The Social Significance of Architecture

Oslo Opera House – Snøhetta
Architecture is a social act and the material theater of human activity. – Spiro Kostoff
Architecture is the will of an epoch translated into space. – Ludwig Meis van der Rohe
In addition to its formal, material, and structural intentions, architecture can “reveal the character and the culture of a
society, thus reflecting the spirit of the people and the age.” Not only can architecture mirror society, but also it has the
potential to influence those who experience it.
Buffalo’s diverse history has produced a rich variety of architectural works that warrant further exploration, especially
in terms of their influences on the Western New York region’s social evolution and identity. In this project, we will take
on that task.
You may work in groups of two or three, or you may work alone on this project. You and your group will research and
visit an architectural work in the Western New York area. Together you will develop an article for an academic journal
entitled Diversity in Design.
To refine skills in critical analysis
To explore the meanings and interpretations of constructed environments
To examine the social and political nature of architecture
To consider ways that architecture impacts issues of diversity and vice versa
Develop an academic journal article that discusses the social significance of a Western New York architectural
work in relation to a specific diversity issue.
(Recall the discussion we had in class about Monticello and the Darwin D. Martin House and its different approaches to
‘the servant and the served’—a social class issue. This is an example of the ways that architectural space can impact
social hierarchies.)
Approach to the Project:
1. You may study one of nine pre-selected architectural works OR other options that have been approved by
your faculty:
Our Lady of Victory Basilica designed by Emile Ulrich
767 Ridge Road, Lackawanna, N.Y. 14218
(The Basilica can be reached by Metro Bus, but it is a lengthy trip.)
Public tours Sunday at 1 p.m.
Martin House Complex designed by Frank Lloyd Wright
125 Jewett Parkway, Buffalo, NY 14214
(This is a short walk from the Metrorail.)
Public tours on M,W, F, Sa, Su. See website. Must make reservations. There is a student fee.)
Buffalo and Erie County Historical Museum designed by George Cary
25 Nottingham Court, Buffalo, NY 14216
(This venue can be reached by Metro Bus.)
The Old Buffalo Psychiatric Center designed by H.H. Richardson
400 Forest Avenue, Buffalo, NY 14213
(This venue can be reached by Metro Bus.)
NOTE: It is not possible to see the interior of this building without a special tour.
Buffalo Grain Elevators
Located on Childs Street (Silo City Way) along the Buffalo River near the First Ward
(This venue is best reached by car. It is illegal to go into the elevators, but we can arrange a special tour for you
upon request if there is a group of ten or more.)
Hayes Hall
3435 Main Street, UB South Campus
(This is a short walk from Diefendorf Hall)
NOTE: Currently, it is not possible to see the interior of this building without an appointment.
Twentieth Century Club of Buffalo


595 Delaware Avenue, Buffalo, NY 14202
(This is a short walk from the Metrorail downtown)
NOTE: Currently, it is not possible to see the interior of this building without an appointment.
Michigan Street Baptist Church build by Rev. Samuel Davis
511 Michigan Avenue (between Broadway and William)
(This is a short walk from the Metrorail downtown)
NOTE: Currently, it is not possible to see the interior of this building.
Buffalo City Hall designed by George J. Dietel and John J. Wade
65 Niagara Square, Buffalo, NY 14202
(This is a short walk from the Metrorail.)
Tours every weekday at noon.
2. Conduct research to determine a thorough understanding of the building/site’s purpose, history, context, and
3. Consider ways in which specific diversity groups have been affected by this building/site and/or ways that specific
diversity groups have affected the building/site. Consider the diversity categories that we are studying in this course:
age, gender, race, ethnicity, religion, socio-economic status, physical impairment, and cognitive impairment.
