Concrete Atlantis, Buffalo, NY
Through a combination of a favorable geographical location, local engineering innovation and ingenuity, and entrepreneurial businesses, in the 2nd half of the 19th century Buffalo gained a key role in the transshipment and distribution of grain from the great plains of the US and Canada. Buffalo maintained its leadership position through to the Second World War: but subsequently alternatives increasingly diverted traffic away from its facilities. Consequently many of Buffalo's elevators and silos closed down in the 1950s and 60s and, abandoned, slowly decayed.
In 1906, Buffalo’s first tall (~125’) cylindrical grain-silos were constructed along the Buffalo river using slip-formed reinforced concrete -- a major innovation over the earlier wood or steel structures: easy and quick to construct, strong and, above all, fire-proof – followed by more than 40 more in the next three decades.
At the time European architects cited these monumental edifices as key examples of modernist functional design. In 1913, Walter Gropius published a series of images of Buffalo’s grain elevators and daylight factories, sparking international interest. These were reproduced by Le Corbusier, and recaptured by the German architect Erich Mendelsohn, who visited Buffalo in 1924 specifically to photograph and draw the grain elevators at first-hand.
Today the grain-silo’s dramatic, austere form against the skyline remains as a tribute to the importance of Buffalo in America’s industrial heritage and the development of modern functional architecture.
“ in abandonment and death they evoke the majesties of a departed civilization”; Reyner Banham, ‘A Concrete Atlantis’, 1986.