Alexandra Lange
Architecture & design critic

OMA's plan for the Albright-Knox chases the contemporary to the detriment of its past

Aerial view of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. Photo by Blake Dawson.

The future of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, in Buffalo, New York, is a blue foam rectangle.

Shohei Shigematsu, partner-in-charge at OMA New York, lifts the block—which represents the new gallery space his firm is designing for the museum as part of its $125 million dollar expansion—over a model of the existing campus, set on a knoll overlooking Hoyt Lake in Frederick Law Olmsted’s 1876 Delaware Park.

The expansion, whose concept design was announced in June, will also include an underground parking garage, renovations of its existing neoclassical 1905 and modernist 1962 buildings, and new education facilities and offices.

He holds the block over a model of the 1962 building, the previous expansion designed by Buffalo native Gordon Bunshaft for Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. Bunshaft’s addition combines a square-donut courtyard, not unlike the elevated box at his Lever House in New York, with ground-floor galleries and a floating, black-glass auditorium—the yin to E.B. Green’s white columned yang.

It doesn’t fit—it’s far too large—but the scheme OMA has proposed bears the fingerprints of designing by boxes: They split the blue box in half, lofting half of the new gallery space in a glass box (or two) elevated above Bunshaft’s courtyard, which would be removed. The other half would be buried underground, next to two levels of parking, in the broad lawn on the Elmwood Avenue side of the museum. The galleries would be topped by a sculpture terrace and a new stair built on the footprint of the 1905 building’s original grand flight.