Buffalo and Erie County Public Library
The Buffalo & Erie County Public Library serves as a center of information, education, culture and entertainment for the people of Buffalo and Erie county. Located in the heart of downtown Buffalo, NY at Lafayette Square, the central library holds a wide collection of rare books and manuscripts, carefully assembled over decades through the generosity of area philanthropists, collectors, and library leaders. 1836 was the beginning of the continuous public library service established by the Young Men’s Association. It wasn’t till 1886 that it became the Buffalo Library, and later the Buffalo Public Library as the result of a contractual agreement with the city of Buffalo in 1897. A second library, the Grosvenor Library, under the will of Seth Grosvenor, had been operating in Buffalo as a non-circulating public reference library since 1871. In 1947, a mobile book service to rural towns and villages became known as the Erie County Public Library. During the early 1950’s the city of Buffalo experienced financial difficulties, making it problematic to maintain the three separate services, therefor creating a merger between all the libraries, paving the way for the new Buffalo & Erie County Public Library. The design of the new library was carried out by Kideney Architects with construction managed by John W. Cowper CO. Construction of the new central library began in 1961 and was completed in 1964 and officially dedicated on October 18th of 1964. The location of the old public library in the center of the redeveloping downtown Buffalo, NY was the determining factor in the site selection. The block to the east was purchased and the construction took place in two phases, the first on the new land and the second on the old site with construction at first floor level spanning Ellicott Street.
The old Buffalo Public Library central building designed by Cyrus L.W Eidlitz, built in 1887, was located on a relatively small triangular site on the eastern side of Lafayette square in the center of downtown Buffalo, NY. The new Buffalo and Erie County Public Library central building occupies this same site and also a large rectangle block to the east. The new library was built in two phases. The first phase was the erection of a five story building that was 247’ x 228’ on the rectangular city block behind the old building. This phase was started on February 1, 1961 and completed October 1963. The 1,000,000 volumes from the former library were moved into the new structure. Phase 2 of the construction consisted of the demolition of the old Buffalo Public Library building, bridging the intervening street and constructing the front part of the building on the triangular site. The second (front) portion of the building was occupied “progressively” as each floor was completed and in its entirety was opened for public service on September 8, 1964. Since the first floor is slightly above sidewalk level, the building is approached by a broad landscape ramp from Lafayette square. This, combined with the natural slope of the land from Lafayette Square, makes possible the equivalent of two street level floors. With this effect, the rear of the building’s first floor becomes the third floor. On the triangular site there are three floors which cross Ellicott Street, separating the triangular site from the rectangular site. The exterior of the building is polished Vermont marble and green and red granite from Minnesota which line the sidewalk emphasizing the first floor. The extrusions and window casings are of stainless steel
Seven Vierendeel trusses are part of the steel framework that helps to span over a street in the heart of downtown buffalo. The 70-ton trusses support a for story section of the library spanning Ellicott Street. This four story bridge connects the west portion of the building, fronting on Lafayette square, with the east portion. The all welded, stress relieved trusses are 70 feet long and 13 feet deep and are supported by parallel rows of welded, box shaped columns. An 80 ton crawler crane hoisted each truss to its final place in the framework 35 feet above the street. First floor of the tunnel is suspended from the trusses, and the top chords of the trusses form part of the second floor framing.
The library sits in the 2 block radius of Lafayette Square. With the front triangular section facing Lafayette Square, the sides are cornered by Clinton Street to the south, Oak Street to the east with Broadway and William Street occupying the north. The slope of the site is unique to the fact that Ellicott Street runs through the middle, separating the two wings with a bridge connecting them. The library was meant to be a visually striking central part of a larger cluster of buildings ringing one of the most important squares in downtown Buffalo. At the time of completion, the library sat amongst notable Buffalo architecture, all located on the one block of Lafayette Square, such as Lafayette Hotel built in 1911, the Tishman building completed in 1959, and the Rand Building, adjacent to the Tishman building, built in 1929.
The marble and granite façade helped to give the overall appearance of the well know internationalist style of modernism balanced by substantial glass curtain walls with stainless steel framing. To maximize the footprint of the two-block site, the building was constructed over Ellicott Street forming a modern portal like tunnel through the building. The at-grade tunnel incorporated modern materials as demonstrated with its gray and white mosaic tile walls, steel and glass entrances, rows of square columns faced with black marble, and stainless steel curb lined barriers. Seven Vierendeel trusses are part of the steel framework that helps to span over a street in the heart of downtown buffalo. The 70-ton trusses support a for story section of the library spanning Ellicott Street. This four story bridge connects the west portion of the building, fronting on Lafayette square, with the east portion. The all welded, stress relieved trusses are 70 feet long and 13 feet deep and are supported by parallel rows of welded, box shaped columns
The Buffalo Erie County Public Library was the manifestation of financial despair to support three separate libraries. With the merger, the downtown branch now serves the public with over 2 million different selections of genres, fiction, non-fiction, and documents. The unity which now characterizes the Buffalo and Erie county Public Library system came about by the historical ties the community has with libraries. Libraries are punctuated by strife, financial struggle, partisan political battles, and personal selfishness. The efforts of dedicated, intelligent citizens over the years have achieved consolidation, harmony and one of the most unified systems in Buffalo, NY.
The concept in which the library stood by was part of an open landscape, limited and defined by its structural grid and panelized clad exterior. The gentle sloping hardscape plaza with its black granite faced perimeter walls provides a dramatic entrance to the library and serves as a traditional public space from Lafayette Square to the library. The design incorporated a lecture auditorium, research areas, media and study rooms, administration space and an open landscape space designed for maximum flexibility to respond to the changing technology and space needs of the library.
The buffalo public library was amidst a generation of modern architecture being built in the downtown region. Across the street stands the Tishman building built in 1959, where the building utilizes an innovative curtain walls system new to this time of construction. The library has a striking feature in the aesthetics as you first approach due to the white marble cladding and black granite accenting the ground level. Although the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library has flashy, vibrant exterior, the Buffalo News Building was built by acclaimed modern architect Edward Durell Stone, in the early 1970’s and lesser-known work. The building exhibits a strong horizontality like many of Stone’s other buildings. However, one difference is that this one is constructed in a beige concrete unlike Stone’s more familiar use of white marble or granite.
The Buffalo and Erie County Public Library is the design and construction of International Style Kideney architects were looking for. Elements that can distinguish its style more clearly is the exterior. Striving to create a new modern form and functional theory of architecture, Kideney Architects abandoned tradition to create a pared down, unornamented style that emphasized geometric shapes, viewing it as architecture for the modern age. The steel frame curtain wall with grass inserts is well emphasized by the hard, solid panelized exterior walls with white marble slabs cut into rectangular panels.
The Buffalo Downtown Staff, “From three libraries to one” Landmark series, Buffalo and Erie County Public Library, essay
Library facts sheet, “Buffalo and Erie County Public Library” September 8,1965, pamphlet
Rounds, Joseph, and Rooney, Paul. “ Buffalo Bridges its site” Buffalo News December 1, 1965
Vogel, Charity, “Booking it in style” Buffalo news, August 5, 2002
Rounds, Joseph. “The time was right: a history of the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library” Buffalo NY, 1985, book
History of the B&ECPL, staff