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Albright-Knox Art Gallery - The 1962 Knox Addition

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Photos taken 2007-2016

James Rosati, "Big Red", 1979-1971

Outdoor sculpture: Henry Moore, "Reclining Figure No. 1," 1959

Oudoor Sculpture Court  ...  Jim Hodges, "Look and See," 2005

Liam Gillick, "Stacked Revision Structure," 2005

Albert Giacometti, "Man Walking" (Version 1), 1960, 72 x 11 x 38 inches. Gift of Seynour H. Knox, Jr., 1961

Seymour H. Knox II

Gordon Bunshaft

Lever House
Source: Great Buildings


"The Gallery Architects: Edward B. Green and Gordon Bunshaft,"

By John Douglas Sanford

The 1962 addition was made possible through the generous contributions of Seymour H. Knox and his family as well as other local benefactors. The name of the museum was amended to Albright-Knox Art Gallery, and, on January 19, Governor Nelson Rockefeller formally dedicated the renamed institution in the new auditorium, which was packed with leading representatives of the art and museum worlds. One critic in attendance, Katharine Kuh, commented, "... one did not feel trapped in this beautiful glass room where a pleasant parklike view neutralized the droning voices of city, county, and state officials."
Gordon Bunshaft

In 1957, responding to the need to expand the Albright Art Gallery, knowledgeable local inhabitants suggested reviving E.B. Green's 1942 plans for extending the Gallery, but these were thought unsuitable. Seymour H. Knox, the Academy's president and a great benefactor of the Gallery, purportedly discussed the project with Martha Jackson, a New York art gallery owner and former Buffalo resident. Jackson suggested Skidmore, Owings and Merrill and, in particular, architect Gordon Bunshaft. Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, the largest architectural partnership in the world, had in 1956 a staff consisting of over 700 people, 200 of whom were draftsmen, while ninety-four were registered architects. The essential approach in design and construction was and is based on the team principle, with a full partner supervising each project. In advocating somewhat anonymous design teams, rather than a more personalized approach, the firm responded to Walter Gropius' call for modern production methods in achieving architecture without egotism.

Gordon Bunshaft is undoubtedly one of the most highly respected and influential architects in America; his buildings are better known, however, than is his name. Bunshaft attended Lafayette High School in Buffalo and subsequently studied architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he received a Master of Arts diploma in Architecture in 1935. In 1937 he joined the then new firm of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill as a chief designer and became a full partner in the firm in 1949.

Bunshaft's first great success was Lever House (1951-52), the first really modern International Style corporate headquarters in New York. Lever House set the standard in American architecture for at least five years, and was the model for much of the urban glass-box architecture during the 1950s.

By 1955 Gordon Bunshaft had received the First Prize for architecture from the National Academy of Design and was chief of design in Skidmore, Owings and Merrill's New York office. But it was his Connecticut General Building, with its sleek glass facade, that most impressed the directors of the Buffalo Fine Arts Academy.

Skidmore, Owings and Merrill received the commission and Bunshaft was chosen as the partner in charge of design for the Gallery's new addition, which was completed by the winter of 1961. Formal dedication ceremonies extended over an entire week in January 1962 and included symposia, concerts, dinners of public and private celebration and a grand ball held at the Country Club of Buffalo.

The Addition

The marble and glass wing added to the south of the original building is a splendid expression of high International Style. The "black box" houses the auditorium, while to the north is situated an open air sculpture garden, around which are grouped offices, exhibition space, and a restaurant. Sleek and restrained, Bunshaft's new wing echoes the main lines and proportions of the older building and at the same time establishes an austere contrast with its predecessor's ornateness.

The interior of the new wing, which doubles the total available floor space for exhibitions to about 40,000 square feet, was planned on a linear grid. The ceilings of the long galleries on the east-west sides of the structure continue on the same plane while the floor drops to a lower level, providing a clear uninterrupted view through the length of the new wing. Recessed incandescent lighting bathes the walls in soft, even light without shadows. The inner sculpture garden, entirely surrounded by glass walls which echo Green's dignified sculpture court above, provides an intimate space for viewing small outdoor sculpture.

The gray-smoked glass of the auditorium, which has only two visible columnar supports, appears black during the daytime, emphasizing the contrast between it and the Vermont marble that clads the ground floor level.

Like much of the work of Skidmore, Owings, Merrill, the entrance to the building is de-emphasized in an effort to maintain the smoothness of the exterior and to increase the sculptural feel of the building. Museums need obvious entrances, however, and a small, clear glass box was added as the design of the Gallery's addition evolved. It forms an entrance vestibule that helps to maintain environmental stability inside the building. In plan, the black box of the auditorium is trapezoidal in shape rather than square. It also ends before the termination of the ground-floor roof, thus creating an extension that adds an extra dimension to the elevations. This contrast in horizontal and vertical plans is similar to Bunshaft's classic achievement in the Lever House, which also has an open central court.

