The Albright-Knox Art Gallery wants to create a public space that could rival Canalside while expanding and remaking one of the city’s most recognizable institutions.
And gallery officials are looking to some of the most respected architects in the world to make it happen.
They have narrowed the list of potential architects for the gallery’s upcoming expansion project to five firms with experience building in challenging urban environments. They plan to announce the winning firm in mid-June, after which the gallery and the chosen company will spend a year researching and producing a final design.
The gallery also has given the project an “aspirational” price tag of $80 million and estimates that groundbreaking is not likely until at least 2018.
Collectively, the firms on the Albright-Knox’s list have designed some of the most high-profile international building projects of recent years, from the rising skyscraper at 2 World Trade Center to the jaw-dropping CCTV Headquarters in Bejing. Their museum work ranges from the $305 million build-out of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art to the $29 million Clyfford Still Museum in Denver. The firms are:
• Snøhetta, based in New York and Oslo.
• Bjarke Ingels Group, based in New York and Copenhagen.
• OMA , based in New York, Dubai, Hong Kong and Rotterdam, the Netherlands.
• wHY, based in Los Angeles and New York City.
• Allied Works Architecture, based in Portland, Ore., and New York City.
The firms were chosen for their “design intellect” and ability to collaborate rather than for their individual styles or specific past designs, Albright-Knox director Janne Sirén said.
“The selection of the architects reflects that malleability, because none of them has a fingerprint style,” Sirén said. “All of them, almost, specialize in an ability to build for a given context.”
Sirén also said the expansion he envisions could entail not only the gallery’s substantial needs for new exhibition space, but the creation of a new public urban space he called “the Canalside of North Buffalo.”
The winning firm will have to contend with a particularly challenging urban space.
The Albright-Knox campus sits at the edge of Delaware Park, one of Frederick Law Olmsted’s masterworks. It includes three buildings of historic import: the Beaux-Arts 1905 building by E.B. Green, with its commanding neoclassical facade and imposing staircase leading to Hoyt Lake; Gordon Bunshaft’s 1962 modernist mirror-box, complete with its sculpture garden, glass-walled auditorium and narrow exhibition corridors; and Green’s much-modified Clifton Hall, which houses the gallery’s curatorial staff.
What’s more, the gallery’s potential expansion could be affected by the future reconfiguration of the Scajaquada Expressway, which could impact the shape of the campus’ northern border.
Sirén said the gallery’s objective is to have “50,000 square feet of prime exhibition space,” which could both accommodate the large-scale pieces now commonplace in contemporary art and viewing distances adequate to appreciate those works. Its current buildings contain about 19,000 square feet of space that meets modern standards. The target of 50,000 square feet, Sirén added, would put the Albright-Knox on the same level as the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the new Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City.
As for the placement of a new building, Sirén declined to speculate, but said it would make sense for new exhibition space to be “adjacent” to the 1905 building’s current space, adding that the east side of the original building facing Hoyt Lake was the gallery’s original entrance and “in many ways the most delicate side” of the campus.
The gallery is conducting its architectural competition in an unusual way. Rather than asking five architects to submit concrete proposals and choosing one to execute, Albright-Knox leaders have built in a yearlong period after the winning firm is selected to arrive at a final design, likely to be completed by the end of 2017.
“We’re not in a design competition to choose a design and then build it. We’re in a process of choosing a partner,” Sirén said. “They should not expect the proposal and the renderings that they provide us to be what actually gets done.”
Fundraising for the project officially began in November during the gallery’s annual gala, though Sirén declined to say how much money has been raised. He said funds will come from a mix of public, private and foundation sources, and that the winning architectural firm will be involved in the fundraising process.
The scope and length of the gallery’s capital campaign will not become clear until after a fundraising study is complete this spring. The campaign committee is chaired by M&T Bank CEO and Chairman Robert Wilmers, who called the expansion “an exciting and most important project for the gallery, and, indeed, for Western New York.”
Sirén already is working on his pitch to public officials, pegging the project’s potential economic impact at $100 million – about three times the gallery’s current impact.
“There are only two reasons why a person in Paris or in London will get on an airplane and fly to Buffalo,” Sirén said. “They will come to see the Albright-Knox and its collection, and the architectural legacy of the city.”
In this project, one that Albright-Knox board president Thomas Hyde has termed of “generational importance,” those two defining aspects of Buffalo’s identity will converge.
Headquarters: Oslo, Norway, and New York City
Philosophy: “When interested parties come together as equals, we create a place to mutually understand each other’s objectives and interests.”
