Published June 14, 2018
The camera hovers above a line of wind turbines towering above the abandoned site of Bethlehem Steel along Lake Erie, just south of Buffalo. The turbine blades slice the air in slow-motion, their synchronized dance lending a sense of majesty to the scarred land below. Slowly the sunrise-lit scene shifts its focus to the Buffalo skyline beyond.
This poetic visual assemblage of wind, water and steel set in the Buffalo landscape of yesterday and today is the opening scene of See It Through Buffalo, a documentary short produced by the University at Buffalo’s School of Architecture and Planning as an exploration the city’s urban context and the school’s complex relationship to it over the past five decades.
The film is on exhibit now in Venice, Italy, as part of the international Time Space Existence exhibition sponsored by the Global Art Affairs Foundation and European Cultural Center. The exhibit takes place in the context of the Venice Architecture Biennale, the world’s premier forum for architecture and design. The six-month event opened to the public on May 24 and runs through November.
Recognized for rooting design and planning education in research and intensive engagement with its host region, the School of Architecture and Planning is among an elite group of 32 international academic institutions invited to participate in the exhibition, which brings together practicing architects with artists and universities from around the world to provoke conversation on the most pressing challenges facing the discipline today.
See It Through Buffalo is on view in Venice through Nov. 25, 2018, as part of the Time Space Existence exhibition, at Palazzo Bembo along the Grand Canal.
Film screening on Thursday, June 21, 2018, at a UB-wide alumni event in New York City. Event details
A fall 2018 premiere of the film in Buffalo is planned
The 15-minute film, co-produced with noted Buffalo filmmaker John Paget of Paget Films, uses complex techniques in time-lapse photography and sound recordings to document the city’s urban landscapes both iconic and everyday.
The film travels across 15 sites of engagement and sources of inspiration to the school, from Louis Sullivan’s grand Guaranty Building and Frederick Law Olmsted’s tree-lined Lincoln Parkway, to the factory floors of Boston Valley Terra Cotta and Rigidized Metals, to refugee-owned shops on Buffalo’s West Side and the boarded-up Perry Public Housing Project just beyond downtown.
Creative direction for the project was provided by Gregory Delaney, clinical assistant professor of architecture and director of the film and exhibit. Production and photography was directed by Paget. Korydon Smith, professor of architecture, served as assistant director of the film and assistant curator of the exhibit.
Delaney says the film captures the local-to-global relevance of the school's work. As faculty and students engage issues as sweeping as refugee resettlement and climate-change resiliency in the city around them, they propel Buffalo’s resurgence and generate globally relevant innovation.
The school's intensive engagement with Buffalo spans economic development initiatives, urban design, community organizing, partnerships with industry, and full-scale construction. "Members of the [school] are participants in the life of the city, while simultaneously helping to shape the policies, plans, buildings, and spaces that construct its identity," he adds.
Calling the film a “pensive-yet-hopeful, intrepid-yet-candid glimpse of our city,” Delaney and Smith reflect the film’s vision in their curatorial statement, excerpted here from the exhibit’s companion catalog:
"From its early years to today, the full arc of Buffalo’s history—rise and ruin, rust and revival—has maintained a commanding position in the ethos of the school. While students, faculty, and staff engage global issues, it is the transformative role they play in the city that underscores the school’s temperament and drive."
- Statement from the curators, Gregory Delaney and Korydon Smith, faculty members in UB's Department of Architecture
Dean Robert G. Shibley said the film represents the deep and lasting impacts of the university’s relationship to its city while underscoring the importance of local engagement to education in architecture, urban planning and development.
“See It Through Buffalo is a story about a city and a university as its muse, mutually engaged around questions of social equity, cultural preservation, and creative production toward a more prosperous future for Buffalo and our world,” said Shibley, who was in Venice for the exhibition opening.
“Together we reach for the global impacts that rebuild our cultures, sustain our planet, and substantiate the relevance of architecture and planning in the twenty-first century," he added.
Students from across the school have been involved in the project from the start. A team of five students played lead roles in the curation, production and installation of the exhibit. Installed in Venice's Palazzo Bembo, a 15th century structure that sits on the Grand Canal, the exhibit involved state-of-the-art acoustical treatments for the exhibition room, the design and fabrication of a wall display and hand-crafted wooden benches for guests, and the production of a companion catalog for the exhibit.
Several dozen students will participate in a study abroad program in August and faculty-led workshops are slated to take place throughout the exhibit. Both programs are designed to extend the student experience to the full context of the Architecture Biennale and the historic city of Venice.
