Historic preservation program shapes city around us

Student members of the School of Architecture and Planning's newly formed African American Students of Architecture and Planning (AASAP) organization.

Students participate in a meeting of the newly formed African American Students of Architecture and Planning (AASAP) student coalition. Photo by Maryanne Schultz

by Bradshaw Hovey

Published February 28, 2020


Since its inception half a century ago, the UB School of Architecture and Planning has been a champion for the preservation of our urban and architectural heritage. Now it has degree and certificate programs in preservation practice so others might carry the work forward.

From Dean Harold Cohen’s early advocacy for Buffalo’s architectural legacy, Peter Reyner Banham’s work on “Building Lifecycles,” and Will Clarkson’s leadership in creating the definitive guidebook on Buffalo architecture, to our involvement in long-running efforts to preserve and celebrate the Darwin D. Martin House, the H.H. Richardson Buffalo State Hospital, and the School’s home in Hayes Hall itself, faculty, students, and friends of the School have been passionately involved in the work to preserve that heritage. 

It only makes sense, then, that the School should present major curricular opportunities for students who wish to pursue vocations in the preservation of historic buildings, grounds, and landscapes. In 2014 the School created two new programs: a Master of Science in Architecture in Historic Preservation degree and an Advanced Graduate Certificate in Historic Preservation.

Recent work in the program underscores the idea that historic preservation is not simply about saving old buildings. Preservation practice is rooted in a belief in the value of those artifacts, but it is just as much about telling the stories of our shared experiences in city, town, and country.

Students explore the Scajaquada Creek corridor as part of the preservation planning studio.

Students explore Buffalo's Scajaquada Creek corridor as part of the preservation planning studio.

One extraordinary example comes from the 2016 preservation studio led by Kerry Traynor, one of the core members of the faculty in the program. The project explored the length of Scajaquada Creek not only to understand it as a physical landscape but as a “cultural landscape” as well.

Using Scajaquada Creek as a transect of the region from the Town of Lancaster, underground through Buffalo’s East Side to the Black Rock Canal, students were able to document histories of native inhabitation, white settlement, the War of 1812, maritime work in Buffalo, eras of urbanization, industrialization, highway building, and environmental degradation and repair.

Such work laid the foundation for recommendations on how to bring the physical and historical reality of the creek to light, including bringing parts of the more than three miles of the creek now flowing through an underground culvert back to “daylight.”

In some cases, preservation practice is about finding new uses for old buildings. Ashima Krishna, co-director of the program, and Enjoli Hall, a doctoral student, have researched the process of adaptive reuse of some of Buffalo’s many church buildings through a “faith-to-faith conversion.” This included two East Side Roman Catholic churches transformed into a Moslem mosque and a Buddhist temple, respectively.

Other projects have focused on the bread and butter practices of historic preservation like the 2015 nomination to the National Register of Historic Places of Saints Peter and Paul Orthodox Church in Buffalo’s Lovejoy neighborhood. Students compiled site descriptions, historical narratives, site visits, architectural photography and measured drawings. They also gained real-world experience in working with the New York State Office of Historic Preservation and completing a National Register nomination.

The core of both programs is the same: a documentation and fieldwork methods course including practice in measured drawing; a foundations course including preservation history, theory, and economics; two courses in architectural history; and a studio practicum.

The M.S. Arch. degree, which is a three-semester program, adds deeper study in preservation theory, a shop methods course, additional architectural history including courses on urban form and its evolution, and a thesis or capstone project. The Advanced Graduate Certificate can be completed over the course of a year alone, or in concert with MUP or M. Arch. requirements.  

The Buffalo programs in Historic Preservation offer superior value for students’ tuition dollars and can open the door for a wide range of opportunities in preservation architecture and related fields.

students look through historic preservation documents.

Students examine materials in UB libraries as part of the historic preservation documentation course.