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Albright-Knox Art Gallery redesign 2.0 saves Bunshaft building

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New scheme by OMA comes after months of criticism from architects and preservationists

A rendering of the new Albright-Knox Art Gallery redesign, approved by the Buffalo Fine Arts Academy on Monday.

After months of criticism from the architecture community, as well as consultations with local preservationists, officials at Buffalo, New York’s Albright-Knox Art Gallery have backed off a previous redesign plan in favor of a new scheme that would save a 1962 building by Buffalo-born Pritzker Prize-winning architect Gordon Bunshaft.

According to a report in the Buffalo News, the new proposal, approved unanimously by the Buffalo Fine Arts Academy, which oversees the gallery, features a new building, a “translucent ziggurat” containing a public atrium and cafe.

Designed by OMA’s Shohei Shigematsu, who also created the previous renovation scheme, this newly approved plan also includes a transparent “scenic bridge” connecting the new building to an existing neoclassical 1905 building on the museum’s campus, designed by E.B. Green.

A sketch of the revised Albright-Knox Art Gallery update.
Overhead view of the revised site plan.

In addition, the open-air courtyard created by the 1962 Bunshaft building would be covered to create an “indoor town square.” Like the previous proposal, the new plan would also bury the current parking lot to create an open lawn on the west side of the Green building.

The Albright-Knox Art Gallery, a landmark in Buffalo, currently features Green’s classic design as as well as the Bunshaft-designed modernist addition, a “low, white, stone-clad plinth with a black-glass auditorium that serves as a minimal counterpoint to the more ornate older wing,” according to Buffalo-born architect Mark Hogan.

Hogan called the previous concept “a mistake,” writing:

“The basic premise of this proposal is to demolish the galleries and courtyard of Gordon Bunshaft’s spectacular midcentury addition in favor of a bloated, ill-defined, glass-walled lobby with gallery space on top.”

As Curbed architecture critic Alexandra Lange wrote in her analysis of the previous plan, the initial OMA scheme, meant to modernize the institution and increase its gallery space, would have ruined the Bunshaft building, and use questionable rationale to take away work by a modernist master.

“What will we get for gutting and cutting Buffalo’s best postwar building?” Lange wrote. “A giant lobby, with a gift shop and space suitable for event rental. Hardly core functions, whatever museums need to do to live.”

Now expected to cost $155 million, the museum renovation is expected to open in 2021, according to the Buffalo News, and increase the institution’s total exhibition space to 50,000 square feet, allowing it to display three or four times the amount of artwork.

Due to a significant gift from Los Angeles-based philanthropist and bond trader Jeffrey Gundlach, the campus will reopen as the Buffalo Albright-Knox-Gundlach Art Museum.