This isn’t the first time that Henry-Russell Hitchcock’s 1940 exhibit at the Albright Art Gallery has been re-visited. In 1982, the Albright-Knox Art Gallery re-staged the original exhibition in conjunction with the publication of Buffalo Architecture: A Guide. This book would come to be considered the definitive guide to Buffalo’s architecture and can directly trace its roots to the Hitchcock exhibit, featuring many of the same buildings and including Hitchcock’s text from the original exhibition in its introduction.
In addition to including much of the same content, Buffalo Architecture: A Guide continues the canonicity set in motion by Hitchcock by focusing primarily on stylistic categorizations and supporting the narrative focused on pedigreed buildings that came to dominate discussions of architectural modernism. While there is a cracking open of the door to a somewhat more inclusive approach – a mention of Louise Bethune, including a design credited to Robert T. Coles, and reference to twenty-six East Side buildings rather than Hitchcock’s seven – the guide still largely privileges sites that expound on the monumental structures associated with the European settler origins of Buffalo’s modern built history.
This is understandable given that its main project was – as Reyner Banham puts it in his introductory text – “to make it impossible, ever again, for anyone who cares about architecture” to ignore Buffalo’s wealth of works of the previous hundred years admired by the modernist avant-garde.
We have set ourselves a different task with this exhibition, which is to expand Buffalo’s conception of its architectural and stylistic canon by directly challenging the relegation to the margins of the development process contributions by women, people of color, indigenous people, activists, sexual minorities, and others. Even in Hitchcock’s own era, there were advocates within the avant-garde for taking a wider view to the issues of architecture, place, and preservation, including Lewis Mumford, Catherine Bauer, and Buffalo’s own Robert T. Coles, who considered that architects needed to be activists and even sometimes revolutionaries.
There are many ways to re-imagine Buffalo’s architectural canon and the value of our various built spaces. In this exhibition we offer one strategy for recovering and reclaiming the places and place-makers who were previously subordinate to more formalistic, “Great Man” approaches to history. These walls represent 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 as well as the 1980s efforts. This work explores alternate principles of design from the ones expounded by Henry-Russell Hitchcock and Philip Johnson in their seminal 1932 exhibit on international style architecture. After viewing the results here, we welcome you to write your own principles as we collectively contemplate Buffalo’s architectural future.
“The effect of mass, of static solidity, hitherto the prime quality of architecture, has all but disappeared; in its place there is an effect of volume, or more accurately, of plane surfaces bounding a volume. The prime architectural symbol is no longer the dense brick but the open box.”