Buffalo is known for many things, so let’s get the big ones out of the way: snow, chicken wings, obsession with local sports despite an unfathomably sad track record, and snow. An interesting list, to be sure, but an unsatisfactory one for anyone who’s ever spent more than a week here.
That’s because anyone who has spent time here knows that Buffalo is a city with deep complexity, a psychology completely its own and surprising physical beauty.
Much of that physical beauty is owed to our world-famous architecture. Because many of our prominent buildings were built around the turn of the 20th century, when Buffalo was a leader in industry and culture, they maintain a certain majesty, harkening back to a more iconic and affluent time for the city. Luckily, many of those beautiful structural remnants remain; so we are blessed with the opportunity to visit and pay homage to them while still enjoying our current renaissance.
Here are a few of the best examples of Buffalo’s stunning architecture.
Get to Know the Best of Frank Lloyd Wright
If you enter a Google search for “famous architects,” Frank Lloyd Wright will appear at the top. Born in Wisconsin in 1867, Wright began his relationship with Buffalo around the turn of the 20th century through his friendship with Darwin Martin, a high-level executive at the Larkin Soap Co., located downtown – the company from which the surrounding neighborhood, Larkinville, still borrows its name.
That friendship led to the most famous work he completed in Western New York, the Martin Complex, which was built specifically for Martin to live in. The Delaware Park-adjacent complex is built in Wright’s trademark Prairie School style, with an emphasis on horizontal lines and openness. Wright felt that these elements lent the grounds a sense of repose and domestic symphony. He was right.
These aren’t merely aesthetic concepts – they coalesce into a truly stunning, immersive end-product, worthy of admiration and awe in any time period and for those with any level of interest in architecture. Renovations are ongoing, but the regular tours offered are still more than capable of showing off the charm and genius of his work. Plus, special events like the recent (and awesome) Whiskey and Wright make the Martin complex an active and vibrant part of the community.
See for yourself: 125 Jewett Parkway, Buffalo, NY, 14214, regular tours available here.
A Truly Iconic City Hall
Yes, we know – not exactly an “off-the-beaten-path” addition to the list. But with its central location and commanding beauty, City Hall has somehow become an underappreciated architectural gem amongst Buffalo’s younger demographic.
Built directly across from the McKinley monument at Lafayette Square, City Hall was erected in 1932 in the Art Deco style that was at the height of its popularity at this time. The structure features extensive ornamentation throughout the entire façade, with a band of beautiful terra cotta Native American designs and impressively carved stone eagles.
On the interior, City Hall features cavernous halls and intricate ceiling designs. From the observation deck, the views of the city and the lake in the distance are unmatched. On the right day, City Hall does a wonderful job of capturing what makes the city so diverse and interesting, inside and out.
See for yourself: Free guided walking tours occur weekdays at noon through Preservation Buffalo Niagara. Tours include the Council Chambers, Mayor’s Office, and Observation Deck at the top. 65 Niagara Square #218, Buffalo, NY 14202
Our Lady of Victory Basilica: Wny Built, Pope Approved
For many young people – especially those unfamiliar with the Lackawanna area – this architectural marvel doesn’t register as a major signifying feature of the area. Its location probably has something to do with that; the basilica is nestled in an unexpected part of WNY without much else of note (architecturally speaking) near it.
That’s a shame because it’s a pretty awe-inspiring structure. The exterior of the basilica is built almost entirely of white marble, with one very large dome set back behind two smaller turret-supported ones. At the time of its completion, the large copper dome was the second largest in the country, behind only the U.S. Capitol Building. The entire structure is surrounded by beautifully carved colonnades, featuring depictions of children, guardian angels, and the original steward of the basilica himself, Father Baker.
The inside of the basilica is no less impressive, featuring a gigantic main alter (also made of Italian marble) and a series of five breathtaking murals that span the entirety of the interior domed ceilings.
