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The Buffalo School Experience

A Conversation with Beth Tauke

Tauke at Atelier

Beth Tauke (center), associate professor of architecture and associate dean for academic affairs, describes the Buffalo School community — its faculty, students and alumni — as “perseverant, industrious, innovative, creative.”

By Catherine Maier

Published January 6, 2014

As associate dean for academic affairs, associate professor of architecture and project director for the Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access (IDeA Center), Beth Tauke wears many hats at the Buffalo School. In addition to overseeing the school’s enrollment, recruitment and diversity initiatives, Beth remains a dedicated teacher and mentor. At the IDeA Center, Beth researches design education and inclusive design’s relationship to the senses. A fixture at the Buffalo School since 1985, Beth speaks about the culture and student experience of the school as someone who has been a part of every facet of it.

The lucky among us have encountered great teachers. They are the ones who lose themselves in their subject, who show unadulterated excitement, and who share their knowledge with the sole motive of instilling a similar drive and passion in each of us. Their subjects are diverse but their message is the same: great teachers challenge us to critically engage the world. Beth Tauke is one such teacher.

More than anything Beth leads by example. Critically engaging Buffalo herself, it’s no wonder so many of the Buffalo School graduates have become advocates of the city, as well. Beth speaks openly about her interest in the city and the role the Buffalo School has had in the revitalization of Buffalo. She taught the first wave of design studios in the iconic Buffalo grain elevators, as a site of design for universally accessible bathrooms that would serve cultural or arts events. Beth continues to champion their significance and envisions Silo City to one day become a thriving arts, cultural and entertainment district. 

Beth proudly explains how students at the Buffalo School play active roles in the community, from volunteer service with Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper to the Department of Urban and Regional Planning’s initiatives to help bring windmills to the Lake Erie shoreline. The school’s influence on the community doesn’t end at graduation either; Buffalo School alumni are enduring city advocates. Evidence of this is the Architecture + Education program, which engages alumni, faculty and students to expose Buffalo grade schoolers to architecture. Beth also remarks that a number of alumni have bought houses at auction that were slated for demolition, renovating them and establishing “architecture neighborhoods” on the city’s West Side and downtown districts.

“These students have decided to stay here for a good long time, and they are really contributing to the revitalization of the neighborhoods in this city.”

Buffalo School students not only follow Beth’s example of engaging the city but also the world. Beth believes in the importance of students taking full advantage of the school’s study abroad program: “We make sure our students travel the globe as part of their education. When we’re traveling, we’re not traveling as tourists. We are involved in a project that somehow contributes to the fabric of where we are. There’s active immersion as part of our curriculum in every program.”

When asked about the specific tick of the Buffalo School, the cogs start turning: “Perseverant, industrious, innovative, creative….” With each word she seems to flip through the rolodex of her mind, naming students in her head, paging through stories of students who have touched her with their ingenuity and spark.

Beth emphasizes the students’ drive and gumption as she explains their ‘can-do’ attitude:

“I would call our students ‘can do students’ — meaning pose a challenge and they can do it. They have this kind of scrappy spirit, which is really about ‘don’t tell me I can’t do something.’”

Beth shares a particularly moving memory from her time at the school a clear example of this spirit. Two students, Anthony Dong (MArch ’99, BPS ’96) and Sze M. Tong (BPS ’02), collected maple tree leaves at their brightest red, pressed them and saved them. Then they waited until a snow storm in the middle of the winter to place the leaves around a tree as if they had just fallen. The effect was striking:

“They did it as a surprise for all the other students who were coming in the next morning. It was incredibly beautiful and so simple and thoughtful. It was ‘Wow, how did that happen,’ at first, but then, ‘Oh my gosh, someone did this, someone made this.’”

An arguable definition of ‘don’t tell me I can’t do something’ would be to make leaves fall in the dead of winter.

Beth also captures the culture of the Buffalo School by explaining the give and take of the peripheral conversations that often come about during studio, as students break from their work. Beth believes these conversations can be the most important for young design students:

“Because we are so focused on the task at hand [in studio], the most wonderful meandering conversations arise about everything and anything and nothing. In those situations, students will tell me what they really think and ask the questions they don’t want to ask in front of other students.”

One could go on at length discussing all the memories and stories in Beth Tauke’s mind. From her insight on what the school has to offer (“Where else in the world could you go where you can use a grain silo 120-feet tall and 30-feet wide to experiment with materials?”) to her enduring connections to our students, Beth defines a truly great teacher: one who seeks to teach engagement and in turn looks to be inspired and taught by her own students.

Tauke in Grain Elevator

Beth Tauke (seated) at a studio review in one of her favorite spaces in Buffalo — the grain elevators of Silo City. Photo by Douglas Levere

Take 5 with Beth Tauke

1. Favorite building on campus: 

Hayes Hall in its current raw state

2. Favorite building in Buffalo: 

The Grain Elevator, Marine A: “So few places have such a pure spatial experience.”

3. Favorite novel: 

Immortality by Milan Kundera

4. Recommended architecture books: 

Eyes of the Skin by Juhani Pallasmaa; Architecture and Disjunction by Bernard Tschumi

5. Buffalo School student advantages: 

  • Buffalo is your classroom and laboratory 
  • Work alongside world-class faculty on research projects in emerging fields
  • Study abroad in some of the world’s most progressive cities
  • Get an interdisciplinary perspective, including dual graduate degrees
  • Find support from faculty, staffstudents and the family-like nature of the school 
  • Experience our world-class shop. We learn through building, we research through building
  • Meet those at the top of the professions through lectures and exhibitions
  • Enliven our city through diverse community service opportunities