The University at Buffalo is currently the largest university in New York, with over 31,000 students enrolled. However, when UB first joined the SUNY system in the early 1960’s, the intended plans were for the school to be much, much bigger.
1962 – The University at Buffalo joins the SUNY system.
At a time when Buffalo’s population was 533,000, compared to 255,000 now, UB officially joined the newly-formed state system. Soon after, the initial plans to expand the school’s campus commenced. There were two competing visions for the expansion, with the University’s president Clifford Furnas pushing for an expansion of the existing Main Street Campus out onto adjacent lands, while the SUNY board of trustees pushed for developing a new North Campus in Amherst. By 1964, the decision was made to build the new campus where it exists today, in Amherst. At the time, Buffalo had the 20th largest population in the U.S. of any city, compared to 86th now. The initial plans for UB’s North Campus were developed by architect Gordon Bunshaft, and given the trajectory of Buffalo’s population, the plans were… ambitious.
1964 – Initial plans for UB’s North Campus
Pictured above is a scale model of the Bunshaft’s plans for North Campus, which were further developed by the architectural consulting firm Sasaki, Dawson, and DeMay.
Immediately it becomes obvious that the plans at the time did not translate into what we see today. Rather, the plans called for twenty-two (22) buildings shaped like present-day Hochstetter/Cooke Hall, located at the northeast portion of the campus (top-right in the figure above). This is probably the most notable of several key differences between the 1960’s plans and our current iteration (pictured below). With 4 rows and 6 columns of interconnected present-day Hochstetter duplicates, the entire complex would have been massive, amassing over 4.1 million square feet of floor space. Compare that to the Empire State Building, which comes in at a paltry 2.73 million square feet. Due to the nature of the buildings’ layout, there would have existed 13 courtyards within the “matrix” of buildings, with an estimated 34 hallways connecting each individual building.
The initial plans had the campus divided into seven different “facilities” each with their own “distinct architectural impression,” as noted in the final report. This is currently still at least partially evident, although not to the extent in the initial plan. Currently, there exists a noticeable architectural distinction between the engineering, business, and law buildings. However, the same color scheme of dark brown and grey brick is maintained across almost the entire campus, with notable exceptions like Davis Hall.
Another noticeable feature of the initial plans is the existence of three Furnas Hall sized buildings located on the engineering “facility” (shown below). Furnas Hall is currently tied for being the tallest building on campus with Clemens Hall, with each being 10 floors and 122 feet in height. Speaking of Clemens Hall, it appears that one duplicate was also initially planned for it as well. With these additional buildings, the UB North Campus skyline would have been quite exaggerated compared to its current state. There are also several other less identifiable buildings present within the initial plans that did not come to fruition based on our current campus.
1968 – Construction officially begins on UB’s North Campus
Construction began, albeit very slowly. Shortly after the commencement, there were several notable breaks, including moratoriums placed on the construction due to apparent discrimination. It appeared there were no black construction workers hired for the construction job, which was brought to the government’s attention through successful student and activist protests.
Seven years later, by 1975, there were only 5 constructed buildings on all of north campus, all of which were significantly distanced from each other. New York’s financial crisis of 1975 pushed the state governor Hugh Carey to slash budgets for SUNY schools, in an attempt to help the economy. Since the 1960’s the city of Buffalo’s population has steadily decreased, and as a result, the current enrollment at UB is not what it was projected to be.
Although UB’s North Campus is ever expanding, as evident by the new plans for the “One World Cafe,” it is still a far cry from what was imagined by architect Gordon Bunshaft. Instead of 22 Hochstetters/Cookes, we only have two. However, would we even want that many? It could be argued that there exists a point at which there can be too many duplicates, where 22 identical large buildings arranged in a massive grid can be intimidating and unwelcoming. Regardless, it is very interesting to picture what our campus would have looked like if the initial plans to build a metropolis went through.