Published September 21, 2021
Work on a comprehensive renovation of Crosby Hall has begun, with re-occupation by students and faculty scheduled for Fall 2023.
The $28 million project will fully restore the exterior of the building to historic standards and reconfigure the interior as an airy, open, contemporary space for learning and creation. The project will also replace vital systems that will make the building comfortable, energy efficient, and secure against the elements.
“The Crosby Hall renovation revives the hub of our studio experience and restores a cherished campus building and regional asset,” said Robert G. Shibley, professor and dean of the School of Architecture and Planning.
Crosby Hall was completed in 1931 and was the home of the School of Management (formerly Business Administration) until 1985 when the school moved to North Campus, and the School of Architecture and Environmental Design, as it was then known, moved in. Work on the building in the 36 years since then has been decidedly piece-meal with nothing approaching the scope of the current project.
The building has always been, in a sense, modern on the inside and classical on the outside. The limestone-clad Georgian Revival styling by E.B. Green & Sons obscured the internal reality of a modern steel-frame building with poured concrete floors. The exterior will be fully restored – stone, slate roofs, and all – while the interior, with no load-bearing walls, will allow a vastly different arrangement of partitions and spaces.
Andrew Berman, principal architect on the project, holds that Green’s design for a neo-classical monument, as an element in his 1927 master plan for the growing Main Street campus, is every bit a contemporary of the 1930s steel frame structures of Mies van der Rohe and other modernists. As a result, Berman said, “it’s surprisingly adaptable.”
An analysis of the existing building by the design team was key to the reorganization of spaces. They observed that the building in plan was dominated by small, closed, and isolated boxes; that points of entry were confusing, cramped, and lacking a sense of arrival; and that the building lacked a central convening space.
The new layout deals with all of that, creating entry plazas on the front and back of the building; making exhibit, gallery, and student lounge spaces the place of arrival on the first floor from all three entrances; and opening up basement, second, and third floors to create large spaces for roughly 120 studio positions on each. Gone will be the long, blank corridors that left a visitor wondering “where the heck am I?”
It helped a great deal, Berman said, that the original structure was so fundamentally sound.
“Crosby Hall itself is a very fine building,” he said. “It was designed very well. It was detailed very well. And it was constructed exceptionally well.”
One of the serendipitous economies available in the creation of the studio environment is that traditional drafting boards – typically five feet – sometimes six feet wide – have been supplanted by more compact desks big enough to hold a computer. Even still, each student is allotted a generous 80 square feet in the scheme.
The ground floor layout will also include two classrooms to seat 50+, a 25-seat computer laboratory, a seminar room, faculty offices, and assorted support spaces. The first-floor gallery will also double as a critique and meeting space to seat 120.
Most of the occupants in Crosby will be students in the undergraduate BS in Architecture program but will also include majors in the Bachelor of Arts in Environmental Design program, and a smaller complement of students in the 3.5-year MArch and MS in Architecture degree programs.
“The renovation of Crosby will transform the student experience,” said Korydon Smith, professor and chair of architecture, and head of the faculty design committee for the renovation. “It will be much more social on the ground floor, and the upper floors will offer greater flexibility – accommodating everything from individual design work, to digital collaboration, to team-based learning and full-scale construction.”
Smith led the faculty and student committee that worked with the design team from Andrew Berman Architect to ensure that the new facility would meet the educational needs of students.
Students returning to Crosby in two years will almost certainly experience a “wow” reaction, but much of the reinvestment in the 90-year-old building will be imperceptible to the occupants. Yet repairs to the slate roof, replacement of the flat membrane roof on the spine of the building, underground drainage and waterproofing, and new fire suppression systems will be crucial to the longevity of the structure.
Meanwhile, students who have been displaced from Crosby Hall for the next two academic years have not been forgotten. University Facilities allocated up to one million dollars for renovations to make necessary – if temporary – improvements to “surge” spaces in Hayes Annexes B and C, Acheson Annex, and part of Parker Hall. Learn more
Other elements of the make-over will be felt more than seen: all-new heating, ventilation, and air conditioning, the latter which will allow summer sessions in a building that has often been too hot to inhabit. Pandemic-driven improvements in air filtration levels – already implemented – will also benefit those who work in Crosby.
The design also includes the historically sensitive replacement of windows and doors, including the restoration of unique windows in the attic, all of which will bring the building back to its original grandeur.
“Students will also experience a level of access to digital technology that wasn’t available before this,” Bruce Majkowski, EdD, associate dean for analytics and facilities management for the School, said.
Expanded electrical service will provide extra power in studios, classrooms, labs, and lounge spaces while greatly expanded wireless coverage will allow all students to connect simultaneously. This will include new-to-UB outdoor wireless access points in the front and back entrance plazas to support work outside during good weather. Other new educational technology will be available in studios, classrooms, seminar room and labs, advancing the dialogue between analog and digital modes of inquiry and representation.
New technology will also make things easier for those who manage the buildings, with new building controls, new security cameras and swipe readers.
Crosby Hall is also set for a “deep energy retrofit” with a goal of 50 percent energy reduction and 25 percent carbon reduction. The building is on-target to achieve the LEED Gold certification in support of the SUNY Chancellor’s directives to work toward net zero carbon in all system buildings.
The Crosby Hall project follows a similar historic restoration + modernization of Hayes Hall, which opened in 2016. With the completion of the Crosby makeover, the School of Architecture and Planning will have a size and quality of physical facilities earlier students could have only dreamed of.
In the first years of the school, programs were conducted in rented space around the city. In 1971, the School occupied part of Bethune Hall, also known as the Buffalo Meter Co. building. In 1977 the School moved into Hayes Hall, largely unimproved after the departure of university administration to Capen Hall on the brand new North Campus. It acquired Crosby Hall in 1985.
"The project was a model of collaborative planning and design,” Dean Shibley said. “It took everyone working together and listening to each other: a talented and sensitive architect in Andrew Berman, Kory Smith as the leader of the faculty committee, guidance from Bruce Majkowski as project manager with our team from UB Facilities and the State University Construction Fund, and the scores of students who have participated in the multi-year design visioning process.”
“The result,” Shibley concluded, “was an inspiring design and program that supports the preparation of future architects and designers.”