These Rust Belt Cities Are Experiencing an Architectural Renaissance

Courtesy OMA

A wave of progressive architecture is giving three industrial cities a welcome makeover.

Buffalo

Long an unsung hero of American architecture, Buffalo may finally be getting its due. On the one hand, its rich design heritage is coming back to life: Frank Lloyd Wright’s historic Martin House estate just reopened following a $52 million restoration that returned it to its 1905 splendor. The city’s very first licensed Black architect, John E. Brent, is the subject of a new downtown mural sponsored by the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. And the Albright-Knox’s main facility is getting a refresh from Rem Koolhaas’s OMA (its first U.S. museum) in 2022, while Brooklyn-based firm SO-IL is helping to create an ambitious master plan for ArtPark, a sprawling cultural campus just 30 minutes outside the city. — Ian Volner

Related: Can Groundbreaking Architecture Spur Social Change?

Pittsburgh

This area’s graying factory towns and neighborhoods are slowly morphing into something new: EcoDistricts. “We want to repair the environment that over a century of industry has destroyed,” says Christine Mondor of evolveEA, the firm leading the city’s redevelopment mission. “Buildings aren’t enough—you need to work with communities too.”

Set along the Allegheny River, Millvale is one of two successfully certified EcoDistricts. Combining sustainable strategies, like storing and reusing rainwater and installing rooftop solar panels, with a growing small-business community (a vintage record store, a French bakery), the once-declining mill town has reinvented itself. A long-abandoned Moose Lodge has been converted into a space that houses an Italian restaurant and a nonprofit that redistributes unused food to local organizations; an old church now houses a live-music venue, recording studio, and art gallery; and a riverfront park and marina has created new waterfront access. EvolveEA is developing six more neighborhoods throughout the area, making it a model for urban-renewal projects everywhere. — Devorah Lev-Tov

Detroit


The atrium of Detroit’s Book Tower will soon get an update by ODA. Courtesy ODA

Detroit’s comeback has been gradual but, at least as measured by the new architecture coming to the city, things are moving in the right direction. For starters, there’s SHoPArchitects’ mixed-use development on the former site of the J. L. Hudson’s department store, poised to become one of the city’s tallest buildings in 2023. Next, there’s the upcoming transformation of the defunct Michigan Central Station into a gleaming new Ford research facility, with a master plan by the award-winning group Snøhetta. Downtown, the 1926 Book Tower will be refurbished by New York firm ODA in 2022, while Danish firm Schmidt Hammer Lassen has already broken ground on a multipurpose campus known as the Monroe Blocks. Motown is definitely hopping. — I.V.