What's a recent building that you like?

troy city hall

Have buildings like the old Troy City Hall soured people in the Capital Region on more modern styles of architecture?

What's a relatively recent Capital Region building that has a design you like or appreciate?

We've been thinking about this question generally for a while, but the posts this week about the Albany Capital Center and the 27 Holland apartments -- and the reaction to those designs -- has focused our attention on it.

Because it seems the recurring reaction to almost every new building around this area is "meh."

Sure, some of these designs are less than inspired. But is a win even possible for architects and designers in this area? The pull of traditional building styles of a century (or more) ago is strong and people here understandably are attracted to it, so there's backlash when a new building doesn't try to fit with the pre-existing style or is regarded as a pale imitation of it. At the same time, there are people who push for the Capital Region to embrace more modern design -- as others, soured by some regrettable examples of modernism, push back. And all along the way are concerns about cost, which in many cases can scuttle attempts at trying something new or innovative.

So, what's an example of something "new" that you like. And by new, we'll say anything that's been built in the last 25 years. What are the good examples? It doesn't have be the most excellent thing ever -- just something that you'd consider good.


I don't know, locally, of much of anything new that looks good. Or much of anything new. I'll have to think about it. But take a look at some of the dozens of new office buildings that have been built in DC in recent years, and you'll see that it is possible to build something that is attractive and modern while maintaining a good streetscape and classic lines.

@Carl: Any specific stretches or areas of DC that come to mind?

The RPI Biotech Center Rensselaer Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies.

That area of campus was/is a mishmash of various architectural styles. The construction of the building is such that the façade facing 15th Street matches the Quad dorms next door (circa 1900 construction), and the College Avenue side façade matches the 1960s-1980s architecture nearby, with enough modern touches to not make it look dated. Some attempts at that kind of architecture fail, for in trying to match two different styles the buildings match neither. The Biotech Center was, and still is, a very attractive addition to the campus when it was put up about a decade ago.

"THE PFEIL BUILDING AT 340 BROADWAY, Saratoga Springs - As developers and owners, they built 340 Broadway in 1997, the first new, private building on historic Broadway in 50 years. Pictured in the March/April 1998 issue of Traditional Building magazine, The Pfeil Building has been praised for its compatibility with the surrounding Victorian architecture. Major tenants include Eddie Bauer and Morgan Stanley."


A few months ago, I moderated a luncheon discussion on "Urban Infill Architecture" with the Capital Region Planners Association in Troy. I had Jeff Pfeil join us as the main speaker, and I asked him about this beautiful building in downtown Saratoga -- the building that set the tone for the Saratoga "renaissance." He said he spent an additional $500,000 on the adornment of the building -- the architectural texture of quality, the ornamentation ("Why, those are called balls" he said when I asked him if the ornaments at the top had a name), etc.

I asked him what it would take to get developers to invest in new, beautiful, quality architecture. And I asked him what motivated him. He replied, "Pride in ownership, pride in community."

A few months later, Jeff was in the audience at a talk in Troy on "Architectural Infill in an Historic District" and this building came up again. One of the panelists remarked that "You can't legislate pride in community" and she was right.


Is another quality new building. The 15 St. face of it looks like it's always been there, because it looks like it BELONGS there (in a neoclassical ensemble of college buildings "on the hill")



Is also an example of new architecture done in a traditional style that compliments its surrounding neighborhood. The northern side is a bit odd, but the face is done well.



The new Unity House building in Troy is also "good" (not great, but done in a fairly traditional style that has improved that particular neighborhood ... next to the Hoosick Street overpass).


The Albany Nanotech buildings come to mind. Of course the budget for those projects dwarf almost anything else.

I like the new DEC office building with it's giant green dome.

Building design depends almost entirely on the budget involved. Generally companies/government want to cut costs which means cheaper materials and simpler designs.

EMPAC's pretty cool.

It is my personal opinion that people here will never be happy. They want some flashy pilot project so they can compare their city to the likes of Boston, NYC and etc. But say, theoretically, something architecturally alternative like the EMPAC center (which is a great local project) was put near their neighborhood and then, without a doubt, all the sudden its an eyesore.

Designers are doing "safe" designs because they really have no other choice considering all the whiners, budget and construction concerns.

Everyone here says they want change then seem to change their minds once the first paper no parking sign goes up in their neighborhood. For example, the same people who moved into Center Square because Lark Street was so bohemian in the 90s are the same people complain about the noise and foot traffic on their streets.

The designs are your fault.

Side Note:
Would like to see more local firms getting local projects. We eat local, buy local, and use local, can we build local as well.


