Developing / Hayes Hall
Renewed and remarkable
Aerial view by © 2016 University at Buffalo | Douglas Levere; all othere photos by kc kratt
George J. Metzger (1874–1879); Cyrus K. Porter & Sons (1925–26);
James Meadows & Howard, Architect (1954–55); Bergmann Associates (2010–15)
Chase Construction Services
Kerry L. Traynor, eta preservation specialists
LEED Status: Gold
Hayes Hall, the signature building of University at Buffalo’s South Campus, has undergone a dramatic transformation. Before construction of the North Campus in the 1970s, it stood for many years as the anchor building of the nucleus of the academic community, as well as the iconic symbol of the university. When administrative functions moved to the new campus, Hayes Hall became the home of UB’s “School of Architecture and Environmental Design,” which is now Buffalo School of Architecture + Planning.
A long overdue restoration of this landmarked structure began in 2011, under the care of a host of talented professionals, including School of Architecture + Planning Dean Robert Shibley, who notes that the effort was “a great collaboration! We had to transform a structure that was in bad condition, with inadequate mechanicals and services, and that hadn’t had much love since the 1950s.”
The history of Hayes Hall actually goes back much further than that. In 1851, Erie County purchased a tract of land encompassing 153 acres. Known as the Erie County Almshouse and Farm, it was constructed of limestone quarried on the site. Its purpose was to provide for the care of the indigent poor and insane of the county. It was later decided that a proper asylum building, one embracing modern improvements for care of the residents, was needed. In 1874, George J. Metzger, then seventeen years old but destined to become one of Buffalo’s leading architects, responded to the request for proposals and designed a new building for the site. The plan followed Dr. Thomas Kirkbride’s theories for the design of insane asylums with a central administration building and adjacent wings to provide safe housing: the north wing for men and south wing for women.
In the 1880s, the men’s and women’s wooden dorms were replaced with the current stone (contemporaneous with the H. H. Richardson complex). The Buffalo Psychiatric Center construction started before and ended after, but was drawn on the same prototype. With the center entry, the least impaired would be housed toward the front of the wings, and the most severely impaired at the ends. The building, in Second Empire style, would later serve as a shelter for unwed mothers.
In 1925, the structure was repurposed for use by the University of Buffalo. The firm of Cyrus K. Porter & Sons was hired to reconfigure the building and add a more suitable exterior design. Keeping the shell and basic axial plan of the original stone structure, they updated the interior spaces. Colonial Revival details were added to the exterior, including a grand Georgian Revival entrance pavilion. The building was named for Buffalo industrialist and UB philanthropist Edmund B. Hayes. A Christopher Wren-inspired clock tower, including bells and Westminster chime, gifted by Kate Butler, was added. The classical grandeur of the new design would become a symbol of the university’s prominence.
As the building’s 1920s makeover proceeded, Metzger, who had taken on the original project as a teenager, wrote to Cyrus Porter cautioning him about the lintel and brickwork on the Bailey side of the building. Ninety years later, during the recent rehab of the structure, that caution proved prophetic. Floors were removed in the central core, along with asbestos-laden plaster as demanded by environmental regulations. When these tasks were completed, the 150-year-old stones began to move. Walls buckled as floors pulled back from bearing walls. Emergency measures were taken to stabilize the structure and the project was halted and reengineered. Metzger’s letter, subsequently found in the university archives, was right in its warning. The restoration, estimated at two years in 2011, lengthened to five years as it was rebid with new specifications that allowed the building to be banded, braced, and further reconfigured. The impressive results prove that the extra time was worth it.
Let there be light
The most spectacular transformation of the building involves natural light. Those who remember taking classes or having studios in dark dingy spaces wouldn’t recognize the interior today. Formerly solid nonbearing walls have been removed and replaced with dazzling glass walls. With this new glazing, dark corridors have become bright, appealing spaces.
Shibley describes the building as “enormously effluent,” in that administrative and teaching functions have been blended throughout the complex. The building is now used from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m., with highly utilized spaces for seminars and classrooms. Studios are open twenty-four hours, seven days a week.
Shibley notes that he constantly receives critique and contention from a faculty of talented professionals over such minor issues as website font size and color, but adds that the Hayes reconstruction project has been unifying and uplifting for faculty. “For this project, the faculty really pulled together, giving a clear idea of who we are as a scrappy, rebellious, energetic group who have embraced the project full-scale in the profession we serve,” Shibley says. “This faculty was a terrific steward of the core concepts that they introduce in design and that respected the historical foundations of the building.” Many architects who work in Hayes feel similarly about the final result.
