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Competition: Larkin Building, Buffalo

An open international ideas contest has been launched to rethink Frank Lloyd Wright’s demolished Larkin Building in Buffalo, New York (Deadline: 1 May)

Open to professionals and students, the competition seeks contemporary reinterpretations of the innovative office building, which was controversially demolished in 1950 to make way for a car park.

The initiative – which coincides with the 150th anniversary of Wright’s birth – aims to promote debate around ethical working environments in the 21st century and the future of the historic site. Proposals must be grounded within the existing capitalist mode of production and harness contemporary building methods and materials.

‘Maybe we could envision something else,’ says the brief, ‘a place where between Work and Play there would be some kind of peace and where the purpose would not be Money, Money, Money, but giving some meaning, if possible, to human life.

‘You could serve any function you want, or you could imagine new functions, or new strategies, for a new kind of human activity, for a new kind of human life, for a new kind of “office” building.’

Wright’s innovative steel-framed office building for the Larkin Soap Company was built in 1906, but abandoned in 1943 and demolished to make way for a truck stop seven years later. The truck stop failed to materialise, and today a large car park occupies the prominent city centre site.

The red sandstone complex is today recognised for its revolutionary influence on modern office design of the 20th century. The structure’s open galleries with natural lighting promoted interaction between all staff and signalled a departure from 19th-century models which separated employees and employer.

Remains of The Larkin Building in Buffalo, New York

Remains of The Larkin Building in Buffalo, New York

Remains of The Larkin Building in Buffalo, New York

In recent years, the site on Seneca Street, which features a single brick pier from the original building, has featured a ‘ghost pier’ pavilion echoing parts of the long-demolished structure. Since 2002, the plot has been owned by the Larkin Development Group, which has regenerated the surrounding area with new office buildings.

The contest seeks conceptual proposals for the location of the once cutting-edge facility. Submissions may reference Homo Ludens, a concept invented by Dutch historian and cultural theorist Johan Huizinga, which emphasises the importance of play in developing new culture.

The competition is organised by the International competitions in Architecture (ICARCH) Gallery which launched in 2003 and focuses on artistic and non-commercial briefs for speculative projects. 

The winning schemes will feature in a month-long exhibition inside Vienna’s Hinterland Gallery in August coinciding with the Austrian capital’s inaugural architecture and design biennale.

Previous ICARCH contest have explored the possibility of delivering conceptual homes for Chopin, Tolstoi, Schopenhauer, Godard and other influential figures. An international panel of judges for the latest contest has yet to be announced.

How to apply

Deadline

The registration deadline is 1 May and submissions must be completed by 8 June

Fee

€40 for professionals or €20 for students

Contact details

Email: dialogue@icarch.us

View the competition website for more information

Q&A with Ioan Dan Coma

The founder and director of ICARCH Gallery discusses his ambitions for the contest

Why are you holding an ideas contest to reimagine the Larkin Building?

An office chair from the Larkin Building

An office chair from the Larkin Building

Source: Image by Sailko

An office chair from the Larkin Building

We are holding this competition because this year it will be 150 years since Frank Lloyd Wright’s birth. We feel the demolition of the Larkin Building was an act of injustice, thus, we want to redeem the building, but in a creative way, adapted to our time. If the Larkin Building, more than 100 years ago, was very innovative in several respects, we feel we might need today a similar creativity to envision a most appropriate and even ‘visionary’ office building for our time, one that is not just a play with aesthetics, but also an active meditation on work and the nature of work in the urban culture of the present and perhaps the future.

What sort of architects are you hoping will apply?

The competitions we launch are open to anyone, even to non-architects. We believe in interdisciplinarity, and we feel that architecture could enrich itself by crossing the borders that often separate it from other cultural disciplines.

What other contests are on the horizon?

We launch many competitions, perhaps too many … but we feel we owe it to Horace’s Carpe Diem to try to honor, as intensely and as creatively as possible, the significant moments either of the past, or of the present, that we feel should inspire us and that we have an obligation, we feel, to not forget.

For example, by the way of the very recent death of Chuck Berry, we just launched the commemorative competition: A House for Chuck Berry. We plan to launch at least 10 more competitions this year, among them A House for John Cage (100 years since his birth), or A House for Auguste Rodin (100 years since his death). This is our way to recall, creatively, important cultural moments of the past, which we feel didn’t actually ‘pass’, since the relevance of John Cage or Auguste Rodin remains unchanged.

Remains of The Larkin Building in Buffalo, New York

Remains of The Larkin Building in Buffalo, New York

Remains of The Larkin Building in Buffalo, New York

Have you been impressed by any other similar projects involving new ideas for historically significant sites?

Our competitions are ‘ideas competitions’ . We haven’t as yet arrived at the stage where some of the proposals we receive are implemented, although this is the ultimate aim. But we do not have the power to engage, practically, those who might be able to do it. In this sense, we need help. But we do try to bring to the public attention issues that involve architecture in the highest degree. Thus, for example, we launched last year the competition: A New Birth House for Adolf Hitler, Braunau-am-Inn, Austria. We felt that leaving the building where Adolf Hitler was born unchanged, since the end of the war, doesn’t really express a desire to fight any kind of war, by symbolically expressing, through a significant architectural gesture, the terrible tragedies that the Second World War brought on us. We believe in a militant architecture, even in a corrective architecture, an architecture that fights (even at the level of ideas) for a better world.