Local Designer

The Habitat for Humanity "Rehabitat" program is creating some nice low income housing throughout the city. It is attractive housing infrastructure, which address the old Habitat downfall of locating low income families in suburban, removed locations. A great program, and a testament to the possibility of good exterior renovations/construction that can be accomplished on a tight budget.

New Park South/Albany Med buildings...are the buildings perfect? No. But they are good, urban buildings (I may get some heat for that one, but that's ok).

The Albany County Family Court building. In a perfect world there would be a little more ornamentation around the windows, but in an imperfect world, it's a thoughtful design.

The architectural diversity and the history the buildings of Albany tell us, was certainly one of the big reasons I decided to call the city of Albany home. As pitched by AOA, the pull of this history is strong, especially when city boosters (I count myself among them) look at our history as an asset for drumming up tourism or encouraging adaptive reuse of our “older” buildings. However, I tend to use several metrics, in addition to aesthetics, when evaluating new buildings in the area. The more those buildings meet some of my “wish list” objectives, the more forgiving I am if they don’t tickle my eyes. For me, mix-use development, incorporation of transit and walkability features, affordable housing options and green design are important features I think developers should be considering, especially within our cities. Many of these priorities tend to compete, given the sliding scale of upfront/short-term costs that may take time to recoup on (e.g. $1ml for a really smart design or do I plug that towards zero energy HVVAC system). This is where I think the city can take the lead and offer tax incentives when projects willingly meet one or more of these objectives (vs the current model of “hey, you’re willing to build it, we’ll subsidize it” that pervades every significant economic development project)

The Liberty Quad on the SUNY Albany campus, which first struck me as boring and heavy, has really grown on me. This building has several “green” components garnering it a LEED Gold rating and the overall design, while not visually startling, does have some unique angles that contrast significantly with the bland buildings Columbia Development pumps out (and which features little to none of the other “wish list” components I think are critical). I think some more unique coloring and the addition of living plants growing out of the walls/roof would have really added to this building (Europe has some nice examples of “living” wall architecture), but not being an expert on the feasibility of this in our climate, etc. it very well may have been considered.

The Park South Development has been a serious disappointment in my mind. Given the level of talent, the leadership and moneyed stakeholders behind this project, I wish more could have been done on a host of levels. I applaud the mix use components and the commitment to denser development in the city of Albany, but I think the lack of green design, the inattention to pedestrian and bike needs, the absence of any integration with mass transit, and the devotion of a quarter block to unnecessary parking significantly hobble this development. On top of that, the aesthetics are less than appealing and could have been so much more, especially as the parking garage is concerned. No doubt, many good things will result from this project and I think it will serve as a good case study for how Albany can do so much better on future projects of similar or more limited scale.

This is an interesting discussion and I wish I had time to run through my photo archives for some examples as I have wandered the Cap District for years capturing images of old and new alike. One building that some may hate but I find to be a nice touch in Troy is EMPAC.

But that's the thing, aesthetics can be so subjective and personal. For most of us it comes down to a gut level question of "do I like it?" I looked at some of the buildings Duncan chose to represent his aesthetic... ok, they're nice; but none made me think, "Wow, that's a special building."

Seeing the picture of the old Troy City Hall made me think that sometimes it's not just about the design, but also about the quality of construction and the human element of making the space live...the old City Hall looked run down for as long as I remember it and the large plaza under it always felt dead.

One building that jumps to mind is the Fairchild Building on Vestry St. in NYC. It was new construction that blended fairly well with its surroundings. That building is condos, so it's not a perfect fit. If you took that building's shell, cut the height in half and extended the windows to most of the way up and added a bit of architectural embellishments, I doubt it would be any more cost-busting than what is currently proposed and would be a nice addition/complementary piece to the DeWitt Clinton across the street, which is what the architecture firm claims they're going for. Win win.

I'm not sure right now I can identify one, but I'll say what I do appreciate overall: a sense of contrast in an urban landscape. Not matchy-matchy styles and materials that don't end up enlivening or diversifying the urban environment. So new buildings don't have to be homages to previous centuries.

EMPAC was the first thing to come to my mind.

The Nanotech buildings, as function-driven as they are, are inoffensive and somewhat interesting.

On a smaller scale, the complete re-design/re-structure of the restaurant Creo was an inspired chance taken.

Please watch this CBS news video from 2013 about an architectural firm building new buildings in NYC in a traditional style. The examples begin about 1/3 or halfway through. The reporter notes that many people mistakenly assume these are OLD buildings, because they are done so well... in a traditional style.

Buildings: What's new is old
MAY 19, 2013, 9:11 AM

Tracy Smith reports on a team of New York designers getting attention for architecture that evokes nostalgia for buildings of the past.


