Playing against type: the adaptive reuse of Buffalo's East Side

Inclusive Design Graduate Research Group Studio – Spring 2020

by Nicholas Eichelberger

Published May 1, 2020

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This semester our Inclusive Design Graduate Research Group has been exploring the spatial implications of a community who inherited housing that was not developed with their needs in mind.

Led by Professor Charles Davis II, the studio titled Playing Against Type; The Adaptive Reuse of Buffalo’s East Side, asks the students to examine the existing European developer housing typologies located in the Hamlin Park neighborhood on Buffalo’s East Side and adapt it to both document African American Material Culture and help define a truly Black Space for the African American Community that now reside there. 

The students were first asked to read various texts in African American Studies and produce a series of collages and diagrams in an effort to learn how to translate abstract cultural history into space. From there the students partnered up based on their research interests and began both renovating an existing typology on the site and constructing a new build that fits into the neighborhood. 

The first set of projects by Jenna Herbert and Mira Shami utilizes the metaphor of braiding to redefine the traditional lease and owner agreements of the Buffalo Double typology as well as promoting Black Entrepreneurship. The project assigns the second floor of the building as leasable apartment space, while the first floor is reserved for a barber shop and apartment. The new construction on a vacant lot creates a home for community engagement through a flexible, mixed-use space that would provide and outdoor area as well as services such as a rental bike shop and temporary commercial space for cutting hair. These two projects utilize an innovate structural aesthetic to “braid” themselves together, paying homage to the braiding traditions of the Yoruban tribes of West Africa.

The house is adjacent to the long structure.

Image courtesy of Jenna Herbert and Mira Shami

The second of these projects by Nick Eichelberger and Shashi Varun explore the history African American Funeral traditions. The projects spans over three lots to create a funeral home complex that revives the tradition of the “Hush Harbor”, a ceremony practiced on plantations to usher slaves into the afterlife, along with as contemporary practices based upon these traditions such as the “homegoing” ceremony, an uplifting funeral service often practiced in churches. All three buildings frame the Hush Harbors courtyard, which can be opened up when not in use to become a public green space. The new build in the back of the lot is a chapel that maintains the scale and general typology of the neighborhood while defining itself interiorly as a black church. The two renovated houses provide the space needed for traditional visitation rooms and offices for the funeral home on the first floor. The upper level of the Buffalo Double is reserved for the apartment of the funeral director and their extended family and houses a multigenerational mixing space to create healthy social cohesion within the entire family. The upper levels on the Colonial revival contains a community gathering space which was an important feature to many Black Funeral Homes.  

The second of these projects by Nick Eichelberger and Shashi Varun explore the history African American Funeral traditions. The projects spans over three lots to create a funeral home complex that revives the tradition of the “Hush Harbor”, a ceremony practiced on plantations to usher slaves into the afterlife, along with as contemporary practices based upon these traditions such as the “homegoing” ceremony, an uplifting funeral service often practiced in churches. All three buildings frame the Hush Harbors courtyard, which can be opened up when not in use to become a public green space. The new build in the back of the lot is a chapel that maintains the scale and general typology of the neighborhood while defining itself interiorly as a black church. The two renovated houses provide the space needed for traditional visitation rooms and offices for the funeral home on the first floor. The upper level of the Buffalo Double is reserved for the apartment of the funeral director and their extended family and houses a multigenerational mixing space to create healthy social cohesion within the entire family. The upper levels on the Colonial revival contains a community gathering space which was an important feature to many Black Funeral Homes. .

Image courtesy of Nick Eichelberger and Shashi Varun

With the transition to distance learning mid-semester due to COVID-19, students and faculty across the School of Architecture and Planning have been required to quickly adapt to a new form of working. Desk critiques and partner discussion transitioned online over video chat services; and with few materials and little space to create physical models, students have delved deeper into digital modelmaking.

Davis and his studio took advantage of the new mode of working. For example, the ability to redline the 3d model itself have provided for more flexible and clearn communication of ideas and feedback.

Critiques and reviews were also successfully transitioned online through this studio. By collecting student work online prior to the review, critics had the ability get a much deeper sense of the work and in turn provide an even more nuanced discussion during the live review session.