Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates reveals vision for new Buffalo waterfront park

Lakefront Landscape

Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates reveals vision for new Buffalo waterfront park

The 92-acre Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Centennial Park will be designed by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates. (Rendering Courtesy MVVA)

Michael Van Valkenburgh (MVVA)’s vision for Buffalo’s expansive new waterfront park has finally been unveiled. Stretching 92 acres along the shore of Lake Erie, the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Centennial Park will be a verdant hub of cultural and recreational activity that connects downtown Buffalo to the city’s Lakeview neighborhood.

Designed in collaboration with the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation, the organization that donated $50 million towards the project, the park is a major beautification effort for the City of Buffalo. The foundation worked alongside MVVA, the city government, as well as the University at Buffalo Regional Institute over the last two years to engage different communities surrounding the existing 77-acre LaSalle Park—the landscape that the new project will overtake—to create a new and dynamic playspace for the lakeside city.

Aerial view of park masterplan (Courtesy MVVA)
Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Centennial Park masterplan (Courtesy MVVA)

MVVA’s initial aerial renderings reveal multiple shifts in the topography throughout the site, which, as it exists today, is fairly flat to accommodate straight views as well as room for sports.

Masterplan showing the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Centennial Park near and connecting to Front Park, 4th Street Park, Virginia-Carolina Interchange, and Waterfront/Emerson Young Park
The park will replace the LaSalle Park by Buffalo’s Lakeview neighborhood. (Courtesy MVVA)

In a former interview, Van Valkenburgh told AN that this flatness would generally remain in the firm’s design proposal because “there’s a kind of wonderful, almost magical concept of playing at the edge of a lake,” he said. “At the same time, we’ll likely want to add some topography to the landscape to allow people to get to a higher level over the water to see Buffalo’s famous sunsets.”

Rendering of people sledding on park hill
The new landscape will be more sculpted and verdant than what currently exists. (Rendering Courtesy MVVA)

In keeping with the original functions of LaSalle Park, the upgraded landscape will include many baseball and soccer fields, as well as pools, playgrounds, and promenades with those uninhibited views of Lake Erie. Large-scale lawns, reminiscent of those found in Brooklyn Bridge Park, will also be integrated into the design so that families can picnic, play frisbee, or go sledding during Buffalo’s snowy winter. In addition, the design team has proposed what appears to be a peninsula built of terraced rocks where Buffalo residents can connect directly with the water—something the old park was lacking according to Van Valkenburgh.

Rendering of walkway over lake to terraced rocks
Within the new park, locals will be able to directly interact with the water, something that was lacking in the old park. (Rendering Courtesy MVVA)

While this first set of visuals showcases the size and scope of the park project, it doesn’t yet include details on where or how these topographic changes will occur. However, a key component of the plan is that the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Centennial Park will enhance the landscape directly surrounding the city’s historic pumping station (to the northwest of the park), as well as extend a branch of parkland across Interstate I-90, connecting into Lakeview. Van Valkenburgh said he plans to create some sort of noise buffer around the roadway to keep a peaceful tone within the landscape.

View of great lawn at night with people watching performance
The landscape will include a series of massive lawns, ball fields, and a long promenade with expansive views of Lake Erie. (Rendering Courtesy MVVA)

Right now, a large-scale model of the landscape design is touring the city and locals can view the vision up close. On Thursday, it’s heading to the LaSalle Park Pool Building.