Any of the new structures at the uptown SUNY Albany campus are a vast improvement over any of the older buildings.

I like the remodel that GE did on my office building. They revamped a 100 year old building, and I think it looks good.


I like most of the construction that the College of St Rose has built in the last couple of decades. Although they have razed old buildings, the style of the replacements is quite harmonious with the architecture in Pine Hills. They have also kept a number of existing old buildings and restored them tastefully; for example, the two residences at the corner of Partridge and Madison, and the business and administration buildings on Madison near Main. The campus as a whole is pleasant and attractive, and shows respect for its surroundings. I am happy to call St Rose my neighbor.

Having just driven past one, I'll go out on a limb and say the new Stewart's design is far better than the old one.

Recent? Post war? Last 25 years? I'll keep it to totally new buildings of the last 25:

1) The small building in front of price chopper on Madison (1066 Madison). It was built on the site of a former gas station (Mini chopper!) and it's evidence of a few things 1. Yes, you can take parking for infill 2. Up to the street AND corner helps make a gateway, preserve neighborhood feel 3) covered outdoor seating 4) someone did right to put a clock and some decorative lights up 5) three eateries shared space, one entrance! This is a remarkably under appreciated building

2) Hilton Garden Inn, 62 New Scotland. 1) up to the street 2) mixed use 3) 2 cafe seating areas 4) parking "behind" Gripes? No imagination in the architecture, but it's not terrible. Someone forgot to dress up the Western elevation and that's a shame.

3) New St. Rose Dorms, Madison Ave. - there are some gripes: a wee bit too big, parking lot way to big, and they tore down some solid homes to build - but look at what a difference it makes to have an architect do the design - it absolutely fits the neighborhood in materials, lines, and context. A little out of scale, sure, but in Albany, we celebrate compromise when we shouldn't (that awful AMC garage for example) and say "it could have been worse." Well, this building is pretty damn close and that's worth touting.

There are a lot of retrofits I love (mostly former schools and the Jefferson ave. firehouse in Albany) and I'm sure I'll think of more. but here's 3 all new buildings I like.

@ daleyplanit---I agree about the function and general attractiveness of the building you labelled 1). And yes the clock is great and someone did do right. Twice a day it is accurate. Imagine if there were an actual working timepiece in that spot, rather than a still life. I still don't see why that is so hard.

I agree with James and Duncan. I really like the new Unity House building in Troy and Biotech building at RPI. But, I guess part of the reason I like them is because they're all brick and they fit in with the local, older architecture.

I'm still on the fence about EMPAC. I like the inside but the outside might be a bit much.

So freaking funny reading these posts and just seeing the minds of many a great people thinking as hard as they can and they come up with........Stewart's shops! Creo restaurant!! This is the hardest that I have laughed in months! Actually I am crying! I agree with the above post though...the new Madison Ave dorms for St. Rose are pretty decent...safe but pleasant and fit real well into the area and will likely age well visually (structurally??? doubt it) Any way we can name older buildings like the Albany train station or education department building or capital or any building on any street in Albany or Troy built between 1678 and 1930 and find out what is great about them and why it is impossible to build them now? I don't think we are going too get many more relies regarding newer buildings!

I love the Arbor Hill branch of the Albany Public Library on Henry Johnson Blvd., especially at night. When you drive up the hill those lights and huge windows are striking.

I think they did a great job with the new Albany Library satellite branches. The ones on New Scotland and Delaware are particularly nice. They're modern, but each is unique and they seem to fit in with their respective neighborhoods.

I think it's important for people to realize that perhaps more important than the designer of a building are the project contractors and owners of the building. Designers regularly propose new and interesting ideas, but contractors always hate something "different" (read: difficult), and owners are afraid to take chances, and always defer to the minimum amount of effort necessary to complete their project.

Why is EMPAC great? Because the owners (RPI) didn't settle for the minumum, and the contractor (Turner) isn't afraid of something new. Add that together with a great architectural firm (Grimshaw) and you've got a good project.

Why is the RPI Biotech Center so great? Again, RPI didn't seek the rock bottom of requirements, and the contractors weren't afraid of real brick and a glass atrium. The architects (Bohlin Cywinski Jackson) are one of the leading firms in the US and do amazing work.

Ask any contractor what project they'd like to do, and they'll tell you "whatever is fastest and easiest". If something looks hard on paper, they assume it's difficult in the field and they either add a '0' to their bid/estimate, or talk the owner out of it.

