At first glance this derelict gas station on the east side is just another crumbling eyesore, one among so many hundreds of others in this forlorn part of the city. It caught my eye as I sped by. In many ways its composition is in the typical contemporary gas station format with a big cantilevered canopy hovering over the pumps in a sea of asphalt. But on closer inspection this one is a little bit different. It is better. It looks to be mid century /1960’s vintage, an optimistic time when structural expressionism was all the rage. The columns and main beams are made up of elegantly tapered wide flange steel shape. This futuristic modernist detailing represents far more architectural attention and cost than the typical gas station you will find today. The main structural elements are really quite beautiful.
Mid century architecture is at a crisis stage in America. It is at the critical age when buildings tend to reach their state of least desirability, the point where the fewest people have an appreciation for their artistic and economic value. As a result we are losing buildings from mid 20th century at a rapid rate. Mid century modernism represents a massive turning point in architectural design. Modernism’s claim that form was less important than the pure expression of function also ironically meant that the form took precedent over the people who actually used the buildings. This often aids in the demise of mid century works of architecture. This building was built to serve cars but its designers did give back a bit bit to the people in the cars with the extra effort given to the structural elements.
Buffalo has precious few good examples of mid century design remaining. I would not advocate for keeping this gas station in place just to save a mid century relic but wouldn’t it be great to find a new use and location for these structural elements? As a fun exercise let’s brain storm on some new possibilities. Here are some starters:
1. Cool modern house.
2. Beach pavilion at the outer harbor.
3. Farmer’s market pavilion.