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UB architecture students design equestrian center on Buffalo’s East Side

Students work in the HORSE Studio in Hayes Hall. The horse model in the background is one of several built by the students. Photo: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki


Master's student in finance

Published November 28, 2022

“It’s a constant reminder of who we are designing for and their size and scale. We always have this horse alongside and can develop our designs with horses in mind. ”
Sean Brunstein, student
HORSE Studio

Three horses stand tall in Hayes Hall on UB’s South Campus. The imposing, life-sized figures made of cardboard, string, wool and weathered newspaper scraps command the attention of students, faculty and visitors alike.

Behind the horses, students in ARC 503/603 are engrossed in design proposals for the semester. The studio teems with activity, drawings and models.

This is the HORSE Studio, a seven-credit course in the graduate program in the Department of Architecture. These budding architects are designing a community horse-riding club for Buffalo. Inspired by the Buffalo Therapeutic Riding Center, students are developing ideas for similar facilities on Northampton and Louisiana streets on the city’s East Side.  

A horse-riding club at the core of a course on city buildings? It had its skeptics.

“At first we were perplexed,” says Sean Brunstein, one of 44 students in the studio. “Why are we drawing and making life-size horses?”

The answer to that question became clear when students studied global riding centers and began to understand the significance of the horse and its potential to build skills, confidence and improve physical and mental health in cities.

Justina Zifchock, a member of the teaching team, insists that a riding school is an ideal way to understand design and the city.

“For an equestrian center, students have to design several different types of buildings, as well as outdoor spaces,” says Zifchock, an alumnus of UB’s architecture program. “All have to interact with one another. Students design site-specific buildings and landscapes that also improve the neighborhood and environment.”

“The design of buildings and landscapes are the foundations of our program,” notes Brian Carter, professor of architecture, who’s teaching the class with Zifchock, project architect at Watts Architecture & Engineering, and Adam Thibodeaux, clinical assistant professor. “We have developed this program to make connections.”

The students' assignment on Day 1 of the HORSE Studio: Make a life-sized drawing of a horse. Photo: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki

Beasts at rest and in motion

The assignment on Day 1: make a life-sized drawing of a horse. Horse images soon adorned the wall of the studio, including beasts at rest, in motion, trained to serve and soaring unbounded.

The student teams then built life-sized models of the animals. Three figures now stand in the studio.

“It’s a constant reminder of who we are designing for and their size and scale,” says Brunstein. “We always have this horse alongside and can develop our designs with horses in mind.”

Designing requires students to plan for different but complementary elements.

“We developed requirements for the riding school, and also asked students to add 5,000 square feet for other uses they thought would be helpful for the neighborhood,” says Carter.

Requirements include a 100-foot-by-200-foot enclosed arena for training, exercise and events; an outdoor arena; and grazing spaces, along with stable space for 20 horses, staff facilities, tack rooms and refuse areas. However, it is the additional 5,000 square feet of space that showcases students’ interests.

Christal Smith focused on the dearth of jobs on the East Side.

“I am proposing two new training programs that help build skills and create higher paying jobs,” Smith explains. “One is for nursing and the other to train veterinary technicians. The program for technicians would be located close to the stables, while nursing would help seniors living nearby and build new health programs connecting people and horses.”

Brian Carter, professor of architecture and one of three instructors for the HORSE Studio, talks with students. Photo: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki

Diverse proposals

Tina Tan wants to ensure no one is left behind.

“My design includes a child care center,” Tan says. “We have senior housing and a church nearby. I wanted to connect facilities and provide cover for every generation in the community.”

Despite the technical demands, students are developing vastly different proposals.

“Moving from one studio table, you’ll see completely different priorities and designs,” says Zifchock.

Pointing to models of riding arenas with sloping roofs inspired by barns, sheds or stadiums and developed with structural engineers, Zifchock speaks of her students’ accomplishments with pride.

The students have been seeking advice from experts. Erika Abbondanzieri, an architect with Watts Architecture & Engineering and an accomplished horsewoman, met with students in September after they visited a horse barn in Gasport with Randy Fernando, another UB architecture graduate and equestrian.

Tapping into professional networks has enabled students to meet with leading structural engineers from Toronto and Western New York, and learn from landscape architects as well.

“Structural engineers consulted with every student,” says Zifchock. “Each presented a project to structural engineers to develop their designs — the way it works in practice.”

Designing an equestrian center also prompted considerations about city communities. “The sites we chose shaped how we’re talking about horse-riding facilities,” says Thibodeaux. “We visited the Buffalo Riding Center — a good example of how horses and riding can create therapeutic benefits for different people and communities.”

Advice from landscape architects helps, too. The proposals integrate new natural landscapes that improve both neighborhoods and the environment. Students considered ways to create landscapes that reconnect neighborhoods severed by the destruction of Humboldt Parkway and construction of the Kensington Expressway.

Students will present their designs on Dec. 5 in Hayes Hall. Guests will provide a holistic review of their work.

“Many of the students are international, and their first day was their introduction to Western New York, UB and the School of Architecture and Planning,” says Zifchock. “They were asked to draw a horse full size in a day.”

One drawing shows how the artist created an image capturing horse-human bonded labor.

“Students had fun and covered the studio with life-sized drawings,” Zifchock says. “We got to see how they saw a horse. They also showed their opinions and perspectives though the drawings.”