Albright-Knox Art Gallery – The 1962 Knox Addition
- National Register of Historic Places: May 27, 1971 / New York State Historic Trust, Dec 15, 1970
- Listed by Address on Locally Designated Historic Properties of City of Buffalo / by The Historic Buffalo Preservation Board
Even though the Buffalo Fine Arts Academy established and started their exhibitions of galleries in 1862, they did not have any permanent home for the galleries and exhibitions until they decided to build one in 1900, which is the historical classical revival building of the Albright – Knox Art Gallery.
With the support of J. Joseph Albright who was the former president of the Academy, the academy commissioned the architect Edward B. Green to design the new building. Actually, the building was intended to be a part of the Pan American Exposition in 1901. Although the design commission was completed by 1900, the construction did not finish until 1905 due to a shortage of marble for interiors and careful effort on building craft. The building was ready to accept visitors in the same year, 1905. The building was designed in the Beaux Arts architecture style using many Greek Architectural style features on its body.
The need for additional space increased over the years, because of the expanding collection of the academy. They decided to build a new addition as a south wing of the existing building. Gordon Bunshaft, who was a design principal at the biggest architectural firm in the U.S. at that time, Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM), which was engaged to design the new addition in 1958. Bunshaft was also a Buffalo native. The John W. Cowper Company of Buffalo had taken the responsibility of building the new addition and the renovation of the existing building. The estimated approximate cost of the construction was $1,700,000 including architects’ fees.
For building the new addition, Mr. Knox made important contributions on behalf of the Seymour H. Knox foundation. The foundation promised $1,000,000 initially and this amount was increased to $1,400,000 for the construction. After that, a building Fund Raising Committee organized in order to afford the cost of the construction.
After the new addition was built, the gallery was renamed the “Albright – Knox Art Gallery”, due to generous supports and contributions of Mr. Seymour H. Knox and his family members for the construction of the new addition and the renovation of the original building.
The 1962 Knox Addition reflects key features of the “Glass Box Modernism” with its architecture. It is one of the best examples of this architectural style with every detail - rectangular shaped free plan, the flat roof, and giant glass exterior window glazing.
The Knox addition was built on 30,000 sq feet area, which includes a 350 seat auditorium, a restaurant, storage rooms, offices, facilities for visitors, inner courtyard, a connection to the original building and a new entrance from the Elmwood Avenue side.
This giant Modern Black Glass Box has a 350 seat – auditorium for audience and a stage for performers. This pavilion (glass box) is the second floor of the building. Access for the auditorium is from the first floor by using the stairs from left and right hand sides of the gate.
The first story of the wing was enclosed by a wall which was aligned with the old building’s basement walls. This new wall was clad with smooth white marble which is the same material as the existing wall of the historical Albright Building. The enclosing masonry wall created an internal space. This internal space provided a chance to create encircling corridors around an inner courtyard. This type of design helps to bring the daylight into the corridors. This feature is important for the design due to fact that there are no openings on the masonry wall.
The most important part of Bunshaft’s design is the pavilion-looking auditorium which is the principal reason to consider the design as an important example of “Glass Box Modernism”. The main structural frame of the building was constructed with steel. After that, it was glazed with 40 gigantic grey-tone glass panels. The glaze featured ½ inch thick grey plate glass panels with the dimensions of 16’ 2” by 8’ 3 and 11/38”.
Even though both the original and the 1962 Knox addition buildings were designed and built in different eras and in different architecture styles, visually, there is no discrepancy between two buildings. With the use of landscape, both buildings have a perfect harmony in contrast, not contradiction. It is the harmony of white and black. When, the Knox addition was opened for the first time, there was already a built environment, The Historical Society (a classical revival building of white marble designed as the New York State Pavilion for the Pan American Exposition) and the Olmsted Designed-Delaware Park. In this aspect, the site, landscape and new addition fit perfectly with its surroundings.
The site also complements the other facilities around it. Buffalo State College is located, with its two different styles of buildings, across the street. Rockwell Performing Arts Center is a red brick building with a clock tower designed in Georgian Architecture style, opened in 1931 and Burchfield Penney Art Center is a new building by Gwathmey Siegel Architects with its contemporary architecture style, opened in 2008.
