Shoreline Apartments
200 Niagara Street, Buffalo, NY

Design architect:
Paul Rudolph
Local architects of record:
Hess and Gorey
Mid-Century Modern Brutalism
Niagara Street:
The original Shoreline Apartments were built on Niagara and Seventh Streets.  The Niagara Street buildings were demolished and replaced by suburban like townhouses.   See "Better Look: Niagara Square Apartments" below.

Partial reprint

Paul Rudolph’s Shoreline Apartments in Buffalo, NY Face an Imminent Threat
By Barbara A. Campagna
DOCOMOMO Jan. 15, 2014   (online Sept 2021)

Paul Rudolph’s Shoreline Apartments, a 1974 complex of low-income housing which occupies 9.5 acres on the edge of downtown Buffalo, is facing the first of several projected phases of “upgrades” which call for demolition of currently unoccupied Rudolph-designed units and replacement with suburban like townhouses.
Buffalo Modernism

Buffalo has some of the best and most groundbreaking architecture in America and indeed in the world.  As one of the few cities with masterpieces by Richardson, Sullivan, and Wright, it has long been a destination for students and lovers of architecture. 

And in recent years, a renaissance of sorts is reviving its landmarks and reactivating the neighborhoods.  Grain elevators and daylight factories that influenced LeCorbusier, Erich Mendelsohn and Reyner Banham are finding new life while Richardson and Olmsted’s long vacant Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane becomes a boutique hotel, conference center and architecture center.  Wright’s Darwin D. Martin House has been restored and reconstructed and Sullivan’s Guaranty building, often called the first real skyscraper, has been restored for a second time in 25 years.  Buildings by Richard Upjohn, Daniel Burnham, and the Saarinens fill in the landscape. 

But what is less recognized is that Buffalo’s architectural innovation continued through the modern era and these traditional icons can be found across the street from buildings by Yamasaki, Edward Durrell Stone, SOM, I. M. Pei and Paul Rudolph.  And like much of the rest of the country, Buffalo’s preservationists are now finding themselves in the midst of battles to save its modern architecture.

Paul Rudolph brought his singular brand of sculptural modernism to Western New York in the early 1970s.  In a span of two years, three buildings were built to his designs: the Waterfront School and Community Center (1974-1977) design concept by Rudolph and executed by local architects Hess and Gorey,  the Earl W. Brydges Public Library in Niagara Falls (1973-1974) and the Shoreline Apartments in downtown Buffalo (1971-1974).  The Waterfront School and Shoreline Apartments face one another across a wide expanse of green which has never been used or landscaped in the way it was intended.

Shoreline Apartments

 The Buffalo Waterfront Housing, a public housing development later called the Shoreline Apartments, was commissioned in 1969 and completed in 1974.  What was ultimately built was considerably reduced in scale and concept from Rudolph’s original scheme, due in large part to financial concerns. 

His original scheme, composed of monumental, terraced, prefabricated housing structures, provided an ambitious alternative to high-rise dwelling that was meant to recall the complexity and intimacy of old European settlements. (Miller, Nick.  “Five Paul Rudolph Buildings Under Threat in Buffalo,” A/N Blog, November 5, 2013) The ambitious urban renewal project in the shadow of Buffalo’s City Hall originally included a marina which was never built.  

The Shoreline Apartments that stand today represent a scaled down version of the original plan. Featuring shed roofs, ribbed or corduroy concrete exteriors, projecting balconies and enclosed garden courts, the project combined Rudolph’s spatial radicalism with experiments in human-scaled, low-rise, high-density housing developments.

The project’s weaving site plan was meant to create active communal green spaces, but, like those of most if its contemporaries, the spaces went unused and the high crime rate over the years has often been attributed to the design rather than the poor management. (Miller)

It is easy to blame the buildings and grounds for the vacancy rates and crime in modern public housing developments.  But a walk around the site today, shows blocks full of buildings in various states of repair with little thought given or planning to the expansive land on which it sits. The private balconies and garden courts are desirable features in high-end condos all over town and the 9.5 acres of mostly ill-used land would be desirable in any city.  A good architect and landscape architect, with the ability to respect Rudolph’s intent while recommending native and sustainable land use approaches, could do wonders with this complex. 

Partial reprint

Better Look: Niagara Square Apartments
Buffalo Rising, November 15, 2017  (online Sept. 20, 2021)

In May 2015, Norstar successfully closed on the financing for the first phase of the redevelopment. The first phase, which is located at the corner of Niagara Street and Carolina Street, involved the demolition of five buildings and the new construction of one low‐rise apartment building and seven townhouse structures containing a total of 48 replacement affordable housing units. Construction was completed earlier this year and the project is fully occupied.

Norstar seeks site plan approval for the second phase of redevelopment. The second phase will involve the demolition of the remaining 16 structures at the complex [on Niagara Street] and the new construction of 18 well‐designed buildings containing 166 replacement affordable housing units. Of the total 18 buildings, there are two low‐rise apartment buildings containing a total of 96 apartments and 16 townhouse structures containing a total of 70 rental apartments.

Of the total 166 units, 20% will be targeted to households with incomes at or below 50% of the area median income, 60% will be targeted to households with incomes at or below 60% of the area median income and 20% will be targeted to households with incomes at or below 90% of the area median income.

Similar to the first phase, the development team is proposing a variety of building types to bring back a residential look and feel to the complex while at the same time maintaining the urban aesthetic. Building size and setbacks mirror the existing neighborhood context through appropriate scale and complementary materials. As with the first phase, the newly constructed buildings will help to weave the site cohesively into the existing neighborhood fabric. The second phase also proposes the construction of a new public street: the Georgia Street extension. As designed, the new Georgia Street extension will extend Georgia Street from Niagara Street to 7th Street – helping to restore the original grid street pattern of the neighborhood that was eliminated in order to create the superblock on which the original complex was built.

The proposed second phase includes two low‐rise apartment buildings at the intersection of Niagara Street and the newly constructed Georgia Street extension. The proposed design of the apartment buildings responds well to the massing along Niagara Street and the buildings will act as anchors for the site. The smaller, semi‐detached buildings which contain the townhome units are proposed along Niagara Street and 7th Street.

All buildings will be wood frame construction. The development team is proposing exterior finishes of brick and cementitious siding to be consistent with the surrounding neighborhood. The plans call for the apartment buildings and townhomes with frontage along Niagara Street to be predominately clad in brick. A mixture of fiber cement siding and brick is proposed for the townhomes with frontage along 7th Street.

Page revised by Chuck LaChiusa in 2022
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