Meeting An Old Friend For The First Time – The Dun Building

That’s a picture of the Dun Building in Buffalo, taken as I was walking to the dinner organized for the students participating in the bridge competition run by the APTI’s Preservation Engineering Technical Committee. I’ve been in Buffalo a few time before and may have walked past the Dun Building, but if I did I have no memory of it.

I immediately recognized the building because it was part of my research project on early skyscrapers. It was built in the mid-1890s to an architectural design by Green & Wicks. It is only ten stories tall, but at 42 feet wide and 130 feet high, it’s reasonably slender. It now stands completely isolated, but the historic photos I’ve seen show low-rise mid-1800s buildings to the south (left in the picture) so it was always exposed on all sides above the fourth floor. Its facade is in good repair, which makes me think that its owners have been taking care of it. In short, it’s a nice old building.

Having read about the Dun Building for the research, seeing it in person was a bit odd. It’s not very big and it’s not very memorable in appearance*. Had I simply come across it without knowing anything about it, my reaction probably would have been something like “nice brickwork.” The historic importance of the building – its place among the earliest skyscrapers – is something that people like me assigned after the fact and has little to do with the building’s history. A lot of people have worked in that building over the last 120 years; they would still have been there if it were one story shorter (and therefore didn’t make the cut for my study) and 20 feet wider (and therefore had the same usable floor area it actually has).

* It has the endearing awkwardness of the era when people had started to build tall office buildings but hadn’t yet figured out a suitable style.

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