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UB picks architect for medical school; Well-known, international firm HOK to design $375 million building at Main, High

The University at Buffalo has chosen an architectural firm to design its new $375 million medical school at Main and High streets.

The well-known, international firm HOK -- Helmuth, Obata & Kassabaum -- was selected to lead the building design over the next 13 months in preparation for the groundbreaking in fall 2013, UB announced.

Part of the process includes exhibiting four design concepts for public feedback.

"You don't get many opportunities to do a project of this size and scope on Main Street," said Robert G. Shibley, dean of the UB School of Architecture and Planning. "It's just a tremendous opportunity for downtown, Allentown and the entire neighborhood."

UB plans to move its School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences from the South Campus on Main to the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus by 2016.

Nineteen architectural teams were pared down to four finalists that were asked to compete for the UB contract by designing a concept for the new medical school.

UB anticipates building a 12-, nine- or seven-story medical school with more than a half-million square feet of space.

The architectural competition was a chance to consider possibilities for a building on a site with some complex urban-design challenges: adding green space, walkways and an extension of Allen Street; incorporating the Allen-Medical Campus Metro Station; blending with Allentown and several historic buildings nearby; and serving as a signature "front door" for the Medical Campus along Main.

"We will not build any of the four designs," Shibley said. "This process was never intended to produce a winning design, but to reveal how the architects were thinking about and approaching the project."

The four design concepts will be on display for public input in the Greatbatch Pavilion of the Darwin Martin House, 125 Jewett Parkway, through next Thursday and then in the Central Library on Lafayette Square through June 8.

Community members are invited to submit their comments by sending an email to smbs-design@buffalo.edu.

"This not a referendum on the four," Shibley said. "It's about what [are] the best and less desirable features that will teach us what we can do instead."

In the end, the firms were judged not only on their approach to a new building but also on their experience, the quality of the team assembled and how collaboratively they will work with UB in drafting a final design, Shibley said.

An eight-member selection committee chose HOK, which has expertise in green design and planning 21st century health science facilities, said UB President Satish K. Tripathi.

"The new downtown home for UB's medical school needs to be extraordinary on many levels," said Tripathi, who called it a "linchpin" to the university's emerging downtown campus. "It will be a prominent new feature in the skyline of a city known worldwide for its architectural treasures."

HOK, which has offices around the world, has designed numerous other health science projects, including the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia, the Francis Crick Institute's cardiovascular and cancer research center under construction in London and the medical schools at Florida State University, the University of Central Florida and Washington University in St. Louis.

The firm's sports division also has designed a number of prominent facilities and many of the new "retro" baseball stadiums, including Buffalo's Coca-Cola Field.

"It was clear from the beginning that UB has world-class aspirations for the architecture, design and planning of the medical school and site," said Kenneth Drucker, design director for HOK's New York office.

"The project presents an exciting opportunity to transform the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus and make a bold statement for architecture and urban design in Buffalo."

email: jrey@buffnews.com