One Seneca Tower (Former HSBC Center)

Added by Dillon Galvis, last update: June 2, 2014, 11:34 am

One Seneca Tower (Former HSBC Center)
Arial View of One Seneca Tower, source:, date: November 23, 2013
One HSBC Ctr.
Buffalo, NY 14214
United States
42° 52' 48.3672" N, 78° 52' 34.2696" W
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Identity of Building / Site
Primary classification: Commercial (COM)
Secondary classification: Urbanism (URB)
Federal, State, or Local Designation(s) and Date(s):


History of Building/Site
Original Brief:

The building was constructed specifically for Marine Midland Savings Bank’s Headquarters. The architects Skidmore Owings and Merrill (SOM) were commissioned to erect the tallest building in Buffalos Skyline. SOM was introduced to the project in the 1960’s, following the modern idea of ‘form-follows-function.’ Since the building was constructed specifically for Marine Midland Bank’s headquarters and was built during the urban renewal program in Buffalo, this meant that the 40-story building did not have to be integrated into the surrounding context of the neighborhood.

Dates: Commission / Completion:Construction Started: March 1969 (the first day of spring) Construction Completed: 1972 Marine Midland Center: 1972-1999 One HSBC Center: 1999-2013 One Seneca Tower: 2013- present
Architectural and other Designer(s): The architects involved with the projects were Skidmore Owings and Merrill. The owner-developer-manager of the original Marine Midland Center was Cabot, Cabot and Forbes Development Co. Inc. The structural Steel was provided by U.S. Steel Corporations American Bridge Division. The General Contractor to the project was Aberthaw-Cowper, a joint venture of Aberthaw Construction Co. Inc. of Buffalo.
Others associated with Building/Site: N/A
Significant Alteration(s) with Date(s): N/A
Current Use: Currently only five percent of the 38 floors are being occupied for office use.
Current Condition: Currently the site is in good shape. This class A office space is currently 95% unoccupied as HSBC and the law firm of Phillips Lytle left at the end of 2013, at the same time. Most of the building systems are 40 years old, and even though they have been well maintained, they are technically obsolete and could have better performance. The building does not have sprinklers. In 2008 the owner had a study performed in a response to the then recently adopted asbestos legislation. The open plaza leaks, which stains cars parked in the lower level parking garage. While the building is generally in good shape, modern improvements to the systems, probable installation of sprinklers and aesthetic touches need to be added in order to make the building more appealing and efficient to future tenants.
General Description:

Sited on the Buffalo River, One Seneca Tower is vertically dominant compared to all the other buildings located in downtown Buffalo. The sand-colored, mid-century Brutalist monolith was described as a vertical village with small shops, and a restaurant, which brought pedestrians into an open plaza. The building is a mixed steel and concrete curtain wall with non-operable windows. Alongside of the tower is an L-shaped 4 story building that allows for an enclosed plaza surrounding the tower to its northern section, but it also instills the idea of a retail center that wraps around a building of residential, office and commercial mix-use. The building started its construction in March 1969 (the first day of spring) beginning the construction by excavating the parking ramp, which is located under the 40-story structure, with 460 parking spaces.

Construction Period:

Various types of steel beams were used in its buildings construction. The largest is 26 feet 10 inches long, weighing 42 tons; equivalent of two stories tall. As the vertical columns rose, floor beams and girders were welded into place, floor decks installed, and concrete flooring was poured. Simultaneously, the skin was being assembled, consisting of 4,000 slabs of precast concrete which were manufactured in Toronto.

Original Physical Context:

Today, the buildings profile defines the downtown Buffalo skyline. Its location and height allow for amazing views of Lake Erie, the Buffalo River, and the entire region. The modern Brutalist building was built for the purpose of a bank, and did not take much consideration to the surrounding context of the site as it has spectacular views of the entire downtown area of Buffalo. The building has a conflicted relationship with Main Street, which is articulated through a barren tunnel at the base of the building. The building’s entrances are all set back from the surrounding streets, with little protection for poor weather conditions. While not the most used plaza, it does hold Ronald Bladen’s monumental work from 1973 title ‘Vroom, Shhh.” The plaza is barren and open to winter winds comparable to the force of a hurricane which gather around tall structures. Its initial design was during the urban renewal program in Buffalo. The growth along the Buffalo River was predicted for nearly half a century, as part of this development boom which was expected to follow the construction of Marine Midland Center.

Technical Evaluation:

The building’s architecture is a modernist style with precast concrete; the concrete façade is of the Brutalist style, which has become unpleasing to many in the 21st century. Various types of steel beams were used in its construction. The largest is 26 feet 10 inches long, weighing 42 tons; equivalent of two stories tall. As the vertical columns rose, floor beams and girders were welded into place, floor decks installed, and concrete flooring was poured. Simultaneously, the skin was being assembled, consisting of 4,000 slabs of precast concrete which were manufactured in Toronto.


Besides being the tallest privately owned building in New York outside of New York City, this Modern gem captures the muscular architectural style of the post- World War II era. Its design which was distinctly modern in 1972, today feels fortress like and almost uninviting, unintentionally disrupting the flow of the urban fabric and seemingly creating an iconic barrier around which more welcoming development patterns are growing. Since it follows the idea of form-follows-function, the building was built specifically for the bank, but thankfully this consisted of 38 stories of open space for office use, which is exactly what HSBC and others used the building for, before leaving at the end of 2013. There is hope for this building as other similar SOM buildings have been revived, surviving economic challenges in present time. The original Marine Midland Center ranked as the largest development project in the city of Buffalo’s history at the time of construction in 1969. The typical size of each floor is 18,000 square feet and has flexibility in layout with no internal columns disrupting the flow. This building is actually similar to another SOM building which recently had a complete top to bottom renovation; the Edith Green-Wendell Wyatt Federal Building in Portland Oregon. The Portland building has been renovated into an environmentally friendly, sustainable piece of architecture with the help of $100 million in government funded money.

Cultural & Aesthetic:
Built in 1972 the skyscraper took on the Brutalist style with precast concrete. The building is an example of many other building built during the time period that took part of the ‘urban renewal’ that backfired in multiple cities in the United States.

The building as stated earlier is widely known for being the tallest building in the city of Buffalo, and for being the largest privately owned tower in the state of New York outside of New York City. During the time of the buildings construction it received positive feedback for SOM’s success in erecting a building which stood out in the downtown Buffalo skyline.

General Assessment:
Aside from being one of many buildings built by the famous architectural firm of Skidmore Owings and Merrill, it holds a valuable place in the architectural history of Buffalo. The perfect example of restrained Brutalist architecture stands out among all other buildings in the Buffalo skyline due to its impressive height. It is tough looking exterior is a reminder of this modern push of architecture which is an important part of architectural history.
Text references:

3 article clippings from the Marine Midland Bank Folder at the Grosvenor Room located at the Buffalo Public Library
Miller, Melinda. "City & Region." N.p., 1 Dec. 2013. Web. 08 Apr. 2014.
Miller, Melinda. "City & Region." N.p., 17 Nov. 2013. Web. 08 Apr. 2014.
Epstein, Jonathan D. "Business." N.p., 17 Jan. 2014. Web. 08 Apr. 2014.
Urban Land Institute Panel. "One HSBC Center Buffalo, NY." A ULI Advisory Services Panel Report (2013): n. pag. Print.

Additional Images
One Seneca Tower (Former HSBC Center)
Typical Floor Plan, Source: Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, date: 1972
One Seneca Tower (Former HSBC Center)
South Facade, Source: Dillon Galvis, date: 2014
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