If you’re an architecture and design fan, there are few cities more abundant in historical richness and importance than Buffalo. Once one of the country’s most bustling and prosperous industrial hubs, the Queen City’s twentieth century boom period drew the attention of not only of powerful business magnates, but some of the era’s most distinguished and venerated design talents. From a sprawling city-wide park system designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux to exemplary works by architects like Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright, and H. H. Richardson, the city is a veritable jewel box of inspiring sights and history.
No design enthusiast’s trip to Buffalo is complete without a preliminary stop at City Hall’s observation deck. Located at the top of a stunning Art Deco skyscraper, the deck provides panoramic views of Lake Erie, Downtown Buffalo, and the city’s radial street plan and park system. After taking in the sights from up high, head down to the waterfront for a more intimate view into Buffalo’s industrial past—on a guided kayak tour down the Buffalo river! BFLO Harbor Kayak’s tours bring you right through the iconic Silo City, an area known for its colossal grain mills, industrial artifacts that Modernist legend Le Corbusier referred to as “the first fruits of the new age.”
After working up a sweat on the river, take a little break by driving down to the Burchfield Penney Art Center. This small art museum houses an impressive collection of decorative arts and crafts by regional makers, as well as a fantastic reproduction of the legendary American painter Charles Burchfield’s painting studio.
Just a quick jaunt from the Burchfield Penney is another must-see for any architecture fan: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Darwin Martin House. One of the crowning achievements of Wright’s Career, this three-building complex (furnished with Wright’s own designs!) is an indispensable look into the architect’s process, aesthetic, and mid-career work. It’s one of over a half-dozen Wright designs in greater Buffalo, including the Graycliff estate, Frank Lloyd Wright Filling Station and Blue Sky Mausoleum.
For the architecturally and musically inclined, be sure to book tickets to see the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra at Kleinhans Music Hall. Not only is the music top-notch, so is the design! The building and grounds were designed by father-son duo Eleil and Eero Saarinen, the interior furnishings by the legendary Charles Eames.
There’s nothing like an expertly-crafted cocktail to top off a day of inspiring expiration. Head on down to Buffalo Proper, one of downtown Buffalo’s newest hotspots. Filled with beautiful decor and handcrafted works by some of the city’s top designers, this beautifully designed bar provides a great glimpse to the city’s contemporary design scene.
Lastly, you would be remiss without booking a ticket on Buffalo’s Open Air Autobus. With a nighttime “Whirlwind” tour that takes place numerous times a week during warm-weather months, this roofless tour bus carries you to Buffalo’s greatest hits in style!
– Maxwell Tielman