Martin House Visitor’s Center and Restoration, Buffalo, New York

Toshiko Mori Architects' design for the new Eleanor and Wilson Greatbatch Pavilion at the Martin House complex in Buffalo creates a public face for the house museum and provides education space and ticket concessions.

Mori's design was selected through an invited competition, from a pool of finalists that included Office dA, Brian Healy Architects, Schwartz/Silver Architects, and Architecture Research Office. At night, the pavilion glows from within, but all the light comes from uplights in the floor and the illuminated donor wall. No downlights mar the ceiling plane. The light also reflects off the composite aluminum soffit panels on the underside of the roof cantilever, increasing the foot candles on the pathway around the building exterior.

Curtain Wall Section

Floor Plan

The ticket counter is the first stop for visitors before they enter the visitor's education center. To enhance the daylight admitted by the curtain wall, a skylight runs down the center of the space. "Glass pavilions are very nice from the exterior, but they also tend to be dark at the heart," Mori says. The skylight makes it easier to read displays, by graphic design firm 2x4, especially during one of Buffalo's 310 cloudy days each year.

Marking the perimeter of the space are thin 2 3/4" stainless steel columns, engineering by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill that can help carry the load of the roof and support the region's heavy snow loads. Far from encouraging the snow to run off, the inverted slope of the roof retains the snow which acts as an insulator to help offset heat loss through the glazing. The columns are so thin that, although they support the roof, they do not disrupt the view. And working in dialogue with Wright's complex, the columns are spaced the same distance apart as the columns on the pergola.

The reconstruction of the carriage house, conservatory, and pergola was guided in part by evidence from thousands of archival letters and photographs. Selecting accurate reproduction products and materials involved lots of trial and error, and extra work on the part of the multiple manufacturers. The landscape plan was also reconstructed according to Wright's specifications, including the lawns and the fountain.

The overall restoration of the complex has been bookended by the work of the Martin House proper. The first order of business was emergency repair work to the roof, which included stabilization of structual beams--using a "sistering" approach of placing new beams next to the old to preserve the original structure--as well restoration of one of the cantilevered corners, which was filled in with a trunk room (yes, a room to store trunks) by the original owners. The final phase, which is now under way, is restoration of the buildings interior, including finishes and art glass such as the famous tree-of-life windows.

Wright designed the conservatory--much to Mrs. Darwin's chagrin--not as a place to sit and spend a quiet afternoon, but as the terminus of a visual axis from the main house, along the pergola, and to the stature of Nike (now a replacement from the original manufacturer). A window crank system was salvaged from a period greenhouse slated for demolition and installed to manage opening several windows at once for cross ventilation.

The rebuilt carriage house now houses the museum shop, and a display that shows the sheer number of glass pieces that go into one of the main house's tree-of-life windows. A back room was restored with stalls such as those that would have held the carriage horses. The ceiling was one of the few that was impossible to reconstruct from period documents, but the architects made an educated guess that board-formed conrete was the way to go.

First floor and second floor plans.

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