Not to mention that anything new and interesting doesn't stand a chance in the eyes of the general public. Everyone in this area wants a suburban vinyl-sided golf course home with a pool and fake dormers, and anytime something interesting is proposed in Albany, Troy, Schenectady or Hudson everyone is quick to play the "Historic Card" and claim that the building doesn't "fit in". New York City is older than Troy, but no one ever tried to make a new building there match the historic surroundings. All this does is lead to all of the involved parties seeking the path of least resistance (public opinion).

Don't blame designers for mediocre buildings, blame the entire building industry.

I'll add to the votes for EMPAC. I also like the Dinosaur Bar-b-que in Troy. Yeah, it looks like their Rochester store, but I think it's well sited and interesting there.

It's a very interesting topic, though. I've recently had the opportunity to visit Chicago a couple of times, and it's a very striking city. I don't think I prefer it to NYC overall, but compared to their architecture, Manhattan looks bland and utilitarian. The buildings don't all look alike, but there's a definite "style" there that's expressed in different ways. That's what I think is missing about things like, oh, the Troy City Hall and the Nanotech buildings. I don't think either of them are really bad looking, but there's no sense of "place" about them that says they belong in Albany NY instead of Rensselaer, IN or Albany, OR.

I can't believe people are citing EMPAC as a GOOD building. That's the ugliest thing ever to be inflicted on a local skyline. That great glass behemoth is an utter monstrosity.

But yeah, come to think of it, a lot of the newer buildings in Saratoga Springs aren't too bad, 'cause they fit nicely with the existing buildings.

I do love the habitat for humanity rowhomes throughout albany. they look great and don't lose anything about what makes the old homes great. some with oriel windows and large stoops. pretty colors and just a lot of detail.

@ local designers

No one blames you the designer, completely. It must be demoralizing to go from classroom to drafting table and have penny pinching developers interested in a fee rather than legacy throw your ideas out. I feel for you.

I resent the one comment above, however, "The designs are your fault." There are no design guidelines in Albany, nor a pattern book. I've been to countless planning board meetings, and served on the board of the IDA. The design of the building is largely left up to a suburban minded developer, who cares little for the building, but more about a quick buck.
The planning board has very little ability to enforce good policy, and the economic development folks don't see things beyond a spreadsheet.

"Albany, Troy, Schenectady or Hudson everyone is quick to play the "Historic Card" and claim that the building doesn't "fit in".

No one is asking for buildings to be built exactly the same way as they were a hundred years ago.That's an inaccurate characterization. People want city buildings not drive-thru cookie cutter Walgreens spot zoned down our throats. They want a mix of materials, not just 1/2" faux tan brick. They want a building in context, complimenting, but not duplicating it's surroundings. When the new Mormon church went up near school 19 the developer said "it's like a McDonalds, only better." Granted, this building has grown on me, but the 74-car lot, vacant 90% of the time, is a permanent blemish upon the neighborhood. In so much as parking lots are part and parcel for many of the buildings they serve, I consider them part of the building - until that is we start taxing them separately, for they are not charities, are not a place of worship, or have any livability value. but that's another diatribe. An ugly lot ruins a good building every time - see my comment about St Rose.

Yes, in NYC there's a strong effort to break new ground, but there's also the first and most successful historic preservation effort born out of the tear-down of Penn station and it's replacement with the god-awful MSG. "Progress!" and then "oops."

It's not done yet, so I didn't include it, but 3t's design of the Lark St. / Delaware / Madison building is a breath of fresh air - and it does NOT look like a historic building. Tasteful, in context, yet fresh and modern. I can't wait to see it completed.

Historic Card.... ugh... No one was asking for AMC's new main wing (or it's ancillary buildings) to look like the State Ed building, but given it's prominence as the focal point of the entire lower new Scotland neighborhood, AMC is the driving force in the area's employment, and that the complex is a huge driver of out of city visits -- why was the hospital so cavalier about the look of the new wing? It's awful because it has zero presence, and because someone forgot how to lay out the facility, there will be an enormous skyway cutting across the face of the building. Oops. No one looks at it and says that's a place dedicated to health and well-being. They look at is and think "that place is filled with the sick and dying." Hyperbole? Perhaps.... but it fuels animosity non-the-less because it's just so.....

The problem with all of this is that while the bottom line of the developer is instant gratification and this stupid stupid tax loophole called accelerated depreciation, a building is a 40-year legacy left for other folks to look at, interact with, and respond to. What plain and featureless buildings say to the streets around them is "if no one cared about me, why should you care about this place?"

@KB @ Home-Baked Happiness,

"I can't believe people are citing EMPAC as a GOOD building. That's the ugliest thing ever to be inflicted on a local skyline. That great glass behemoth is an utter monstrosity."

You're not alone in those sentiments. Did you catch this AOA post when it ran?

