Lenses: Ways of Seeing Buffalo and Its Architecture is a unique collaboration between four Buffalo institutions engaged in various aspects of the cultural life of our community. Preservation Buffalo Niagara, the Stanford Lipsey Architecture Center Buffalo at the Richardson Olmsted Campus, the Buffalo AKG, and the Buffalo History Museum have come together to allow our community insight into how buildings and places in Buffalo have been valued and new more inclusive ways of seeing place-based value throughout our larger community.
Among architecture aficionados, Buffalo has long had a strong reputation as both a repository for great talent (as in Sullivan’s Guaranty Building) and an inspiration point for great talent (as in Le Corbusier‘s relationship with our Grain Elevators). In 1940, the Albright Art Gallery invited Henry-Russell Hitchcock, Jr., widely considered the father of American architectural history, to make an exhibition about Buffalo’s architecture, mirroring one that then Gallery Director Gordon Washburn had seen mounted in Worcester, Massachusetts. The Buffalo exhibition, seen by more than 30,000 visitors to the Gallery during its month-long run, concluded with Mr. Hitchcock’s assertion:
“The hope of the future must lie at least as much in the establishment of a new and broader frame of planning, as in the erection of single buildings of distinction. The future ought also to provide some means of preserving the finer moments of the past, instead of allowing that indiscriminate destruction which has, during the present century, removed far more excellent buildings than have been built.”
No mere reprisal, the 2021 exhibition Lenses: Ways of Seeing Buffalo’s Architectural Legacy is both based upon, and placed in counterpoint to, the original exhibition, in both intention and display.
Lenses: Ways of Seeing Buffalo and Its Architecture takes a reflective, questioning view of Hitchcock’s pronouncements regarding which parts of Buffalo’s built environment have value and seeks to contextualize Hitchcock’s work by delving into city builders and social histories not represented in his work: women, African Americans, Indigenous people, and all of those outside of the “Great Man” theory of stylistic formalism that Hitchcock espoused.
The Beyond Hitchcock portion of the exhibit represents a collaboration between Preservation Buffalo Niagara Executive Director Jessie Fisher and Dr. Charles L. Davis II, an Associate Professor of Architectural History and Criticism at the University of Buffalo and his students to re-imagine and re-work the canonicity presented in the original 1940 Exhibit.
The exhibition includes new graphical and written material in order to encourage visitors to reflect on how the privileged white male academic gaze has shaped how we perceive value in our built world, and how that perception of value has shaped what parts of its architectural legacy Buffalo has protected and what parts it has lost. The exhibit is designed to give attendees a more diverse and inclusive look at architectural and preservation values, and to encourage more equitable community building practices for the future.
In addition to the exhibition itself, a speakers series will take place March through April that will bring local, national, and international scholars and practitioners into Buffalo to discuss the themes of the exhibit in greater depth.
*All COVID-19 public health and safety requirements applicable at the time of preview will apply.
Presented by the Albright-Knox Art Gallery (the future Buffalo AKG), the Buffalo History Museum, the Lipsey Architecture Center Buffalo, and Preservation Buffalo Niagara and sponsored by Arc Building Partners, the Charles D. and Mary A. Bauer Foundation, the Center for the Study of Art, Architecture, History and Nature, the Erie County Cultural Board, the John R. Oishei Foundation, the New York State Council on the Arts, and the Preservation League of New York State.