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Martin House assimilates change Revisions reconcile visitors center to site

In the six years since it was unveiled, Toshiko Mori's much-praised design for the Darwin Martin House visitors center has undergone significant changes.

Budget constraints and formidable bedrock below the surface caused a three-year delay and the elimination of interpretive galleries beneath the main floor and an underground passageway leading to the main house.

But Mori, who visited the graceful, nearly finished structure this week, expressed no qualms about the vanished components, which only those familiar with the first blueprint might notice.

In her field, "it never happens" that a concept survives the journey from drawing board to construction intact, the New York City-based architect said.

In her view, the revisions -- made after prolonged discussions among Mori, project consultants and Darwin Martin House Restoration Corp. board members -- improved the result.

In original form, "it was too much building," she said, for the grounds it will share with the landmark main house and five other structures designed by Frank Lloyd Wright more than a century ago.

"We didn't really have to change the appearance at all; it now works much better with the concept of a compound," she said.

The visitors center was expected to be completed in 2005, but more time was needed to overcome budget and engineering difficulties and "to control quality and get the right materials at the right price," Mori said.

The center now is scheduled to open early next year as the Eleanor and Wilson Greatbatch Pavilion.

"This was a collective effort by a lot of people. It took a long time, but it was a very productive process -- a very wise route," she added.

The 4,120-square-foot surface space, enclosed on three sides by transparent triple-pane glass panels and further brightened by skylights, remains what Mori intended -- an orientation and study center for arriving visitors. The underground space, which will be off-limits to the public, will house heating, air conditioning, plumbing and power sources.

The interpretive gallery, offering video and other displays focusing on Wright's designs, will be located elsewhere in the six-structure complex on Jewett Parkway between Summit and Woodward avenues.

The low-profile pavilion just west of the landmark Martin House will cost about $5 million -- not counting "soft costs" such as engineering and consulting fees, said Mary F. Roberts, chief executive officer of the restoration group.

A $2.5 million gift in January from the East Hill Foundation, honoring inventor Wilson Greatbatch and his wife, Eleanor, sped the work.

The restoration of the Martin House complex, now in its final phase, is projected to cost $50 million.

After touring the site, Mori led a discussion on the project, primarily for University at Buffalo architecture students, in Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

Joining her on the panel were Dmitri Jajich, the pavilion's steelwork consultant; project engineer Paul Kreitler; and Bruce Nichol, the facade consultant.

e-mail: tbuckham@buffnews.com

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