Bunshaft's addition to the Gallery works because it both separates and combines the old and the new in a balanced relationship. The white exterior walls of the addition lead from the base of the original facade to distance the box from Green's work. The addition continues the tradition of the International Style, a movement that changed forever the skylines of cities throughout the world, but which has, since the 1970s, experienced a critical backlash in the form of Post-Modern architecture, a more decorative style that often quotes various historical periods in unorthodox ways. The "greenhouse brutalism" of contemporary architects like I.M. Pei, Kevin Roche and John Dinkeloo has been chosen in recent years for major additions to museums such as the National Gallery, Washington, D.C. and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. It would be difficult to imagine, however, such recent architectural styles in direct combination with the reverent work of Edward B. Green. Bunshaft's addition is modest and restrained and complements, rather than competes with, Green's design.


Albright-Knox Art Gallery – The 1962 Knox Addition
DOCOMOMO, May 12, 2014

History of Building/Site

Even though the Buffalo Fine Arts Academy established and started their exhibitions of galleries in 1862, they did not have any permanent home for the galleries and exhibitions until they decided to build one in 1900, which is the historical classical revival building of the Albright – Knox Art Gallery.

With the support of J. Joseph Albright who was the former president of the Academy, the academy commissioned the architect Edward B. Green to design the new building. Actually, the building was intended to be a part of the Pan American Exposition in 1901. Although the design commission was completed by 1900, the construction did not finish until 1905 due to a shortage of marble for interiors and careful effort on building craft. The building was ready to accept visitors in the same year, 1905. The building was designed in the Beaux Arts architecture style using many Greek Architectural style features on its body.

The need for additional space increased over the years, because of the expanding collection of the academy. They decided to build a new addition as a south wing of the existing building. Gordon Bunshaft, who was a design principal at the biggest architectural firm in the U.S. at that time, Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM), which was engaged to design the new addition in 1958. Bunshaft was also a Buffalo native. The John W. Cowper Company of Buffalo had taken the responsibility of building the new addition and the renovation of the existing building. The estimated approximate cost of the construction was $1,700,000 including architects’ fees.

For building the new addition, Mr. Knox made important contributions on behalf of the Seymour H. Knox foundation. The foundation promised $1,000,000 initially and this amount was increased to $1,400,000 for the construction. After that, a building Fund Raising Committee organized in order to afford the cost of the construction.

After the new addition was built, the gallery was renamed the “Albright – Knox Art Gallery”, due to generous supports and contributions of Mr. Seymour H. Knox and his family members for the construction of the new addition and the renovation of the original building.

Dates: Commission / Completion:Gordon Bunshaft and SOM (Skidmore, Owings and Merrill) are commissioned as designer for the new design in 1959. Ground breaking for the new wing started July 6, 1960. Construction lasted until late 1961; the addition opened and was dedicated by January 19, 1962.

General Description

The 1962 Knox Addition reflects key features of the “Glass Box Modernism” with its architecture. It is one of the best examples of this architectural style with every detail - rectangular shaped free plan, the flat roof, and giant glass exterior window glazing.

The Knox addition was built on 30,000 sq feet area, which includes a 350 seat auditorium, a restaurant, storage rooms, offices, facilities for visitors, inner courtyard, a connection to the original building and a new entrance from the Elmwood Avenue side.

This giant Modern Black Glass Box has a 350 seat – auditorium for audience and a stage for performers. This pavilion (glass box) is the second floor of the building. Access for the auditorium is from the first floor by using the stairs from left and right hand sides of the gate.

Construction Period

The first story of the wing was enclosed by a wall which was aligned with the old building’s basement walls. This new wall was clad with smooth white marble which is the same material as the existing wall of the historical Albright Building. The enclosing masonry wall created an internal space. This internal space provided a chance to create encircling corridors around an inner courtyard. This type of design helps to bring the daylight into the corridors. This feature is important for the design due to fact that there are no openings on the masonry wall.

The most important part of Bunshaft’s design is the pavilion-looking auditorium which is the principal reason to consider the design as an important example of “Glass Box Modernism”. The main structural frame of the building was constructed with steel. After that, it was glazed with 40 gigantic grey-tone glass panels. The glaze featured inch thick grey plate glass panels with the dimensions of 16’ 2” by 8’ 3 and 11/38”.

Original Physical Context

Even though both the original and the 1962 Knox addition buildings were designed and built in different eras and in different architecture styles, visually, there is no discrepancy between two buildings. With the use of landscape, both buildings have a perfect harmony in contrast, not contradiction. It is the harmony of white and black. When, the Knox addition was opened for the first time, there was already a built environment, The Historical Society (a classical revival building of white marble designed as the New York State Pavilion for the Pan American Exposition) and the Olmsted Designed-Delaware Park. In this aspect, the site, landscape and new addition fit perfectly with its surroundings.

The site also complements the other facilities around it. Buffalo State College is located, with its two different styles of buildings, across the street. Rockwell Performing Arts Center is a red brick building with a clock tower designed in Georgian Architecture style, opened in 1931 and Burchfield Penney Art Center is a new building by Gwathmey Siegel Architects with its contemporary architecture style, opened in 2008.


For the design of this new Addition, SOM (Skidmore, Owings and Merrill) and one of its design principals, Gordon Bunshaft were involved in this groundbreaking project. SOM was one of the largest architectural firms in USA with countless designs around the world. Gordon Bunshaft was an award winning International Architect who was originally from Buffalo.

Special thanks to Gretchen Grobe for her assistance in 2007

Photos  and their arrangement 2007 Chuck LaChiusa
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