EMPAC: a beached ocean liner?
posted Jun 8, 2009


@BS I'm glad you got a laugh from my tongue-in-cheek suggestion re. Stewarts new design. It's mass produced crap for the most part and certainly not intended as cutting edge design. However (and not to defend my suggestion) having watched as the old one was replaced, it seemed that as a simple commercial structure, ubiquitous in the region, the newer design is friendlier and more attractive.

EMPAC is not bad...I actually rather like both the interior and the exterior.

And the Habitat for Humanity project on Burden Ave is not awful.

Heck I think we could have ended up with a lot worse for City Station. (Don't love it, but it really could have been much much worse)

Harmony Mills in Cohoes.
While it's not new construction, it is an architectural work to be proud of.

@BobF.. I sensed your air of sarcasm...and you sensed mine. I do agree that just about all of the new stewart stores look far far better than their previous incarnations. WHO the heck decided to build those old builings with the wooden roof all the way around the building on the sides....I don't get it....did it happen after dropping acid all day or something? Again most of the Stewart's shops will age poorly and need to be torn down again in about 15 -20 years....they're like toasters.....throw them out and get a new one. Agree with whoever mentioned the Chinese Food, Dunkin Donuts, Subway building on Madiison...It is kind of a cruel joke that I even noticed it but it looks at least like they tried to make a statement of some kind to operate some fast food places out of that is better than a drive thru Wendy's or Taco Bell. It is truly shocking the crap that surrounds us all...no wonder we are all on popping Prozac!

I'm sad that the Lark/Del/Mad building is seemingly going to be made of matchsticks, like so much construction in recent decades. It'll be attractive and I am excited to have something better-looking (and actually functional) on the corner gateway to my neighborhood. I just wish it were more substantial.

(Here's hoping the Park South development, problematic though it may be, will stimulate movement on the corner of Mad/NSA.)

Thanks to everyone sharing their thoughts, especially the couple of designers who contributed!

@James Cronen, Duncan: The RPI Biotech Center is remarkable for pulling off a new-with-the-old design. It reminds me a bit of the Maxwell School at Syracuse, which includes one building from the 1930s and one built during the mid 90s.

And Duncan, if people didn't know it, I bet most wouldn't even guess the Pfeil Building was so recent. The bit about the extra cost of the ornamentation is an interesting bit.

@Hock41, others re: Nanotech: Those buildings would look weird in a lot of contexts in the Capital Region, but I think they work where they're at. I'm not a big fan of that style -- it kind of reminds me of giant LEGO -- but to me they look what they are.

@Alison: Habitat's Sheridan Hollow project is very interesting and I'm looking forward to seeing how it turns out.

@Rich: I'm interested in this idea of local municipalities finding ways to greater incentivize good design (whether it be environmental, aesthetic, or whatever). I think daleyplanit pointed to some of the current shortcomings on that front.

@chrisck: I agree, some contrast is good. I don't where that tips over into outright clashing, but I think interesting variety is good goal.

@BobF, others re:EMPAC: I realize EMPAC isn't going to suit everyone, but I think it's cool. And more than anything, I like that it includes a handful "whoa" spaces. You know, you open the door to the concert hall, with that ceiling, and it's a great sight. It's good to have some buildings that prompt us to take a moment and take them in.

@KGB: I agree that Creo was an admirable attempt at something different. The thing that gets me about that building is the lighting -- all the times I've been there the lighting seems cold or somehow not right.

@Jessica R W: Thanks for sharing that!

@KM, others re:Saint Rose: That campus is interesting to me because it's directly connected to the surrounding neighborhood and they've become even more woven together during the college's expansion over the last decade. I like the Massry Center building -- its street side alludes to some of the surrounding buildings and it doesn't dominate the street, the parking is behind, and there are some really nice spaces inside.

@daleyplanit: Thanks for pointing out the 1066 Madison building as an example of a small project. It fits well on that corner.

@maria, MM: The new Albany libraries are nice. And I like the Arbor Hill location (really love the big windows) -- in theory. My personal tastes run toward the more modern, but to me that building just feels like it clashes a little too much with its row house neighbors. It says "warehouse" to me more than "neighborhood" library.

@Mike Jones: That's an interesting question about design that's representative of a place -- and how to pay tribute to a place without everything ending up looking the same.

EMPAC is the first thing that comes to mind. Empire State Plaza next, if it counts as "recent." Both are interesting works of contemporary (for their time) architecture. EMPAC is an incredible space to be in and I like the interaction with the site's topography. I'd love to see more architecture like that and fewer fake historic buildings. Let's build things that future generations will want to preserve as representative of today's architecture.

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