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Buffalo’s progress impresses expert

One on the nation’s most esteemed architectural critics says he is thrilled by the changes he has observed in Buffalo since his last visit in 2003.

Paul Goldberger, a contributing editor at Vanity Fair and former longtime critic at the New Yorker, said the promise evident in the city’s assets is in many cases becoming a reality or is on the way.

“There were things that I thought 10 years ago were impossible that are beginning to happen. Neighborhood revival is one, and so is the Richardson Olmsted Complex, which I thought would be fantastic to preserve but that we’d all be dead before it could happen. And now it is going to happen,” said Goldberger, who gave the keynote address this week at the Society of Architectural Historians’ annual conference, which concludes Sunday.

Goldberger was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for Distinguished Criticism in 1984 while at the New York Times.

“There are a million problems and those are obvious. I’m not naive about the future of Buffalo – the challenges are gargantuan. But you do feel now, as opposed to 10 years ago, that things are going in the right direction, and that this city is doing all it can, recognizing there is a lot of stuff that is just beyond the ability of Buffalo to do.”

Buffalo begins, Goldberger noted, with some of the best representative works of the nation’s three greatest architects of the late 19th and early 20th century.

“There are truly great things here. It’s the only city other than Chicago that has [H.H.] Richardson, [Louis] Sullivan and [Frank Lloyd] Wright – ‘the trifecta,’ ” said Goldberger, who also teaches design and architecture at the New School in New York City.

“The Darwin Martin House has been absolutely, brilliantly restored, and it’s the most ambitious restoration of a Wright building that I’ve seen,” he said. “And the fact it also includes the pavilion by Toshiko Mori gives it a whole kind of depth and resonance that goes beyond what most restorations have. It avoids mimicking Wright instead by substituting, really, the creativity of our time, and playing it off against Wright.”

Goldberger, who was formerly dean of the Parsons School of Design, stayed overnight Thursday in the Gardener’s Cottage on the grounds of the Martin House Complex, which he said was an “honor.”

“It’s a wonderful little building – not as distinctive as the Martin House itself – but lovely and very comfortable,” Goldberger said.

He said Buffalo – which also hosted the National Preservation Conference in October 2011 to great fanfare – could stand to get its message out more loudly.

“I think Buffalo needs to market itself more,” Goldberger said. “Let’s not pretend that Buffalo can be Bilbao [home to Frank Gehry’s acclaimed Guggenheim museum], nor can cultural tourism make up for the loss of a huge manufacturing infrastructure that disappeared. But at the same time, you play the cards you have, and it’s one of the strongest cards Buffalo now has. I think Buffalo’s reputation is coming up.”

In 2003, during an address at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Goldberger said, “Buffalo has a kind of power of the authentic place.” On Friday he said he was struck on this visit by increased recognition of how good the city’s fabric is, and how it needed to be maintained.

Goldberger said he isn’t a fan of posthumous recreations of Wright projects, but made an exception with the detailed recreation of parts of the Martin House Complex. He bemoaned the tragic demolition of Wright’s Larkin Administration Building in 1950, and, when asked, said trying to replicate that “would be an interesting question. If somebody raised $100 million, call me back and then we’ll see,” he said with a laugh.

The architectural historians conference, which has attracted 620 people from many states and 26 countries, continues today with nine historic tours around the city, including the Guaranty Building, the Central Terminal and the Olmsted parks system, and a concluding event at the Martin House Complex’s Eleanor and Wilson Greatbatch Pavilion.

An additional six tours are scheduled on Sunday, including urban agriculture projects, the grain elevators and the Larkin District.