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Architects of Canalside's North Aud block: public space before buildings

Two Amsterdam architects designing Canalside's North Aud block say the space should be about people first and foremost – not buildings.

"We don't start with buildings. We start with public space," said Sjoerd Soeters, founder of PPHP, which stands for Pleasant Places, Happy People.

"Architects always want to make buildings," he said. "Buildings are all right, but the most important thing for a city is to get intimate and nice public spaces."

Soeters and Walther Kloet, the firm's managing director, visited Buffalo recently to learn about the city's history and to hear from the public and stakeholders. It's the firm's first project in the United States.

Preliminary sketches are expected to be available at a public open house held by Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. on Wednesday. The session will run from 5 to 7 p.m., with a presentation at 5:30 p.m., at the Honda VIP Pavilion tent at Canalside, near Perry and Main streets.

The North Aud block was once the site of Memorial Auditorium, where Buffalo Sabres Gilbert Perreault and Pat LaFontaine and rock stars Mick Jagger and Roger Daltrey thrilled crowds. Soeters predicted it will become a vibrant area teeming with residences and businesses.

"Within less than 10 years, I think you will find a completely different situation here," Soeters said. "Many more people living here on this spot, and hopefully many more commercial activities going on.

"Of course, the main goal of architecture in urbanism is to bring the city to life," he said. "Life between buildings, and life in buildings in relation to life outside the public street."

Gov. Andrew Cuomo in August 2018 announced $10 million in funding to support infrastructural improvements aimed at encouraging private development on the site.

The North Aud block is bounded by Lower Terrace to the north, Main Street to the east, the canals to the south and Commercial and Pearl streets to the west.

PPHP is the ideal firm to design the North Aud block, said Tim Tielman, executive director of the Campaign for Greater Buffalo History, Architecture & Culture.

"PPHP are absolute international experts on human behavior in urban environments," Tielman said. "I have seen a lot of their work in the Netherlands, and I have a great deal of confidence in them. You're propelled by their designs, and they understand how village squares work."

One of the biggest challenges, the architects said, is minimizing the effect of the elevated Niagara Thruway that runs alongside Canalside.

"We are very happy that the face of the site is facing south and the Thruway is at the north," Soeters said. "We have a lot of noise from the Thruway, and we want to find ways to block out that noise. We will try to make a design that uses height to block it out, and steps down to smaller scale elements that surround public space."

The buildings, he added, would be diverse in appearance by not being confined to one architectural style or color of brick.

Another challenge is establishing a strong visual connection between Pearl Street and Canalside.

Kloet said the architects are taking inspiration from Buffalo's history and architecture, singling out the grain elevators and downtown architecture such as the Guaranty Building.

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