If the just-concluded 66th annual conference of the Society of Architectural Historians were a building, it likely would qualify for landmark status.
The four-day gathering, which attracted 620 architecture experts to Buffalo from 26 countries and numerous states, set an attendance record and generated a towering level of enthusiasm for the host city’s charms and preservation efforts.
“I’ve never had so many of our members come up to me and say, this is a wonderful conference and Buffalo’s a wonderful city,” Pauline Saliga, the society’s executive director, said Sunday evening after the final event – a daylong tour titled “Frank Lloyd Wright’s Buffalo,” which included visits to the Darwin Martin House complex and Martin’s summer home in Derby, Graycliff.
Tours, plus a full schedule of seminars in the Hyatt Regency Buffalo and the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center, were the mainstay of the conference, though special events gave attendees an inside look at some of the city’s other marvels.
The Thursday evening awards ceremony took place in City Hall’s Art Deco Common Council Chambers, where the visitors heard from Pulitzer Prize-winning architecture critic Paul Goldberger and saw local architectural historian Jack Quinan inducted as an SAH fellow.
Asbury Hall, a downtown Victorian church sanctuary restored as a performance space, was the setting for the PuchaKucha night program Friday, where four local architects and four conference attendees presented new designs in a lightning-paced format.
Saturday night took them to the spectacular new glass-walled Eleanor and Wilson Greatbatch Pavilion overlooking the Darwin Martin House complex for a closing reception that celebrated the newly announced acquisition of Wright’s archives by Columbia University and the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan.
“For a lot of people, it was their first time in Buffalo, and they had great things to say about the architecture,” said Kara Elliott-Ortega, an SAH spokeswoman.
“It wasn’t as if we had the best weather or that level of enjoyment,” Saliga said, “but they learned so much about Buffalo’s efforts to make planning changes and they got the sense – and I did, too – that there really is a kind of optimism in Buffalo.”
“We got a lot of compliments,” said Despina Stratigakos, an associate professor in the University at Buffalo Department of Architecture who was local co-chairman of the conference with Tom Yots, executive director of Preservation Buffalo Niagara.
“One of the recurring comments was that people liked our energy, the sense that something was happening in Buffalo and this was an exciting place to be. I think we just sent out 620 ambassadors.”