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Preservation Board flags Albright-Knox expansion plans

The Buffalo Preservation Board is voicing strong opposition to the Albright-Knox Art Gallery's planned expansion project, citing Department of the Interior standards that place strict limits on changes to historic landmarks and stating its hope that the gallery is "going down the right road."

In a letter to Albright-Knox Director Janne Sirén dated Thursday, Preservation Board President Paul McDonnell raised a series of objections to the project.

[Gallery: Albright-Knox Art Gallery expansion plans]

McDonnell took specific issue with the gallery's plan to reconfigure the courtyard and galleries of Gordon Bunshaft's 1962 addition into a public entry hall and to construct a new "floating volume" between that addition and E.B. Green's original 1905 building.

"The concept appears to require the destruction and radical alteration of character-defining elements of the 1962 Bunshaft building (gallery spaces and courtyard), and to impact viewsheds of the original Green building and Olmsted landscape," the letter reads.

McDonnell's letter, approved in a meeting of the board on Thursday, goes on to list the requirements of the Secretary of the Interior standards on historic use and preservation to which the gallery's buildings must adhere. Among other things, those standards require that "new additions, exterior alterations, or related new construction will not destroy historic materials, features, and spacial relationships that characterize the property."

[Read a copy of the Buffalo Preservation Board's June 29 letter to Albright-Knox Art Gallery Director Janne Sirén]

Opposition to the project in local preservation circles has been mounting since preliminary plans for the expansion were revealed on June 23. Opposition to the project hinges on preservationists' commitment to Bunshaft's addition, which creates a balance of new and old that was described in a 1977 landmark application as "white pearl, black-diamond."

Sirén, reached by phone Friday afternoon, said he was surprised the media received copies of the Preservation Board's letter before he did.

"It is a surprise to me that we [were] not invited to a meeting to discuss this process," Sirén said. In the letter, McDonnell invited gallery representatives to meet with the Preservation Board.

Sirén characterized critiques of the released renderings and volume placements as premature, and noted that the gallery is at the beginning of a long process that eventually will result in a final design for the expansion. That design is expected to be released in November.

"It is premature to react to the few images that are out there as design, because they are not design," he said of the Preservation Board's reaction to the concept. "We look forward to sharing our progress with them and having an intelligent conversation. But right now I think that there are reactions that are not premised on facts."

McDonnell, an architect for the Buffalo Public Schools, said the board was reacting to images shared with the public by the gallery's architectural partner OMA in the June 23 meeting.

"What we're trying to do is basically make sure there is a conversation," McDonnell said. "We just want to make sure that the Albright-Knox is going down the right road."

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