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The Potential of the Seneca One Building Complex
and its place in the Future of Buffalo
The Seneca One Building when first constructed by SOM in 1972, was considered to be an iconic building that would attract a business center to the downtown area of Buffalo. Today, the building still has that same potential in iconography due its powerfully unique verticality on the Buffalo skyline and its prominent setting in the heart of downtown. But the great office building’s trouble, or perhaps missed opportunity, is that it does not have much of an impact nor influence on the drive of the business sector in the struggling city of Buffalo. We have watched 95% of the big businesses, which was allocated in the building when first opened relocate due to the change in times and the failure of Buffalo’s economy and population after the mid 20th century. Some issues in its style of architecture and its urban context in downtown Buffalo have left the building to seem uninviting and vacant today. But when studying the site and building, its setting as a connector of downtown buffalo and the riverfront, or the extravagant views that come from the upper floors, along with the projects that our going on around the area such as Canal Side, the Harbor Center and other activities, designers can still visualize the strong potential of this building as a worldwide attraction area for downtown Buffalo.
In a time where Buffalo is desperately trying to redefine itself as a prosperous city, there is a strong demand and search for that one main attraction that would put the city of Buffalo on the map, not just in the region of Western New York but nationwide, worldwide. There is a need for that one powerful attraction or complex that would invite tourists and satisfy Buffalo's visitors to want to come back. There is an itch for finding a stimulus that would encourage big business and small business to the city of Buffalo and enhance its economy again, moreover visions are needed of strategic planning to create a powerful downtown city in Buffalo such as in New York City or Chicago. Many ideas for the building’s use have been discussed, especially, after the recognition that 95% of the tallest building in Buffalo was now vacant. The relocation of Buffalo’s convention center into the building has been one of the most exciting and noisy ideas for the Seneca one complex but I do not believe, as do many others, for this to be the best move or use of the building.
SOM Proposal Rendering
South Elevation Seneca One
Aqua Mix Use Building, Chicago
New World Trade Center, New York
Downtown Buffalo, to many visitors, may seem as a ghost town. Besides the fact that the cold climate of the Buffalo temperature makes it uncomfortable to roam around the city, the downtown area is missing that urban and city feel that would empower the economic drive and social interaction of its city inhabitants. Many have taken observation and believe, as do I, that the Seneca One Building, due to its influence as a skyscraper in the Buffalo skyline, is calling to become a plaza/complex of mixed-use amenities. The purpose of a complex of mixed-use amenities in the heart of the downtown area is to invite all kinds of people around the city to engage and revitalize the area. But it is also calling for small and big businesses of commercial, retail and residential to create this vertical village in one plaza that will define the strengths of the city to empower an economic drive. The building site and plan already has existing features that can attribute to this proposal of a mixed-use complex. For its 38-story building has significant potential for luxurious residential amenities with its open floor plates and breathtaking views, to great office space in its prominent setting in downtown Buffalo. Along side of the building tower is an L-shaped 4 story building that allows for an enclosed plaza surrounding the tower to its northern section, but it also instills the idea of a retail center that wraps around a building of residential, office and commercial mix-use.
Aeriel VIew of Site
Aeriel VIew of Skyline
VIew of Waterfront
VIew of Canal Side
VIew of Skyway
The building, although burdened with the Interstate 190 right alongside of its southern facade and entrance, is still very appealing and can have a strong impact on downtown Buffalo. Seneca One is split by Main Street as it also allows an underpass of traffic flow right through the center of the building. Vehicles and the NFTA’s metro rail are currently using this underpass of the building on the Main Street of Buffalo, which can be of interesting use. It seems to me that it is almost obvious that the intersection and interaction of the powerful structure and potential complex with the traffic flow is calling for an established center. Creating a subway station right at the underpass and intersection of the building and metro rail establishes the predominance of the building and complex on the downtown area. So, it makes sense to create an attractive environment for the building as it is already interacting with the visitors of Main Street and downtown Buffalo. Most of the problem with the building complex today is that it is not much inviting to the outer population. Since it was a bank, SOM had enclosed the building complex to its workers, and the plaza, which has tried to create a potential for outdoor social gathering and recreational use, but it was not thoroughly investigated to hold that purpose. Minor issues like cold and strong windbreaks that make it uncomfortable to use the site and plaza have to be rethought through the use of materials and spacing in urban and architectural design in order for an attractive mix use of the site to work.
