Buffalo, New York’s grand collection of architecture was generated by Buffalo’s grain elevators; its robust economy culminating as the largest grain transshipment center in the world in 1900. At that time, the city’s grain silos had become recognized as the great cathedrals of Modernity. Today, Buffalo is a shadow of its former grandeur, experiencing immense urban decline since the 1950's. As all but two stand unused, the shadows cast by Buffalo’s surviving grain elevators are representative of the shadow cast over the City of Buffalo.
In its new comprehensive plan, Buffalo has identified its historic architecture as one of the new economic bases of the city. Nicolai Ouroussoff of the New York Times said, “Touring Buffalo’s monuments [grain elevators at the forefront] is about as close as you can get to experiencing firsthand the earliest struggles to define what an American architecture would look like.” Buffalo has spent millions of dollars into preserving, repurposing, and marketing its architectural treasures such as the Richardson-Olmsted Complex, and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Darwin Martin House among many other projects; yet the grain elevators that have had such a monumental affect on Buffalo’s cityscape through its history still stand abandoned. These cathedrals of industry need to be repurposed, serve the needs of the neighborhood, and become an attraction if Buffalo is to achieve its full potential as a top architectural destination in America.
Cities across America and Canada have already discovered some of the unique opportunities that grain elevator offers for adaptive reuse. Those reuse projects vary from contemporary condominiums, museums, hotels, and even a rock climbing center. Adaptive reuse spaces can range from use by the public similar to a public park to spurring economic development and urban design of a neighborhood. However these structures are reused or preserved, it is most important that they are done so in a way that is conscious of the working class history and character of the first ward neighborhood and the City of Buffalo, which they reside in.
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