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Architecture students design new UB rowing boathouses

Amrutha Boban, a graduate student in Brian Carter’s fall studio, presents her designs for a new boathouse for UB rowing along the Buffalo River to a review panel and classmates. Photo: Alex Becker, UB Architecture Visual Resources

By David J. Hill

Published December 16, 2016

UB’s existing rowing boathouse is a 2,100-square-foot metal shed along Tonawanda Creek that was completed in 1999. Just minutes from the North Campus, it serves a very functional purpose, but not much more.

So architecture students in Brian Carter’s studio decided to take a fresh look and spent the fall semester developing ideas for a new boathouse for UB in the city.

The location on the Buffalo River was a strategic choice, Carter says, noting that it encouraged students to think about the ecologies of the site and how it could be developed for both UB students and the public to enjoy.

As a part of this project, architecture students were asked to work as a team to develop a program of requirements based on what they observed on site visits and from studies of other boathouses. The program they developed included boat storage, exercise facilities, meeting spaces and an indoor rowing tank, as well as housing for a crew and the director of rowing.

Designing a boathouse also presents students with a number of unique challenges, and that is why it is a good basis for a studio, explains Carter, a professor in the Department of Architecture in the School of Architecture and Planning, and dean of the school from 2002-10.

“The project reminds students of the importance of design. The boats are thoughtfully designed for the job that they have to do — they are carefully made and can be inspected, measured and handled by students. In addition, a rowing crew works as a team. Like an architecture studio, people are encouraged to work together to collaborate and to be coordinated.”

Joel Furtek (left) head coach of the Canisius College women’s rowing program, makes a point to graduate student Joenette Cobb. Furtek served as a guest critic in Brian Carter’s fall studio that designed a new boathouse for UB rowers. Photo: Alex Becker, UB Architecture Visual Resources

Students then produced a document that formed a basis for each of them to develop design ideas.

“There are a few different programmatic elements in a boathouse. But several are such big programs— it’s like playing Tetris,” says graduate student Brittany Gray.

Earlier in the fall, the studio visited the UB boathouse to observe how student crews — which comprise about 70 women and 30 men — use the space. UB’s women’s rowing team is a Division I program that competes in the Colonial Athletic Association, while the men’s crew is a club team funded through the UB Student Association.

The architecture students also visited the West Side Rowing Club and the Fontana Boathouse designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, both located in Buffalo. Students also examined new boathouses in Boston, Chicago, Madison and Minneapolis, and in Portugal.

Rowing coaches from UB and Canisius College met with students and took part in reviews of their design proposals throughout the semester to offer advice and feedback on students’ proposals. Canisius women’s rowing coach Joel Furtek, together with Canadian architect Ian MacDonald and Martha Bohm, UB assistant professor of architecture, were among the critics for the students’ final design review last week.

Joenette Cobb, a graduate student in Brian Carter’s fall architecture studio, presents her work to Toronto architect Ian MacDonald (center) and Annette LeCuyer, professor in UB’s Department of Architecture. Photo: Alex Becker, UB Architecture Visual Resources

The students in Carter’s studio were all graduate students whose first degree was not in architecture. “They will, I believe, all make particularly good architects because of their different backgrounds and experience. They see problems from many different aspects,” he says.

Eric Chambers, like Gray, is a student in the three-and-a-half-year master’s in architecture program, who appreciates the feedback that reviewers provided throughout the semester. “Every review is a helpful lesson and you get stronger with each one,” he says.