See for yourself: Open, guided tours of the basilica are conducted every Sunday at 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. Tours can also be scheduled for groups any time between 11:30 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday-Thursday. 767 Ridge Rd, Buffalo, NY 14218
The Fortified Beauty of the Connecticut Street Armory
Located in the heart of the recently resurgent West Side, the armory is perhaps the city’s most prominent example of Victorian architectural style. The armory was built in 1898 to house the 74th regiment of the New York Army National Guard. At the time, it was the largest armory in the United States, at over 280,000 square feet.
The armory is built in brown medina sandstone and towers over the surrounding neighborhood in stoic, castle-like fashion. There are six-story towers surrounding the outside of the structure, and one larger square tower jutting upward out of the center of the complex. While the armory is still in use for the National Guard, it’s also used for various events that are available to the public, like beer festivals, Halloween bashes, and concerts.
See for yourself: The armory doesn’t currently offer its own tours, but check out the official Facebook page here for news about upcoming events and opportunities to see the inside in all its glory. 184 Connecticut St, Buffalo, NY 14213
Repurposing an Aging Beauty: The Olmstead-Richardson Complex
Nestled on the western edge of the Elmwood Village, this complex was built on Forest Avenue in 1872 as a then state-of-the-art Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane. The process was a collaboration between architect Henry Hobson Richardson, Frederick Law Olmsted – fresh off designing a little park in New York City known as Central Park – and Dr. Thomas Kirkbride, who founded a psychiatric administrative group that would be the precursor to the American Psychiatric Association.
Serving in that capacity until the 1970s, the complex then went dark, no longer accepting or treating patients. In recent years, there have been extensive plans laid out to restore the complex to take advantage of its size, beauty, and location. As of now, the Richardson Olmsted is in renovations that will ultimately establish a Buffalo Architectural Center and a high-end hotel and conference center called Hotel Henry.
Hotel Henry figures to open in March of next year and will feature 88 guest rooms and suites, full-service amenities, a 20,000-square-foot conference center for business meetings and events, and 100 Acres, a restaurant experience that purports to be based on variety and flexibility for all tastes and budgets.
See for yourself: The complex offers a wide array of tours and events for all aspects of the refurbishing project. It’s also a great place to stop by on a bike ride or walk through the Elmwood Village for those less tour-inclined. 400 Forest Ave, Buffalo, NY 14213
The Guaranty Building on Church Street
The Guaranty Building (formerly the Prudential Building) was built in 1895, designed by the famous architect Louis Sullivan. The project was initially commissioned by Hascal Taylor, a businessman who unfortunately passed away before the project began. When the construction company Sullivan had been planning to use decided to purchase the property and undertake the building for its own use, the project was back in business.
Its fame is derived from the historical significance of being one of the country’s early skyscrapers. Most architectural experts believe that Sullivan had a major role in establishing the basic form of the American skyscraper. The Guaranty Building and its counterpart in St. Louis, the Wainwright Building, are his two most important feats in that realm.
The structure gives off an imposing, powerful feeling and is impressive for both its size and beauty. On top of the red and brown terra cotta exterior, Sullivan designed ornate and intricate designs in an Art Nouveau style reminiscent of much of the most beautiful architecture in Barcelona, Spain.
See for yourself: The building is now occupied by the law firm Hodgson Russ, who have offered tours in the past but don’t show any on their website currently. That’s okay, though! The skyscraper is located right at the corner of Pearl Street and Church Street – perfectly located for your viewing pleasure. Also, independent tour company Explore Buffalo offers a thorough and excellent tour that includes an in-depth look at the Guaranty Building (along with other downtown treasures such as St. Joseph’s Cathedral and the Old County Hall). 140 Pearl St, Buffalo, NY 14202
The architecture of a city is often mentioned in passing – taken for granted compared to more visceral experiences like food, music, and theatre. But the structures that make up a city have a lot to say about its history, especially a city like Buffalo. The buildings throughout Western New York recall a time when Buffalo was not just economically sound but also culturally iconic – home to Mark Twain, presidential honeymoons, and the Pan-American Exposition – and maintain their role as a bedrock for future prosperity, as well.