VIew From West
Back VIew from South
VIew From East
Front VIew from North
The building’s architecture is of modernist style with precast concrete, the concrete makes the building’s façade appear dull and displeasing to the eye of the 21st century, which favorites and is accustomed to the use of glass and the curtain wall. In order to compete with the modern skyscrapers of heavily influential downtown centers and cities, the building’s façade has to be looked at again and modified. My proposal would be to make use of glass transparency and the curtain wall in correlation with the space and function of program within the building. The idea of the façade interpreting a language of the building’s function to the observant outdoor population through transparency of glass can be a small but influential tactic in trying to emphasize the invitation of interaction with the area, building and complex. A curvilinear facade of both glass and preserved precast concrete in some areas to represent the building’s history can take away from the building’s dull appearance and create a smooth aesthetic that is inviting and pleasing to the eye as the sun and light interacts with glass extremely well. As the façade of the building needs to be reworked alongside the language of the mixed-use program of the building, the interior does as well. The proposition of redeveloping a building for mix use from an office building can be revolutionary, there is a necessary change in floor plans from repetitive to unique plans according to each floor’s function that would take most advantage of the buildings floor to area ratio but as well as the views and settings of the building in the city.
My proposition for the building complex is that of a person who would like to see the complex become an iconic figure of and for the city of Buffalo. An iconic figure not just for its building height but for the influence of the complex in creating an urban and flowing environment in a desolate area, for bringing richness to a city that is struggling with economic and stimulating progression, and for creating a living and social environment for the creative class to stimulate business and beautification of the area. Many Canadians make there way across the border to visit Canal Side, the Erie Basin Harbor, and special events in the First Niagara Center. Tourists all over the world visit Buffalo, for its history as the American city, significant architecture, educational institutions and the attraction of the Niagara Falls. Yet, there isn’t a five star hotel to accommodate these visitors in a space of luxury or leisure. With the amazing views of the Erie Waterfront to the south of the building and the view of Buffalo’s city plan sprawling into the suburbs to the north, it is pretty assuring that a few high rise condominiums in the building can satisfy not only the program of the mixed-use idea of the building, but as well as the need for high rise luxury condos in the city of Buffalo. Great cities are appealing to those who can function for the city and those who can afford to pay for a condominium with amazing views. Such inhabitant of a penthouse on a 36th floor of Seneca One in Buffalo, most likely can also bring business to the struggling economy. Simply using the building as a convention center will not work due to the size of the site and complex which is not fitting for the styles of convention centers. It will only allow for it to stay for the use of office space but that does not work as we are being assured through its vacancy. So, I would encourage a program configuration of the building to be divided into three parts with the first 12 floors to be proposed for office and business use, while the next 16 floors for a five star luxury hotel with great views of the city and the final upper 12 floors for private residence and observatory decking or lounging.
The mix-use program of the building that is split up into living spaces and working spaces can influence the configuration of the facade to be a mix use of glass transparency and renovated pre-cast concrete. Glass representing the living spaces, enhancing the extraordinary views from the interior but also defining the use of the space from the exterior. The renovated precast concrete will define the private office and business spaces, and, also, pay homage to the history of the building’s purpose and architecture, emulating its presence as a strong heavy figure. As for the L-shaped 4-story buildings that compliment the tower and fulfill the complex, they should be renovated into a retail center of small bank ATM offices, quick eating/coffee shops, perhaps a whole foods market, a shopping center of quality high brand stores, a fitness center and even a luxury spa can be incorporated into those spaces. The exterior of the L-shaped buildings should also be rethought to transparency glass inviting the observant population and reminiscing on the notion of glass for living interaction. I do not agree with the demolition of these smaller buildings in the complex because I do not believe the urban context around the tower’s site is good enough to support a one building block. The one building blocks work really well in really dense cities where a building and a plaza might be satisfying in an escape of the overcrowding world of skyscrapers and overpopulation, but in downtown Buffalo that is not a problem. A complex of a mix-used tower wrapped in a configuration of a retail/shopping/social center at the lower levels can be extremely beneficial for the area. In order for this to work the boundaries of the complex have to be modified as well in order to create attraction. A stairway system like that of the Courthouse Square in Portland can satisfy the elevation and topography issues of the site, which is higher on the northern section than of the southern, as it will invite the public population into the buildings’ plaza.
Courthouse Square in Portland
This complex can extend out with its amenities to stimulate ideas of greenways and pathways to beautify what the Interstate 190 has left desolate. For example, the passageway on Main street through the building can become a subway station or a pathway of public art that connects to the underpasses of the skyway, enforcing the beautification of these underpasses in order to connect downtown Buffalo with the projects of Canal Side and the waterfront. This building and complex will then not only be an attraction but also create a feel of progressive inspiration for the city life. For neighborhoods like Perry Choice and in the eastside of Buffalo, a project like this can help bring psychological vitality, as they would be able to see the high rise structure clean and transparent which in retrospect would cause a strive of aspiration to move away from their current surroundings. Once this mixed-use renovation of the building proposition is enforced, only then will other ideas and strategic planning arise that will enhance the activity and progression of the city of Buffalo, economically and socially. Creating attraction invites interested people, interested people find potential in certain things and certain things, any thing can make a change.
HSBC Seneca One Tower