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Editorial: Albright-Knox acting judiciously in preparing for expansion

Albright-Knox Art Gallery officials, criticized over possible alterations to the landmark 1962 addition, have hired two consulting firms specializing in preservation issues. Well done.

The collaboration promises to ease the worries of some critics about changes to Gordon Bunshaft’s austere addition, described by News arts critic Colin Dabkowski as “a sleek modern counterpoint to the neoclassical architecture of E.B. Green’s 1905 building, opened to near-unanimous praise in 1962.”

Since renderings were released by the gallery from the architecture firm Office for Metropolitan Architecture, known as OMA, some preservationists have objected to the possibility of eliminating the central courtyard and surrounding galleries of the Bunshaft addition. It would leave its glass-box auditorium intact while modifying its lower-level galleries into educational space.

The detailed design work has yet to begin, and it will involve the Buffalo-based group Preservation Studios, New York City-based PBDW Architects and other organizations. Their mission will be to “review and adjust this initial concept, to make progress toward the first iteration of an architectural design.”

Gallery officials want the public to know that far from ignoring preservationist objectives, they have intended to hire preservation consultants since the fall of 2016, when the timeline for the gallery’s major expansion project was announced.

Those firms were identified and hired in the spring and summer of this year by OMA. And the gallery will be seeking further input in a soon-to-be-announced series of public meetings.

Tom Yots, former executive director of Preservation Buffalo Niagara, is among the advisers on the project as it moves from concept to design. He said his firm will ensure that historic resources on the site are sensitively addressed, including parkland designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and the buildings designed by Green and Bunshaft.

The Albright-Knox Art Gallery is one of Buffalo’s cultural gems. It is a world-renowned repository of modern and contemporary art. Now, in keeping with the resurgence of the city, the gallery has embarked on a major expansion that will allow it to showcase more of its magnificent collection.

What started out as an $80 million renovation project has turned into a transformative $155 million venture, thanks to an amazing $42.5 million contribution from Buffalo-born billionaire Jeffrey Gundlach. In recognition of that gift, the gallery will be renamed the Albright-Knox-Gundlach Art Museum. The project is still short of its fundraising goal (Gundlach may be willing to significantly increase his donation), but the design process has begun.

No project is going to please everyone. Gallery officials, however, are being appropriately sensitive to the views of preservationists. This project is too important to both the gallery and to Western New York not to proceed.

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