El Museo

New Exhibit documents the Erosion of Paul Rudolph’s Modernist Vision in Buffalo, New York

Paul Rudolph’s perspective drawing of the Buffalo Waterfront Housing Project (“Shoreline Apartments”)—this view foregrounds the higher-end housing (which was not constructed) which would have surrounded the marina. The complex of lower-rise apartments, which were built (and which are under ongoing threat), are lightly rendered at the top-right of the drawing. © The Estate of Paul Rudolph, The Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation.

Paul Rudolph’s perspective drawing of the Buffalo Waterfront Housing Project (“Shoreline Apartments”)—this view foregrounds the higher-end housing (which was not constructed) which would have surrounded the marina. The complex of lower-rise apartments, which were built (and which are under ongoing threat), are lightly rendered at the top-right of the drawing. © The Estate of Paul Rudolph, The Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation.

Located near Buffalo’s celebrated City Hall, the Shoreline Apartments is a housing complex designed by Paul Rudolph and completed in 1974. Featuring shed roofs, ribbed concrete exteriors, projecting balconies, and enclosed garden courts, the project combined Rudolph’s spatial radicalism with experiments in human-scaled high-density housing.

Paul Rudolph’s axonometric drawing for the Buffalo Waterfront Housing Project (“Shoreline Apartments”). This drawing shows a sample of the low-to-mid-rise apartments (which were built—and which are under ongoing threat), with adjacent parking. © The Estate of Paul Rudolph, The Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation.

Paul Rudolph’s axonometric drawing for the Buffalo Waterfront Housing Project (“Shoreline Apartments”). This drawing shows a sample of the low-to-mid-rise apartments (which were built—and which are under ongoing threat), with adjacent parking. © The Estate of Paul Rudolph, The Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation.

The complex has already been partly demolished, and the balance is seriously threatened. This has brought attention to the development—both locally and more broadly—and this focus has begun to produce results…

A SPECIAL EXHIBIT & SYMPOSIUM

Starting next month, The Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation is partnering with Buffalo’s El Museo to present:

Shoreline: Remembering a Waterfront Vision

a special project that looks into the history of one of Rudolph’s residential designs: Buffalo’s Shoreline Apartments.

EXHIBITION: October 4 -to- November 16, 2019

The project will open with an exhibition of documents, drawings, photographs, and artworks, spanning from the original vision of the Buffalo Waterfront Development in the 1960’s to the eventual destruction of Shoreline in recent years.

SYMPOSIUM: October 25 & 26, 2019

A public symposium will convene architects, urban planners, preservationists, and researchers to discuss:

  • Paul Rudolph’s design legacy in Buffalo and New York State

  • the social legacy of urban renewal and modernism

  • preservation efforts surrounding these sites and structures

Other public programs will be announced.

LOCATIONS:

The events will take place at two cities in the area—both with significant buildings by Paul Rudolph: Buffalo and Niagara Falls.

PUBLICATION

A publication is planned, to be issued later in 2019, which will bring together images, essays, and other findings from the project: it will tell the varied histories of the Shoreline Apartments.

The Shorelines Apartments in 1975, shortly after opening. The large Art Deco skyscraper, at the rear-right, is Buffalo’s    City Hall   . Image: Courtesy of EPA/Library of Congress

The Shorelines Apartments in 1975, shortly after opening. The large Art Deco skyscraper, at the rear-right, is Buffalo’s City Hall. Image: Courtesy of EPA/Library of Congress

BACKGROUND

Located near Buffalo’s celebrated art-deco skyscraper City Hall, the Shoreline Apartments is a housing complex designed by architect Paul Rudolph and completed in 1974. It was originally part of the Buffalo Waterfront Development, an ambitious, mixed-income urban renewal project commissioned by the New York State Urban Development Corporation in 1969.

Aerial view (taken from the South East) of the Buffalo Waterfront Housing Project (“Shoreline Apartments”). Photo by Donald Luckenbill, © The Estate of Paul Rudolph, The Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation.

