaced with wood, which was not a good alteration and people have discovered that the FRP is infinitely more comfortable than the wood.

Modernism at Risk

Richard H. Mandel House. The first International Style house designed by Edward Durell Stone, a few years before the A. Conger Goodyear House which is a WMF Modernism at Risk project.

Richard H. Mandel House. The first International Style house designed by Edward Durell Stone, a few years before the A. Conger Goodyear House which is a WMF Modernism at Risk project. (I prepared the National Register nomination for this groundbreaking building, built in 1935.)

David E. Bright from Knoll discussed the Modernism at Risk program they have been working on with the World Monuments Fund. This signature advocacy effort brings modern buildings forward. As per their website, WMF’s concern for modern sites began in the 1980s, but the establishment of WMF’s Modernism at Risk Initiative, launched in 2006 with founding sponsor Knoll, allows WMF to take a more active role in addressing the distinct threats facing great works of modern architecture around the world. This program focuses on advocacy, conservation, and public education and has highlighted buildings by Rudolph, Breuer, Edward Durell Stone (A. Conger Goodyear House) and other luminaries across the world.

Walking around Saarinen's masterpiece.

Walking around Saarinen’s masterpiece.

Carol Dyson, Chief Architect at the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, suggested that in considering MCM commercial modernism, maybe storefront evolution is okay and should be honored. Holly Hope, from the Arkansas SHPO, discussed the features of ranch houses built from 1945-1970, which make them significant and discussed the National Register listing of Ranch House neighborhoods around the country, from Arkansas to Georgia, North Carolina to Oregon.

I was sorry to see this symposium end. I have not been this re-energized by a conference in quite some time. Perhaps it was the combination of new thinking and fun building types, which helped warm us up after such a long, harsh winter, or even the examination of the buildings from our childhood. I find something actually quite joyful in Mid Century Modern architecture and even find it in Brutalism. The new forms, the new materials, the new building types, the hope in a new world – it offers endless possibilities for an architect with a preservation and sustainability focus.

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