Monday, February 24, 2014

Imaginative Reuse vs. "Real World" Destruction

What could you do with 10 million dollars?  A heck of a lot more than tear down a perfectly good bridge that spans the water gap between the city of Buffalo, New York and it's towns to the south.  The problem is, the bridge functioning as a vehicular traffic option is detrimental to the waterfront rehabilitation that the city has taken on full-tilt in recent years, and I'd have to say it's a good thing!  Because of the ideas of sustainability, access, and care for the environment, people, and community, there has been a huge push to regenerate and rejuvenate brown field sites and even to re-imagine inventive ways to change the city layout and infrastructure.

With the ideas to do just that, the Buffalo Skyway has recently come into focus...a towering bridge connecting the city to the "southtowns," it has some of the best views of the Niagara River and surrounding areas but no one gets to see them unless there are daredevil drivers!  The estimated cost to demolish the bridge is about $10 million and the reality is, the bridge is perfectly stable and poses no threat to life safety but to the ongoing project of revitalizing the city of Buffalo.  To destroy a perfectly good structure would be, in my humble opinion, completely irresponsible, wasteful, and unintelligent.  That's why I'm glad that Ed Steinfeld, a professor at the University at Buffalo School of Architecture and Planning (and also the director of the Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access [aka IDEA Center]) challenged his student s to re-imagine the Buffalo Skyway.  It looks like he gave them free range and they took it: giving unique, fun, and exciting ideas to create genuine and fascinating proposals for the overpass that tie in with the city mission for the greening and taking back of the Buffalo Waterfront.

The student designs clearly stem from activity-based themes to get people actively involved in their city and region which is an important part of the urban design scheme as it stands.  In many of the proposals students not only utilize the horizontal functionality of the bridge, but opt to use its verticality as well, creating a completely new look, feel, and function for the structure!  It's an exciting project and I'm really happy they let the university students have a whack at it.  Sometimes in the "real world" people say "have fun in architecture school while you can because the things you do could never be built."  I disagree.  The reason they can't be built is actually because people in the "real world" think that everything has to be the done the traditional way with the typical design goals and themes...but what I'd say to that is, revitalizing the waterfront is ANYTHING but typical.  What is typical is how it got to this point in the first place:  A bunch of "real-world-ers" not designing past their own moment to design and build, and a society that became complacent when structures were abandoned and waterways and parks were left to fall by the wayside.  If you want something more for your world, you can't continue to do the same old stuff...make the future different.  Listen to the "pie in the sky" ideas and find a way to make them work.  I'm fairly certain that $10 million on any of these students' ideas would bring a whole lot more revenue to the city of Buffalo over time than another abandoned or demolished structure that will no longer serve any purpose...we have enough of those already in our "real world."

Check out the designs and let me know what you think!  I was personally intrigued by the Active Skyline and SkyPlay.  The four seasons seemed like a really nice feature for the skyline, too, especially as a sculptural element in the night shot.

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