The Fifth Ugliest College Campus in America

Campus aerial rendering with simplified automobile circulation.

Campus aerial rendering with simplified automobile circulation

The campus story of the University at Buffalo is an alliterative tale of excessive optimism and investment, followed by passive indifference and resignation. The result: three campuses—each a stunted fragment of a vision left unfulfilled—the whole less than the sum of its parts. This seminar explored the trials and tribulations of university growth and campus planning at UB—acknowledging the university's checkered past as a means to project a more effective campus future.



Hua Xiu Chen, Alejandro Frank, Yaliana Hernandez, Reid Hetzel, Matthew Mancuso, Jennifer Persico, Matthew Sacha, Jeremiah Smith, Sashi Varun, Ryan Vigiolto, Charles Wingfelder, Mira Shami



ARC 589/ARC 607
Summer 2020



In's list of the "Fifty Ugliest College Campuses," the University at Buffalo ranks fifth. To put that into perspective: that's the fifth ugliest campus out of the more than 4,000 colleges and universities in the entire United States. While it's easy to criticize the ranking's methods of evaluation (or lack thereof), a visit to UB’s North Campus proves it difficult to argue against earning a spot on the list.

What led UB to honor such distinction in banality? What makes UB’s North Campus so bad, or "ugly”? In order to frame an answer, students explored the history of the institution and the development of the campus to better understand its original, present-day, and future challenges. An odyssey of ambition and abandonment, the campus story of UB has left the North Campus (the largest of its three campuses), like the others, a stunted fragment of a grand plans that were never fully realized.

Like other summer programs in 2020, this project took place over the course of two sessions, beginning with a seminar that served as a primer for the studio that followed. The seminar began with an introduction to the history of higher education and the development of campus typology, and dove into a detailed account and examination of the history of campus development at the university, from its humble beginnings as a private medical institution located downtown, to the acquisition of land and the Erie County Almshouse for the construction of its historic Main Street campus, to its consolidation with The State University of New York and the storied grand development of its Amherst campus.

As a follow-up to the seminar, the studio focused its efforts on the reshaping of UB’s North Campus and its future development to ask the central question: Could a thoughtful redesign of the campus redirect it toward a more inspired future, one that instills a greater pride of place; promotes offers a higher quality of life, education, and interaction; and embodies the collective intellect and progressive spirit of the institution?

The studio also considered the possibility of building a more sustainable campus, in both practice and image – one that supports the recruitment of top students and faculty, contributes to UB’s rise in national rankings, and garners positive attention from other top universities as a built demonstration of twenty-first-century values.

Towards the development of such a proposal, the studio began with research on the North Campus across a range of identified “focus areas,” in order to build a contextual understanding of the forces on its environment. This research was further contextualized through comparative analyses of case studies and current practices at peer and aspirant institutions. Finally, transformative design proposals were guided by the collective research of the studio, building directly from the goals and ideas outlined in the 2009 master plan for the North Campus, and concluding with the presentation of an alternative design vision for a more effective campus future.

The final proposal was guided by several major goals. On the largest scale was an intention to develop a campus defined by its landscape, and in the process move the majority of the surface parking (the current defining feature) away from the campus proper. This would create a “park-and-ride” campus, where surface parking could slowly be phased out. To increase density and celebrate Lake LaSalle, students proposed to remove all suburban housing scattered outside the campus core, and build a new mixed-use urban neighborhood along Lee Road. A new Town Center was proposed on the opposite shore of the lake, straddling the Millersport Highway thoroughfare, to create a new point of connection between “town and gown.” Finally, to remedy the lack of a center to the current campus complex, a new Heart of the Campus was proposed to celebrate Capen Hall and Founders Plaza.

As a radical departure from UB’s recent “Building UB” campus plan, the studio’s final proposal is intended as a provocation to elevate our expectations for future campus development.