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Bringing a modern edge to Buffalo architecture

On a clear winter day, Mike Anderson sits inside the East Side office of his firm, Abstract Architecture. A few folders are placed neatly on his desk, and his two dogs lie on the red carpet, ready to barrel over to the door and greet guests. An original wooden beam above pays homage to the building’s 126-year history, while the artwork — a lion with a scarf, a nearly floor-to-ceiling rabbit — and the large, new window behind him are decidedly modern.

Abstract Architecture moved here last year, and in many ways, the building is indicative of Anderson’s vision for the firm: a newly renovated contemporary space that’s making a positive impact on the neighborhood around it.

“Before we purchased it, it was a hardware shop — your typical 9-to-5 building with lots of bars on the windows and no life after 5 o’clock,” he said. “One thing about architects: We always work at all hours. And we plan to live here as well, so there will be a change in how the building’s used, and the day-to-day life here.”

Anderson opened his company in 2014 to focus mostly on residential architecture, including renovations, additions and new builds. He’s also hoping to be part of changing and revitalizing Buffalo by increasing the number of contemporary works, a critical part, he said, of creating vibrant, lively neighborhoods.

Chapin Parkway | Abstract Architecture | Buffalo Magazine

Anderson’s renovation improves flow and reflects the original 1960s feel of this Chapin Parkway area home.

“The neighborhoods within Buffalo and on the larger East Coast that we most enjoyed had a nice mix of both traditional architecture and more contemporary,” he said. “We get the most enjoyment out of the projects that are part of changing a neighborhood.”

Growing up in New Zealand, Anderson was always interested in the built environment. He first came to the United States on an athletic scholarship at the University of Hawaii, but eventually transferred to UB, earning his bachelor’s and master’s of architecture in 2001 and 2003, respectively. While he’s honed his craft here, his affinity for contemporary design was fostered in Honolulu.

“Property prices on the islands are very expensive, so it’s much more about the combination of interior and exterior space. I can make up for having a smaller apartment by having a patio, or a lanai in Hawaii,” he said.

Construction is slated to begin in spring on this Niagara Street container home, designed by Anderson. The main floor is elevated over the garage/workshop for clear views of Lake Erie and Canada.

“That’s one of the simple, basic ideas behind contemporary architecture: simplicity of form, openness to the space, easy to live in — very different than the compartmentalization you see in a traditional Buffalo home,” he continued. “For me, it’s all about comfort [and] creating an attractive space that can be utilized for multiple uses. Some of the best spaces we’ve created have that element where they extend out to outdoor spaces.”

After graduation, Anderson joined the Buffalo-based firm Architectural Resources, where he worked on the Nichols School’s Center for Math and Science, among other projects. But after more than a decade, he decided it was time to go out on his own and choose his own projects.

From previous side jobs he’d completed, he already had a few residential clients lined up, and referrals helped grow his business. He’s also completed several commercial projects, including Falley Allen, Ted’s Hot Dogs’ downtown headquarters, Animal Outfitters at 500 Seneca, and the company’s largest project to date, Buffalo RiverWorks.

RiverWorks | Abstract Architecture | Buffalo Magazine

“It was a stab in the dark that something on the outskirts of the Buffalo River would work,” he said. “If the developers that did RiverWorks didn’t have the foresight to do it, we may not have the residential units we have down on Ohio Street now. RiverWorks really opened the eyes of a lot of people that the Buffalo River is a real asset — and will continue to be.”

Still, his first love is residential architecture, whether that’s renovating existing spaces — such as an E.B. Green-designed firehouse on Leroy Avenue he helped transform into a private residence — or conceiving a new, contemporary structure, like a pair of container houses he’s designed locally, with a third in progress. (At press time, one of the first two was nearing construction on Niagara Street.)

Meanwhile, at Abstract Architecture’s office on the corner of Broadway and Cedar Street, Anderson is continuing renovation on the entire building: The third floor will be his residence, the office will move to the second floor and a tenant will occupy the first, bringing life to that corner beyond the workday.

“This is a really cool city. There are a lot of edgier neighborhoods that are starting to become really progressive,” he said. “We’re investing in the city, our business is in the city, we live in the city and our plan is to increase the quality of life in the city.”

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