With a wealth of experience designing buildings that seem to emerge naturally from their environments and a particular focus on the human experience, Snohetta was chosen by Albright-Knox leaders to execute a master plan for the gallery’s campus in 2013. That might seem to give Snøhetta an advantage over the competition as master plan authors are regularly chosen to execute their designs (see: Daniel Libeskind’s 2002 master plan for the World Trade Center site and his subsequent enlistment to design 1 World Trade Center), but it’s by no means a sure bet. Snohetta’s widely praised designs for the Oslo National Opera House and surrounding public spaces and its redesign of pedestrian traffic flow through Times Square in New York City, however, seem to dovetail with the gallery’s desire to create anew and indispensable public space that gallery director Janne Sirén called a “Canalside for North Buffalo.”
Headquarters: New York City and Copenhagen, Denmark
Philosophy: “A pragmatic utopian architecture that steers clear of the petrifying pragmatism of boring boxes and the naïve utopian ideas of digital formalism.”
With a series of graceful and often wildly ambitious buildings that seem to embody the organic flow of natural elements and phenomena, BIG has established itself as one of the most buzzed-about and sought-after international architecture firms of the 21st century. Its founder, Bjarke Ingels, is known as much for thinking outside the box as for drawing from the environment at hand. In addition to its museum work, the company is responsible for designing a power plant that doubles as a ski slope (to be completed next year in Copenhagen) as well as the rising staircase of a skyscraper at 2 World Trade Center, now on hold, to replace the South Tower that was destroyed in 2001. Its deign for the Danish National Maritime Museum, which takes the shape of a ship in motion in a space formerly occupied by an empty dock – a project that fused art with adaptive reuse.
Headquarters: New York, Dubai, Hong Kong and Rotterdam, the Netherlands.
Philosophy: “OMA’s buildings and master plans around the world insist on intelligent forms while inventing new possibilities for content and everyday use.”
With decades of design experience, the Rotterdam-born Rem Koolhaas is the most seasoned and accomplished of the individual architects on the gallery’s short list. A widely published theorist and thinker as well as the leader of his multifarious practice, Koolhaas won the coveted Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2000. His most recognized building of recent years is the Bejing headquarters of China’s state television network, an imposing and highly controversial form reminiscent of a Tony Smith sculpture that New York Times critic Nicolai Ouroussoff wrote “may be the greatest work of architecture built in this century.” His master plan for the Euralille mini-city in Lille, France, as well as his published thoughts on the architecture of New York City in “Delirious New York,” establish Koolhaas as an architect who relishes difficult challenges requiring the delicate fusion of many different urban elements.
Headquarters: Los Angeles and New York City
Philosophy: “wHY eschews iconic form-making in favor of solving functional problems and representing multiple identities without compromising the whole.”
With a shorter resume than its competitors but a perhaps the most resolute focus on collaboration, wHY is best known for its designs for the Bibliothca Alexandria in Cairo and, perhaps more relevant to Buffalo, the expansion and renovation of the Speed Art Museum in Louisville, Ky., set to open later this month. The firm was founded by Kulapat Yantrasat, a disciple of the accomplished Japanese architect Tadao Ando, and prides itself on designing buildings “to look like they’ve been there forever, that they belong to the site,” according to an Architects Newspaper interview with wHY buildings workshop director Andrija Stojic. Also relevant is wHY’s experience in collaborating with go-to museum expansion firm Renzo Piano Building Workshop – notably absent from this shortlist – to reconfigure 100,000 feet of gallery space in the recently expanded Harvard Art Museums.
Headquarters: Portland, Ore., and New York City
Philosophy: “Guided by principles of craft and innovation, Allied Works creates designs that resonate with their specificity of place and purpose.”
In the shadow of Daniel Libeskind’s massive, angular Denver Museum of Art in the city’s Golden Triangle Museum District sits a quiet two-story museum with an unostentatious profile, walls of cast concrete and huge skylights. Inside, the already luminous paintings of Cylfford Still are further enhanced by a meticulously calibrated mix of natural and artificial light, which adjusts automatically as the sun rises and sets. It is the site- and artist-specific work of Brad Cloepfil, an architect who has given concrete a new lease on life and helped to remove it from its brutalist connotations, though he is by no means bound to the material. His 40-person practice has also created high-profile renovations of New York City’s Museum of Art and Design on Columbus Circle, the Seattle Art Museum and the University of Michigan Museum of Art. The firm seems to have a knack for finding museums that want to double their existing space, as the Albright-Knox does.