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Albright-Knox design features infusion of public green space

Architect Shohei Shigematsu walked Buffalonians through dozens of ideas for his firm's new design for the Albright-Knox Art Gallery expansion Wednesday night in the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center.

The one he and the gallery finally settled on – which restores two acres of green space to its Delaware Park campus, while integrating two new gallery buildings and an airy public entry hall into its existing footprint – earned rave reviews from those in attendance.

[Gallery: Albright-Knox Art Gallery expansion plans]

"I love the fact that there's so much green, that they're keeping all the green and making it open and airy," said Kate Soudant, who has followed the expansion process closely and attended several public meetings on the project. "I think that's bold."

In the plan, conceived by Shigematsu and his New York-based team at the architecture firm OMA, the gallery's existing parking lot will disappear. The result, he said, during a 30-minute presentation, would be the addition of 14 percent more green space to the gallery's campus, which if all goes to plan will contain 80 percent green space.

Gerald Mead, a Buffalo artist and curator, said he was impressed by the presentation, in which Shigematsu ticked through a series of design concepts and sketches that ranged from the austere to the outrageous.

The firm is well-known for its exhaustive research process, which produces hundreds of concept drawings, foam models and inspiration boards with playful elements.

In one slide, for example, a human hand was shown placing a rectangular structure on top of the gallery's existing courtyard. In another, a gargantuan structure jutted out over the west side of the campus like some kind of alien spaceship that Shigematsu called "the longest cantilever in the world."

Albright-Knox expansion will bury parking, create new entry hall

The final choice was much more elegant and austere, paying deference both to E.B. Green's 1905 neoclassical building and Gordon Bunshaft's 1962 auditorium.

"There is not a negative about the entire project," Mead said. "They really did their homework. What impressed me the most is when they went back and actually saw the E.B. Green expansion plan. I don't think there's a negative. There's no net loss, there's only a net gain."

Shigematsu and Albright-Knox Art Gallery Director Janne Sirén both stressed that the renderings displayed on Wednesday were merely "volume placements" and shouldn't be taken as literal renderings of what the finished buildings will look like. More specific renderings will be released in November, after the project reaches the end of its schematic design phase.

Asked if he intended to make the new floating volume above the existing courtyard into a rectangular, box-like shape, Shigematsu suggested he was thinking of something more unorthodox.

"Because there is a perfect box next to it, I would like to make it if possible not so boxy," he said, referring to Bunshaft's auditorium. "But here I would like to make something, I wouldn't say organic, but soft. It might be boxy, but the material we use might be soft, something that has a depth or something that has a formal reaction to the context."

The mood in the room on Wednesday suggested that those most closely invested in the process were pleased with the initial look.

"I can see they put a lot of time and effort into coming up with something that works," said Martin McGee, a Buffalo curator. "I liked it. My general reaction was that it looks pretty good to me."

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