4. With your group, take a tour of the building or site, or if tours are not available, visit the building or site.
Note: Formal tours are available for some, but not all of the buildings listed. Expect to pay up to $15 for these
formal tours. Please check the building website for tour information. If formal tours are not available, please call
the building’s contact person to arrange to visit the building. DO NOT VISIT ANY OF THESE BUILDINGS
5. During the tour/visit, photograph and take notes on various aspects of the building/site that support your position.
Photograph your group or yourself at the building as well. Think about the following questions, but note that you do not
need to include responses to all of these in your paper. These questions are meant to prompt thinking about issues that
you might not have considered.
§ Did the architect/builder express any ideas about the building/site, and if so, do any of those ideas relate to
diversity issues? (Consider both positive and negative relations.)
§ What is the purpose of the building/site? Did that purpose change over time? If so, how?
§ What is the spatial organization of the building/site? How has this organization influenced behavior?
§ Who does the building/site serve, and how?
§ Are groups of people separated in the building/site? If so, who, how, and why?
§ Is a social hierarchy associated with those who inhabit or visit the building/site? If so, please describe.
§ Does the building/site in any way assist in reinforcing social hierarchies or dissolving them? If so, please elaborate.
§ Have the social hierarchies influenced by this building/site changed over time? If so, how?
§ How does the building/site itself (materials, spaces, circulation, light, etc.) express social attitudes and/or social
§ What diversity issues are raised by the design and history of this building/site?
§ How does the building differ from other buildings built at the time in the same area?
§ How do the following contribute to the experience of the building/site and its relationship to a specific diversity
§ What is the context surrounding the building: site, neighborhood, etc.?
§ How do people enter, occupy and move through the building/site?
§ How does light and air enter into and out of the building/site?
§ What are the important views into and out of the building/site?
§ What materials were used to construct this building?
§ What type of structural system was used to support this building?
§ What are the proportions, sizes and construction of various elements such as walls, ceilings, doorways, stairwells,
windows, etc.
§ What are the purposes of specific spaces?
§ Are there any unusual spatial arrangements?
§ Other???
7. Examine all of your assembled materials, and consider what other research you need to develop your position. Seek
out this information.
8. Structure the paper in the following way:
1. Introduction including your position statement (Please underline.)
2. General background/description of the building/site
3. Elaboration of your position
4. Examples to support your position (Use several examples such as descriptions, drawings or photographs of
various aspects of the building. Explain specifically what it is about these examples that support your
5. Verification of your position (Show how other authorities support your position.)
NOTE: Items 3, 4, and 5 can be incorporated into one section.
6. Conclusion
Requirements for a B or better:
§ The length should be approximately 2000 words for a thorough comparative analysis.
§ All projects must be typed in 12 pt. fonts using 1.5 line spacing and 1” margins on the top, bottom, and sides.
§ Sources must be listed as footnotes. (Use the Chicago Manual of Style humanities format for footnotes (N). See )
§ Incorporate annotated images/photographs into your paper. If the photographs are not yours, please list the
§ Proofread your paper for spelling and grammatical errors before submitting.
§ The names and person numbers of your group must be in the upper left corner of the first page.
§ Submit the draft position statement that will form the basis of your paper on March 21. This should be structured s
o Building
o Diversity group/issue
o Social issue that links building and diversity group/issue
o Position statement
§ Submit a hard copy of the assignment at the beginning of class on April 7.
You will be evaluated on:
§ The quality of the introduction/position statement
§ The quality of the background/description
§ The quality of the elaborated argument
§ The quality of the examples
§ The quality of the images
§ The quality/relevance of your verification (research)
§ The quality of the conclusion
Suggested Sources:
§ Social and Cultural History: Buffalo and Erie County:
§ LaChiusa, Chuck. Buffalo Architecture and History,
§ Frank et al, Buffalo Architecture: A Guide Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1981
§ In addition to being a significant work of architecture itself, the Erie County Historical Society has a wealth of
information on architecture in Buffalo and Erie County. We suggest that all of you visit the facility (25 Nottingham
Court, Buffalo 14216) to take advantage of the resources that they have to offer. The URL is
§ Belfer, Lauren, City of Light, New York: Dial Press, 1999