Listening to any architecture expert yakking incessantly about the marvels of architecture in the city of Buffalo, New York, one can almost hear the voice of Ted Mosby from How I Met Your Mother: “Fun fact! Did you know Buffalo is one of only two cities in the United States to feature architecture from Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Sullivan, HH Richardson, and Frederick Law Olmsted? The only other American city with that combination is Chicago!” And, ’tis true. Very few other cities can boast the kinds of architectural heritage contained within the Buffalo city limits.
If you were to drive down the thruway above downtown Buffalo taking the occasional cursory glance over to see what you’re missing, your primary reflex would be a look of awe. Unfortunately, it’s not a good kind of awe. The later buildings of Buffalo have a way of standing well above the good architecture, and those later buildings seem to have all been built at a time when Buffalo city planners were obsessed with the 50’s and 60’s version of what the future would look like. The result is a series of prominent monstrosities whose presence gives Buffalo one hell of a butt-ugly skyline. Some of the buildings look like they can be spotted as set decoration in the background of the Star Wars movies. Now, I’m one of the biggest Star Wars fans you’ll ever meet. Star Wars is famous, beloved, and popular for many reasons, but its displays of futuristic buildings is definitely not one of them.
Main Place Mall
To paraphrase Douglas Adams, if you were to take the Death Star, crush it into a rectangular shape, and plop it right down into the middle of downtown Buffalo, you would be wasting your time, because it looks very much as if someone has already done so. The Death Star analogy is appropriate because of what was ripped up in order to make room for Main Place Mall: Several blocks of handsome Victorian buildings as well as the stunning Erie County Savings Bank. It was one of many projects done in the name of urban renewal in 1969, in a misguided attempt to bring people back to shop downtown instead of in the suburban strip malls. Now instead of a powerful testament to the city’s heritage, there’s just a hulking, black, horizontal slab. The most depressing aspect of it, though, is not what’s on the outside, but what’s on the inside: Pretty much nothing. Main Place Mall may be the most useless shopping mall you’ve ever seen. There are two floors. The first floor has a decent pizzeria and good coffee shop, but mostly there’s a Key Bank, a dollar store, an optometrist, a newsstand…. And that’s literally about it, them and a few others. The second floor has nothing but a food court for the people who work downtown. There’s literally more space in Main Place Mall for rent than there is being rented.
Main Place Tower
This is part of Main Place Mall. Take the description above and make it vertical, and you’ve got it. I can’t be the only one who thinks the city is missing out on a golden tourist opportunity by not renaming this building the Galactic Empire Stock Exchange Building.
Buffalo Convention Center
The Convention Center is a remainder of the Brutalist style of architecture, which flourished from the 50’s to the 70’s. One of the identifying marks of the Brutalist style is the look of a concrete prison. From the outside, the Buffalo Convention Center looks like a Rebel Alliance base on a lucid world like Yavin or Endor. In fact, it’s easy to look at the Convention Center and see it standing in for the brief shot of the Alliance base on Yavin in Episode IV, and it’s even easier to picture the Millennium Falcon launching from it. A former indie rag in Buffalo, the Buffalo Beast, actually made a list about the worst things in downtown Buffalo. It named the convention center and transfixed a photoshopped picture with the Falcon in front of the Convention Center, going on to accuse it of choking off the roads to other streets. It raised the question, at least to me, of just how much damage it could actually do, since it’s basically right across the street from Main Place Mall.
Buffalo City Court Building
Wait a minute, are you sure this is a courthouse and not the actual prison? That’s exactly what it looks like. It’s another example of Brutalist architecture, and it was built with minimal windows, so for the better because judges might want to look out the windows instead of doing their jobs. Seriously, that’s the reasoning that came into play while building this thing. I know the Empire usually likes to avoid the mess of prisons and dispose of people by shipping them off to the mines of Kessel, but this place would make a fine prison, or a great Sith Palace, or a small cottage befitting of the Hutt clan.
One HSBC Center
This one might be stretching the Star Wars theme a little bit, but anyone who has ever seen this place knows that if the Yavin Temple ever needed a parking garage, this sucker is it. The tallest and most prominent building on the Buffalo skyline is easily the city’s biggest architectural blight, and a mistake of such epic proportions that the skyline would become about 40 percent prettier upon its razing. In the Star Wars universe, it could also possibly be used as a good slum building on Coruscant. Being as how the One HSBC Center is the butt-ugliest building on Earth, maybe we could also count the fact that, when I’m crowned Galactic Emperor, my first act will be to have this thing demolished by statement – a nice hailstorm from TIE Fighters, providing, of course, that the tower isn’t actually capable of withstanding a full fighter assault. From the looks of the place, that’s entirely possible.
One M&T Plaza
This building doesn’t fit in with the classic Buffalo motif, but then again, neither do any of the other buildings on this list. One M&T Plaza, though, actually doesn’t look bad. It was the brainchild of architect Minoru Yamasaki, the architect of the original World Trade Towers. The design similarities include the long, slender windows and the way the building is handsomely capped off on the top. It will be a fitting place to start if the Empire ever expands to the point which requires the inevitable Earth Empire College to open a Buffalo chapter.
Buffalo and Erie County Public Library
It’s not in my nature to decry libraries, but the Central Branch looks like the architect was trying to mock up a nice fortress designed for the Imperials before deciding to redesign the ends to show support for the Rebels.