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Aim for the best; UB is taking the right steps to ensure a stunning design for medical school

A design director for the architecture firm chosen to design the University at Buffalo's new $375 million medical school at Main and High streets said it best: "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."

The university and firm will be held to that high standard.

As reported in The News, the international firm HOK, Helmuth, Obata & Kassabaum, was chosen to lead the building design over the next 13 months in preparation for the groundbreaking in fall 2013.

Design director for the New York office, Kenneth Drucker, has set the bar high. Nothing less than magnificent will be acceptable.

While that project gets into high gear, planning continues for the move of UB's School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences from the South Campus on Main Street to the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus by 2016.

Doing so will require an integration into the neighborhood while holding true to the mission of the medical school. The university anticipates the result being a building 12-, nine- or seven stories tall with more than a half-million square feet of space.

UB President Satish K. Tripathi set the requirement for UB's medical school at nothing less than extraordinary "on many levels" and he couldn't be more correct. The university aspires to excellent architecture, but that does not mean the idea is to decorate a box. This undertaking is about developing a solid understanding of how the school functions, and then expressing that in the architecture of the facility.

Nearby Allentown is a historic district, and university officials plan to respect the scale and relationship to the district without producing an imitation historic structure.

The architects have the responsibility of creating a building that is clearly the center of the Medical Campus but is also the gateway to Allentown and downtown.

The project represents growth envisioned in the nationally recognized Queen City Hub plan which, back in 2003, identified five strategic investment areas. One of them was the Medical Campus.

Robert G. Shibley, then principal on the Queen City Hub and now dean of the UB School of Architecture and Planning, said the project adds to the Queen City Hub. Placing the medical school on the growing Medical Campus puts it in direct proximity to three hospitals, a clinical and translational research facility, a bioscience incubator, the Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute and bioinformatics and life sciences center of excellence.

It's a great concentration of teaching, research and facilities. And with such opportunity comes a huge responsibility to live up to the expectations of downtown, Allentown, the Fruit Belt and other surrounding neighborhoods. The medical school will add to the critical mass of researchers, students and employees.

University officials have wisely set forth to engage the community in the project, including as part of the process exhibiting four design concepts for public feedback. Those designs were from the top four finalists for the project.

None of the design concepts will be built, but the final design could incorporate elements of each. Public comments are being accepted by email at It is critical to take in consideration the relationship between the Medical Campus, the neighborhood and the greater community in creating a building of significance that will add to Buffalo's architectural portfolio.