Who are the architects behind the projects in Rochester? AIA Rochester reports that there are nearly 400 member architects in the Monroe County region. Architects represent some of the most valuable intellectual and artistic capital we have in our region. They are unique because they are sculptors of buildings, artists of walls, planners, organizers, and construction experts.
Architects touch almost every part of the experiences you have as a person. From the most basic place — your home — to the place you work, to the environment you eat in, to the schools and universities that you and your children attend, your church, the hospital, your grocery store, the boutique shop, and the spaces and buildings you walk by or drive by, every day, every moment.
Recently, there is a buzz. There are very noticeable architectural works happening. If you haven’t been following, there is a lot going on downtown and in the greater Rochester region, and it’s making a difference. One of the most recent and visit-able downtown developments is the Inner Loop infill and the surrounding projects happening in the adjacent streets. These new mixed-use buildings [buildings that combine housing with commercial space] have brought new life to Union Street. People are walking the streets with their dogs and walkers and joggers abound in the area and connecting neighborhoods.
It’s as if Park Avenue has been extended. There is a new Union Street bodega and a new deli coming at the corner of East Avenue. Restaurants compete for the best service and cuisine, and the Little Theater has been renovated. If that doesn’t interest you, the Strong Museum most certainly should. With vibrant and colorful forms, the old parking lot and adjacent parcels have been transformed into the “neighborhood of play” with some of the most walkable and interesting new streets in the city — full of colorful entry doors and playfully sculpted stair towers.
Businesses are moving downtown. Tech companies have taken up residence from the East End to the Tower district, bringing an infusion of young techies to our downtown who live and work in the same building or same neighborhoods. The new Innovation Square (formerly Xerox Tower) promises to be a unique complement to the mix of tech and financial business that have infused renovations in the downtown towers. What is unique to all of this is that each of these buildings are getting facelifts and recognizable features that make our downtown distinguishable. Common to all of this are the teams of architects responsible for the innovative designs and features that create these places where people want to be.
In action now is Roc the Riverway with a host of complementary projects taking shape that include the revitalization of parks and walkways along the Genesee River, renovations to the City Library, transformative parking structures that will be used for green space, and the aqueduct being converted into usable space. With all these projects there are teams of architects, planners and engineers with endless hope and sincere desires to achieve placemaking: to make this place, our city, a destination.
Placemaking is ultimately the spaces and places that create the hearts and souls of neighborhoods. Corn Hill, Park Avenue, Neighborhood of the Arts, Village Gate, the Public Market, East End are all examples of places that are destinations. All are examples of buildings historically designed by architects or recently designed or renovated, or even reviewed for permits, or planned by a planner trained as an architect.
I recently visited Italy, the mecca of original architecture. And as I reflect, I realize it is the buildings, the streets, and the parks that we go to visit when we vacation. When you visit NYC or Boston, it is the same. When you visit the Village of Pittsford or the Village of Dansville, it is the same. It’s about the place, created by architecture.
I think we are doing great things. I know we are. Recently, friends from out of town told me they came to visit Rochester. They stayed in a recently renovated AirBNB in the Neighborhood of the Arts. They walked the streets. They shopped. They enjoyed a wonderful weekend in Rochester. I couldn’t believe it. But then it dawned on me: of course — because that area is beautiful. Village Gate, colorful boutique shops on University, Melo Coffee, Asbury First United Methodist Church: all have the architectural elements that make a place worth visiting.
I think there is more that needs to be done. We need more boutique shops and density of areas that interconnect our distinct and somewhat separated downtown areas.
The small spaces in between need attention: we need to provide buildings with strong architectural details that address the street (like stone, brick, and trims) and not lose sight of the importance of those details in the face of saving costs. Sidewalks and tree-lined streets help to achieve walkable and inviting streets. It would be nice to have green spaces to stop and enjoy the city and eat your lunch.
New housing shows signs of success: with more people, more boutique shops can thrive and create more activity which should help decrease crime. These are the effects that development and design can have on community. I believe you could talk to any architect and ask what positive effect a project that they have worked on has had on the users of a space or a neighborhood. You could ask any owner that has worked with an architect on what positive impact that relationship and design has had on them. From wellness to safety, the architectural community sincerely strives to make things better.
I think we sometimes miss the daily progress that has been happening over the last 5 years. And I’d like to recognize the architects and all the associated trades, planners, and owners that have been working to make it happen. You need to know that you are doing great things.
AIA Rochester contributes a quarterly column entitled “Architecturally Speaking,” which features contributions from its members. Allen Rossignol, AIA is an architect and owner of Edge Architecture. Rossignol has been practicing for over 20 years in Rochester, is a past president of AIA Rochester, and is a board member of the Rochester Architectural Foundation.