A crowdfunding campaign raised $20,000 from more than 100 donors from across the university and region to support student involvement in the project and the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of mounting an international exhibition at the Venice Architecture Biennale.
Three students traveled to Venice to support the exhibition installation and participate in opening events: Nicholas Wheeler (Architecture BS '19), Kalyn Faller (Architecture BS '18) and Eric Burlingame (MS in Architecture '18). Below they share their reactions to the experience. (Students Frank Kraemer (MArch '19) and Morgan Mansfield (MArch '19), who served on the project's design team, will travel to Venice in August as part of the study abroad program. Read more about the team here).
Nicholas Wheeler, a fabrication technician for the project, recounts the poetry of his experience in Venice:
"The city is the result of layers and layers of history being overlaid, intersected, and juxtaposed with one another; it is surreal. For a short time I questioned if it were some sort of Disney World exhibition conspiracy! To journey through this labyrinth of a city and find a gem hidden inside (Buffalo), it is poetic."
He says he and the exhibition team spent much of the time watching people view the film - multiple times over. "All the while I was wondering if Peter Eisenman or Kengo Kuma [world renowned architects] would walk in being that their exhibitions were just down the hall."
"It was extremely satisfying to see the project completed," Wheeler continued. "There was so much energy put into this project from many people, and the result was nothing short of amazing. The film shows a perspective of Buffalo that one normally can only acquire after experiencing the city first hand and spending quite a lot of time within it. The atmosphere of the city is almost fantastical, with moments of ruin creating interesting opportunities that are left only to be created by one's imagination. To be able to show this feeling through a controlled environment and an intense sequence of images is incredible."
Kalyn Faller, also a fabrication technician for the project and now a graduate of the UB architecture program, shares her reflections on the Venice experience: "It was pretty cool to walk around the exhibit and to see works by Richard Meier or Daniel Libeskind. These are big names we learned about in lecture and now we’re setting up an exhibit two doors down. It made us feel we are doing something important for our city and within our discipline."
She says watching visitor reactions to the film was extremely rewarding. “The best experience was getting to watch people completely fall in love with the film. I saw people stay in our exhibition room for three, four, sometimes five loops of the 15-minute film. One visitor to the exhibit, who used to live in Buffalo, got choked up with some of the scenes.”
"I think over the course of the next six months people are going to realize that Buffalo is a place where good design and making is happening and that they should come join us.”
- Kalyn Faller, a fabrication technician for the project
Eric Burlingame, a student in the Master of Science in Architecture program with expertise in architectural acoustics, oversaw the project’s audio-visual elements. “My experience in Venice was life-changing. Venice is an amazing study of the built environment. And the Time Space Existence exhibit at Palazzo Bembo was a fabulously curated event. We met with fellow designers, students and architects from around the globe. I was able network with architects about my interests in acoustical architecture and sound design for classrooms. As soon as we mentioned Buffalo, everyone knew which exhibit was ours and had nothing but great things to say about the film, the theater-style room, the display, and the custom benches. So cool.”
A fellow exhibitor in Venice, architect Mark Harris of Mark Harris Architects in Colorado Springs, Co., said he was captivated by the film: “This unique documentary-style view of Buffalo was mesmerizing in both content and beauty, revealing modern-day Buffalo as an open tool chest of architectural and cultural possibilities. The film and production team should be commended on creating such a stunning piece of visual art.”
The school’s intimate relationship with Buffalo dates back to the school’s founding in the late 1960s. It was the city’s grain elevators that inspired UB architecture faculty member Peter Reyner Banham to write his landmark work, A Concrete Atlantis, on industrial architecture in America and Europe. And it was planning students in the mid-1980s who started conceiving of Buffalo’s downtown as a neighborhood and hosted citywide conversations on a new planning framework that continues to emerge today.
In creative exchange, the experiments of its students and faculty — built works, mobilized plans, bold ideas — have woven new dimensions into the fabric of the city.
Much of the school’s internationally significant work has its roots in Buffalo. Recent developments include experiments in design with terra cotta, sheet metal and concrete with local industry; construction of a nationally award-winning zero-energy housing prototype; and the design of food-system plans now being implemented in communities around the world.
Support for See It Through Buffalo is made possible by donations from over 100 individuals and organizations. Leadership support was also provided by the University at Buffalo, Robert Skerker, who served as executive producer of the film; Boston Valley Terra Cotta; Rigidized Metals Corp.; Peter Hourihan (BA '71); CannonDesign; Robert Shibley and Lynda Schneekloth; the Sydney Gross Memorial Fund; Sheldon Berlow; and Anthony and Suzanne Kissling.