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By Andrew Laing, PhD, Director, DEGW
Want to see a city that expresses the thrumming energy of modern American industrial capitalism at its apogee? See Buffalo, 1905. I went there last weekend and was astonished by the legacy of the urban architecture that tells an impressive story about the role of architecture in re-imagining space and the city for a super dynamic economy.

Start with Darwin D. Martin, the organizational genius who rose from selling soap on the streets of New York to become a senior executive of the Larkin Company. The Larkin Company was in effect a kind of Google or Amazon of its day: using modern systems of information (card indexes of customers) to optimize commercial relationships with consumers distributed widely across the continent linked together by mail order. Darwin Martin then found an architectural genius in the form of Frank Lloyd Wright who helped him re-imagine how the functional design of the workplace for the Administration Building of the Larkin Company could take their business to new level of effectiveness. Tragically, the Larkin Building was demolished in 1940.

But Darwin Martin also was inspired to use Frank Lloyd Wright to design a complex of residential buildings for his extended family and servants: The Martin House. Here Frank Lloyd Wright was able to explore the creation of a series of linked building in an urban landscape. A lengthy process of restoration and reconstruction now reveals the amazing ideas for domestic living that Wright created for the Martins. Flowing rooms and connected indoor/outdoor spaces open up to the landscape. A brilliant visitor center designed by Toshiko Mori is placed next to the house.

Just as the Larkin Building revolutionized how the design of office space could accelerate the flow of ideas and information, the Martin House suggests how living might be reinvented in the early twentieth century. Both of these commissions for Frank Lloyd Wright remind us that in our own age of fast growing global cities we need bold, daring and radical collaborations between clients, users, and architects to re-imagine our urban ways of living and working.