The original building reflects the Beaux Arts architectural style with many Greek architectural features and ornaments. This ornaments and the order of galleries were inspired from the “Greek Erectheion” which was a perfect example for Ionic order in architecture.
The 1962 Knox Addition building is one of the most important examples in Buffalo of the modern architecture era with its unique design by the use of rectilinear forms, glass and steel. Also, it is a crucial technical example of “Glass Box Modernism”.
In his book, John Douglas Sanford (1987) states that;
“The firm’s use of concrete, glass, and steel and the elegant simplicity of their designs bring to mind the work of Mies van der Rohe.” (Douglas, -)
For the design of this new Addition, SOM (Skidmore, Owings and Merrill) and one of its design principals, Gordon Bunshaft were involved in this groundbreaking project. SOM was one of the largest architectural firms in USA with countless designs around the world. Gordon Bunshaft was an award winning International Architect who was originally from Buffalo.
This example of Gordon Bunshaft’s architectural design and its representation of contemporary architecture is named “Miesian” after Mies Van der Rohe. During the design process, Bunshaft and the firm adopted principles of this International Style approach. This design type specifies efficient space use, proportion and materials. These conditions introduced the “Glass Box Modernism” design to clients, which became truly international. Therefore, this new addition is considered as a perfect design for museum purpose. When Mr. Kenzo Tange commented on its transitions and lighting, he stated that; “The transition from the old to the new architecture has been done wonderfully…, the lighting is excellent and the way structural elements have been used for decorative effect is very good.” (Reeves, -) On the other hand, Dr. William J. H. B. Sandberg, who was the director of the Stedelijk Museum of Amsterdam, evaluated the suitability of the space as a modern art museum with his own words; “There is nothing like it in Europe. It has wonderful space, and the art shows very well. It is an atmosphere adequate for modern art. It is very elastic, and that’s what it should be.” (Reeves -)
The site has been already listed in the National Register of Historic Places, since May 27, 1971. It has also been designated as a historic local landmark by the Historic Buffalo Preservation Board. This modern addition to a Classical Revival landmark is probably the most successful integration of old and new design concepts in Buffalo, and is also a successful and admired museum design expansion.
The ground of significance for this addition includes being an excellent example of International Style “Glass Box Modernism” inspired by Mies Van der Rohe, being an important example of a museum expansion and being an important example of mid-century modern era and contemporary design.
Townsend, J. Benjamin. 100; Buffalo Fine Arts Academy, 1862 – 1962, Albright – Knox Art Gallery. Buffalo: The Buffalo Fine Arts Academy, 1962
Sanford, John Douglas. The Gallery Architects, Edward B. Green and Gordon Bunshaft. Buffalo: Albright – Knox Art Gallery, 1987
Carter, Brian. Gordon Bunshaft, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill: Albright – Knox Art Gallery. Buffalo: State University of New York at Buffalo, School of Architecture and Planning, 2012
Ready References of Albright - Knox Addition from Research Library of Buffalo History Museum
Reeves, Jean. “New Albright – Knox Addition Is Given a Memorable Debut” - Buffalo Evening News 19 JAN 1962
Liguori, Irene. “Art Gallery Considers Major Expansion“ Buffalo Evenings News 23 FEB 2008
Sommer, Mark. “A Space Uniquely Designed For Art” Buffalo Evening News 19 JAN 2012
“Design for Art Gallery Addition ‘Modern in Spirit’ but Classical” Buffalo Evening News 2 JUL 1958
HHL Architects, Albright–Knox Art Gallery Renovation. Web.
National Register of Historic Places: May 27, 1971 / New York State Historic Trust, 15 DEC 1970
Buffalo Historic Preservation Board. “Locally Designated Historic Properties in the City of Buffalo by Address”, Web. Last update: 8 APR 2011.
Pape, Dave. “Albright – Knox Gallery, rear, overlooking the lake in Delaware Park”. (14 JULY. 2006). Wikimedia Commons. (20 FEB. 2007) http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/19/Albright-Knox_Art_Gal...
Roeller, Richard W. “Albright Knox Art Gallery” Aug 30, 1968. Research Library – Buffalo History Museum /Building-Educational-Albright Knox-Exteriors. Courtyard.
Smith, Bob. “Albright Knox Art Gallery” Aug 14, 1961. Research Library-Buffalo History Museum/Exteriors-Knox Addition. (Courtesy Buffalo History Museum)