ARC 605- Urban Design- Hiro Hata

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Building an Urban Hamlet 2: Imaging Buffalo’s Post Highway Future

What the studio is about in a nutshell:

An evidence- and place/community-based, the studio uses the City of Buffalo, NY as an urban lab. Students will look at the intersection of urban design with transportation. The heart of this Urban Design studio is a creation of an Urban Design Master Plan for a site in the city’s West Side currently serving as highway ramps (see the map above). The master plan calls for reclaiming the publicly-owned land of the ramps and transforming it into the design of clusters of fine-grained affordable housing: we call an Urban Hamlet. You will learn to create alternative master plans synthesizing architecture (high-density, low-/mid-rise urban housing), urban planning, and human infrastructure such as some retail, new streetscapes and great public spaces. Working on the project, we expect to have 3-4 master-planning groups, each comprised of interdisciplinary students from MARC and MUP students. At the end of the semester, we will have a final presentation to public and a single-bound report synthesizing the semester’s work.


A Multi-Year Undertaking:

This is the second year of a multi-year studio investigation for restoring downtown Buffalo’s urban fabric decimated by the last Urban Renewal Program (URP). We produce a Master Plans for each of three primary sites, each of which is currently serving as ramps connecting:

  1. the Oak-Elm Arterial at both ends at Kensington Expressway and I-190 and at William/Michigan where we applied traffic diet measures for the excessive ROWs (explored in fall 2020);
  2. I-190 and Virginia-Carolina ramps connecting Niagara Street (in fall 2021. The site pictured above); and
  3. Skyway ramps (planed in fall 2022).

With the premise of keeping traffic flowing, the studio proposes that these ramps (built on public land) be transformed into a series of new mixed-use development accommodating affordable urban housing we call: an Urban Hamlet. The studio will be offered as an interdisciplinary collaboration between MARC and MUP students. Assisted by studio sponsors, stakeholders and critics, the studio is open to scrutiny of the public (as it is about repurposing parcels of publicly-owned land), maintaining its transparency. The outcome of the fall 2021 studio will publish Alternative Urban Design Master Plans for the site, ending with a final presentation to public and a publication of bound report.


Like other industrial cities such as Detroit or St. Louis, Buffalo’s recent past had eye-witnessed a fair share of violent Urban Renewal Program (URP) clearing xxxx of homes and businesses and building new highways and expansive streets. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Regional Center Plan for Downtown Buffalo. The 1971 Plan proposed to isolate the downtown as a 9-5 CBD by a ring of highways seamlessly connected. Although without completing the Allentown Bypass and the Oak/Elm Expressway depressed two-story below the street level, the current downtown has been shaped by the plan remaining for the most part still a 9-5 city.

Driven by the desire to address the overarching goals: climate change, social- environmental injustice, and inner-city regeneration all at once, the fall 2020 studio began with the premise of exploring the potential for re-stitching the severed the previously established urban fabric of downtown along the Oak-Elm Arterial decimated by the last URP in 60s-70s. Three interdisciplinary groups of students looked at the potential of reclaiming the ramps at both ends (at Kensington Expressway to north, and at I-190 to south) and the middle section at William and Michigan.

The Rationale:

It is deceptively simple: Reclaim parcels of publicly-owned land currently used for the highway ramps and transform it a new development -- we call an Urban Hamlet: a dense, fine-grained, low- to mid-rise affordable housing with some mixed use (retail storefronts). In an effort to address social/environmental justice such as city’s car-centric culture. Traffic on the ramps will use the regular street grid to keep traffic flowing.

Repurposing the publicly-owned highway ramps for regenerating the inner-city housing while leaving private land untouched.


Form 3-4 interdisciplinary teams, each comprised of students from MARC and MUP programs. In turn, they are expected to engage in productive, stimulating collaboration work throughout the semester. Ideal enrollment would be: 12-15 students. 3-4 teams with (Each team comprised of: 2-3 MARC and 1-2 MUP students).

Conduct a typical weekly session: we will do pinup sessions on Mondays; on Wednesdays, we will have studio seminars to learn about master-planning, high-density, low- mid-rise urban housing, making good public spaces, streetscapes, and social- community engagement. Or, using breakout sessions, we engage individual crits for advancing team’s master-planning, architectural design, landscape architecture and streetscapes.

Engage and learn from studio sponsor, stakeholders, and critics.

Scope of Work & Preliminary Semester Schedule:

Phase 1: Site, Analysis, and Precedent Study

  • After a briefing, instructor will disseminate relevant information about the topic and give teams a list of readings for the studio.
  • Conduct site visits and site/its context documentation.
  • Production of site analysis, and precedent study. Using spatial/environmental/social-economic analysis and an extensive use of digital mapping and graphics with narratives. Conduct precedent study of housing typological study from domestic and abroad sources.  Share the results – Site/Precedent pinup session.
  • Begin the studio report production (elect an editor).

Phase 2: Strategic Framework and Production of Alternative Concepts

  • Each project team to develop strategic framework alternatives for conceptual master plan for Urban Hamlet 2. (scale: 1/16”=1’-0”, 1”=40’ to 1”=200’-400’-1000’)
  •  Mid review

Phase 3: Refinement of Strategic Framework and Development of Alternative Concepts and Final Presentation & Report Publication.

Each team to develop and refine a chosen concept a final schematic master plan with detail housing design. Partial blown-up plans and sections, perspectives.

  • Refinement and presentations. Putting a report together.
  • Final public presentation (after school final review)
  • Publication of Studio Report


  • The Value of Learning about Master Planning: You will have the opportunity to become familiar with master planning techniques and processes by dealing both architecture, planning, and landscape architecture, and transportation planning/design all at once.
  • Leadership Skills: You will learn to be highly creative and productive working in collaboration with your fellow students.
  • Experience: Working with your teammates, you will never experience the same intensity of and commitment to your hard work in the studio.
  • Service to the Community: As students of Architecture and Planning, you will serve to the community by advancing thoughtful plans rich in human-scale and publicly-minded for inner-city regeneration.