A guiding philosophy was picking up significant historical elements and consistently assuring their interpretation throughout the building. For example, there are elegant wall curves in the plaster that frames the window and door openings. While it would have been easier to simply square them off, they soften the rectangular interiors, preserve a compelling original element, and serve as a character-defining feature.
The same mindset was used in making selections for the fit-out of the building. Estimators had set a budget figure, but the project came in at approximately half the amount.
There were a few symbolic and strategic choices, and consistency prevailed. The same rack system is used for multiheight desks, shelving units, tables; components and aesthetics are consistent.
Two open stairwells were a key design element in the original building, but they couldn’t comply with current fire codes. As a solution, this open concept has been maintained by adding firedoors and inserting new fire stairwells at both sides of building. The former lobby was cramped and out-of-date. A large, bright lobby now greets guests. Along with the adjacent rooms on the first floor, a section of floor between the first and second floor was removed, creating a two-story gallery. This airy space now sets a welcoming tone and offers a wonderful venue for exhibitions, which change periodically. (At the time of this writing, a collection of items from the Larkin Building was on view in a handsome show.) The exhibitions greatly benefit from flexible displays designed and constructed by faculty and students, expertly bridging the space between building and object. Beautifully crafted, they can handle huge artifacts. In fact, the whole building interior can act as a gallery. Walls everywhere are fitted with a system that holds storyboards and showcases student and faculty work. A new program is underway to curate all the empty spaces so that they can house work by faculty and staff, to integrally connect with the building’s mission.
Throughout the building, glass plays a major role in creating a welcoming workshop environment. Whiteboards and surfaces couple with felt tip markers to enhance learning and drive creativity. Smartboards employing the latest technologies supplement traditional teaching. Every classroom and conference room is equipped with computer and projection technology.
The old wooden mailboxes in the faculty and staff lounge have been replaced—through a partnership with Boston Terra Cotta—with glazed tiles inscribed with messages that once graced the court walls of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Larkin Administration Building. In fonts that match those of the original mottos intended for Larkin workers, the sets of words include “Generosity, Altruism, Sacrifice;” “Integrity, Loyalty, Fidelity;” and “Imagination, Judgment, Initiative.” The inscriptions are colored in autumnal shades of pumpkin, green, and gold, in refreshing contrast to the building’s consistent minimalist palette of white, gray, and black.
New space for graduate studios has been found on the unused fourth floor. Formerly a dark, spooky attic, the space now has reconfigured timbers and huge skylights that illuminate functional and appealing design studios. The Hayes clock tower and its massive cupolas are visible through the skylights. Square footage lost in creating the atrium gallery entry has been replaced with this new attic footage.
The mechanical systems are not only visible, but have been highlighted throughout the building. The corridors’ dropped ceilings have been removed to reveal tall spaces now painted bright white. Exposed duct work, slender trays that hold assorted cabling, and fire protection elements run parallel to overhead lighting integrated with spot lighting, which can be employed when the walls become galleries. In addition to their utilitarian functions, the exposed systems serve as a teaching tool to architects-in-training.
The former auditorium with its sloping floors has been totally reconceived to yield important new space. Its upper area remains in the form of a beautiful lecture hall. The building’s original Palladian windows provide patterns of light on each wall, which are punctuated by a series of occuli. Stretched fabric replaces plaster as a lighter alternative with acoustical benefits. Wainscoting and pilasters are cast in fiberglass to make an inviting and practical multipurpose classroom/studio/lecture/social space.
The department’s internationally recognized IDeA Center (Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access), which is dedicated to making environments and products more usable, safer, and healthier, now has its own attractive and utilitarian space. (This center does a million dollars of research each year.) The Food Lab, Center for Urban Studies, and the newly established Community of Excellence in Global Health Equity all have new spaces for students, researchers, and faculty.
The department entertains both on- and off-campus visitors virtually every day, whether in the auditorium, salons, gallery, or lecture halls. Its new vitality is echoed by the refurbished bell tower clock. Silent for three decades, the timepiece has been repaired and renewed. Its bells ring a Westminster chime each quarter hour—celebrating Hayes Hall’s renaissance.
Barry A. Muskat is Spree’s longtime architecture critic, an architectural historian, local businessman, and licensed real estate salesperson.