Graycliff Conservancy Visitor Center Expansion

Bringing together Graycliff’s historical significance, compelling landscape and renewed vision for public engagement, this project seeks to transform a visitor center into a cultural destination for the Buffalo region.

This project emerges from a challenge many cultural institutions are facing—how to creatively transform their physical assets and programmatic offerings to better engage with a contemporary audience. For the Graycliff Conservancy, responding to this question required both looking back—reflecting on the unique attributes of the site’s multifaceted history—and looking ahead—creating a sustainable platform for engaging a broader community and growing the organization. The Graycliff Conservancy commissioned SITU, with HHL Architects and Bayer Landscape Architecture, to delve into these themes and produce a design concept that transforms the site into a dynamic, cultural destination.

Graycliff is located on the bluffs of Lake Erie outside Buffalo, New York. Originally created as a summer retreat for the Martin family, the house illustrates a new architectural direction for Frank Lloyd Wright—from Prairie to Usonian style—a shift that aims to integrate the building with the site and surrounding environment. To this end, the Martin family commissioned the accomplished landscape architect Ellen Biddle Shipman to work with Wright. While Graycliff is the only collaboration between Wright and Shipman, their shared vision to soften the boundaries between the building and its surroundings produced unprecedented results.

Given the fundamental role the landscape played in Graycliff’s beginnings, our team began to re-imagine the parameters of the project beyond a singular building to include its surroundings—over eight acres in total. This wider lens not only reflects the original vision for Graycliff but also aligns with our team’s efforts to reshape the arrival experience and take full advantage of the site’s beautiful grounds through a re-imagined programming strategy.

The new center will have more room for staff members, more porosity between programs and better connectivity, specifically linking the exhibition area and the historic site. The project leverages an existing concrete block gymnasium building that was built by the Piarist Fathers, who purchased the site in the 50s. The gymnasium (1,605 sq ft) serves as the current visitor center, and in the new design, it will be upgraded to house an expanded gift shop and new service facilities. Extending outward from the gym, an open, light-filled lobby space creates a new face for the building and center of programming.

Overall, the multipurpose addition (nearly 2,800 sq ft) will host new staff facilities, a reception area, cafe and exhibition space while also serving as an informal and inviting buffer space between more specific uses that allows various programs to expand or retract as activities require.

A floor-to-ceiling glass facade opens up at the terrace to seamlessly blend the lobby interior with the terrace exterior, allowing for larger events to occur such as the annual gala as well as farm-to-table and other cultural activities. Much in line with Isabelle Martin’s original vision for Graycliff, the new building provides a welcoming and restful retreat for day-to-day visitors, event attendees and Graycliff’s own team.

The building is topped by an intensive green roof that cantilevers outward toward a restored fruit orchard creating an outdoor covered porch area. Clad in natural wood, this prominent roof feature seeks to bring the outside in and ensconce the new Center within the existing landscape.


Graycliff Conservancy


Buffalo, NY


4,400 sq ft (built project)
5.5 acres (landscape)


Expected 2024


HHL Architects, Bayer Landscape Architecture