Aerial view (taken from the South East) of the Buffalo Waterfront Housing Project (“Shoreline Apartments”). Photo by Donald Luckenbill, © The Estate of Paul Rudolph, The Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation.

Rudolph’s scheme featured an arrangement of:

  • monumental, terraced high-rises flanking a marina

  • a sprawling school and community center

  • a series of low- and mid-rise apartment buildings meant to evoke Italian mountain villages

  • green spaces woven through the site

Street view of the Buffalo Waterfront Housing Project (“Shoreline Apartments”), taken between 1973 and 1977. © Massachusetts Institute of Technology, photograph by G. E. Kidder Smith

Street view of the Buffalo Waterfront Housing Project (“Shoreline Apartments”), taken between 1973 and 1977. © Massachusetts Institute of Technology, photograph by G. E. Kidder Smith

“With few exceptions, Paul Rudolph’s buildings can be recognized by their complexity, their sculptural details, their effects of scale and their texture.”

So wrote Arthur Drexler, the famed director of the Museum of Modern Art’s Architecture and Design Department for the 1970 exhibition, Work in Progress—a show which included Rudolph’s designs for the Buffalo Waterfront Development and Niagara Falls (Brydges) Library.

In the end, only two phases of affordable housing (Shoreline and Pine Harbor Apartments) were built. Today they are among the most unloved buildings in Buffalo, because—like many public housing projects of that era—their inventive, complex forms and admirable social aspirations have been overshadowed by disrepair, crime, and vacancy. In 2013, the site’s owner proposed a phased demolition and replacement of Shoreline with new traditionally styled townhouses. Following failed attempts at landmarking the structures for preservation, the first round of demolitions began in summer 2015.

The ongoing threat to Shoreline Apartments represents not just the loss of an exemplary piece of Buffalo’s Modern architectural legacy, but also the demise of a certain perspective on architecture and the city—and the possibilities of positive government action. It tells a story of the aspirations of mid-century urban planning, the short-lived heroism of Modern and “brutalist” architecture, and the unrealized social visions of the past.

At a time of renewed interest in Moden buildings, this project asks critical questions in architecture and historic preservation:

  • Whose buildings are important?

  • Whose stories get told?

  • What types of structures are considered worthy of maintenance and protection, and what others are left to deteriorate and die?

  • Is there room in our cities for inconvenient reminders of a past (and “inconvenient populations”) we would rather forget?

Through the lens of the Shoreline Apartments, this project aims to inspire new conversations that might lead to a better understanding and appreciation of these misunderstood places.

EXHIBIT LOCATION

Museo Francisco Oller y Diego Rivera (“El Museo”)

91 Allen Street (between Delaware Avenue and Franklin Street)

Buffalo, NY 14202

(716) 464.4692

http://www.elmuseobuffalo.org/

info@elmuseobuffalo.org

SPONSORS AND KEY PARTICIPANTS

Shoreline: Remembering a Waterfront Vision is curated by El Museo’s curator, Bryan Lee, and prominent preservation architect Barbara Campagna, and presented in partnership with the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation.

This project is funded by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature, and the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts.

Paul Rudolph’s overall site plan of the Buffalo Waterfront Housing Project (“Shoreline Apartments”). The higher-end housing (which was not constructed), surrounded the marina, occupies the right side of he drawing. The complex of mid-to-low-rise apartments is on the left side of the drawing—and the left-most quarter of that section is what was actually built. © The Estate of Paul Rudolph, The Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation.

Paul Rudolph’s overall site plan of the Buffalo Waterfront Housing Project (“Shoreline Apartments”). The higher-end housing (which was not constructed), surrounded the marina, occupies the right side of he drawing. The complex of mid-to-low-rise apartments is on the left side of the drawing—and the left-most quarter of that section is what was actually built. © The Estate of Paul Rudolph, The Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation.

Note: We thank El Museo, from whose web page Shoreline: Remembering a Waterfront Vision the above text was adapted.