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UB Arch Student's Design/Race Boats inspired upon Buffalo's Maritime History

Written by Joseph V. Amirato

UB Arch Students, Gallagher Beach,
Photograph By Seth Amman

One of the most exciting projects in which UB Architecture and Planning students look forward to during their schooling is the famous "Regatta Project" Through a series of trips and tours of Buffalo, along with various studies, and analysis of watercraft, students gain the foundational knowledge that will help drive forward their boat design. The most exciting part of the whole project is that the final day in which teams of six students each compete in a studio-wide regatta, at Buffalo’s own Gallagher Beach.


Project 01: Boat Analysis

The "Regatta Project" differs in some aspects year to year allowing for different approaches to boat building and precedent study. This year the studio began with its first project titled, “Building Infrastructure.” During this project, the junior year students initiated a precedent study of three different boats or forms of watercraft of their choice. Each of the three boats students chose for their precedent study had to fall into 3 different categories. The first category was historic boats of seafaring societies to understand how to better utilize locally sourced materials. The second category was to research historic Niagara boats. The objective of this category was to understand the importance of wood in sea craft and to push back to the use of sustainable and renewable resources. And the final category was human propelled boats like canoes, sculls, kayaks, etc. This category served to help students understand the geometry behind watercraft and what allows them to move through the water efficiently.


Project 02: Observing Infrastructure

Silo City, Buffalo River, UB, Arch Students, Regatta
Photographed by Joseph Amirato

Once project one was wrapped up and completed students were rewarded with project two in which as a class both professors and students went down to Silo City to kayak throughout the waterway and document through photos and observation the edge conditions, how the kayaks and people move in the water, and how through photo one can construct an image of the beautiful silo massing's that helped develop and make Buffalo a prominent place historically. Through this portion of the project, students were able to experience life on the Buffalo River, examine an impressive piece of Buffalo history, while also understanding through a fun and adventurous trip how human propelled boats move throughout water.


Project 03: The Regatta

Photograph By Seth Amman

The completion of both projects one and two led to the project all students in the program look forward to since they've entered into the program freshman year. What made this year’s Regatta project most distinct from previous years was that teams of students were to construct a two-person vessel to transport students through the water. The Regatta project employs many different learning outcomes. Through the project, students can learn that through the study and building of a vessel its relationship and connection to the fundamentals of producing architecture, understanding laws of nature, how materials shape and define projects, how materials bend and can be manipulated, assembling full scale builds, teamwork and respect for others ideas, and of course first-hand experience building and operating a water vessel.

Photograph By Seth Amman

Before jumping into full-scale building construction students began producing physical and 3D computer models and drawings of their boat concept and design. With this being an architecture project, each vessel must have a driving concept for the boat that inspires the overall design and build of the project.

For example, one of the boat’s concepts was to accentuate movement through the horizontality of structure. This was done by the students designing a stringer system that protrudes farther out from the ribbing to emphasize the horizontal framing. Along with this careful consideration of skin, the choice was used that would allow this accentuated stringer effect to be greater emphasized.

As part of this design process, the professors took their students on another trip to the Buffalo Maritime Center to visit the Longshed at Canalside. John Montague of the Maritime Center taught the UB students all about boat construction, history, and all one could learn about boats. He critiqued each group's boat designs as well and offered advice on how to move forward in the two-week project. The experience was informative and taught the junior year students more about boats while also showing an exciting boat build being commenced on Canal Side.

Photograph By Seth Amman

With this tour of the long shed being completed and a few more days of model-making full scale, construction entered full swing. Students encountered many ups and downs to this process. Some students had pieces laser cut, others used jigsaws to cut out pieces, many groups had to soak the wood and create jigs to curve wood to the shape they possessed. Along with all this frame construction, students had to create their skin system that covered the frame. Some groups used see-through materials applied with heat guns, while others used wooden skins sewn together. The final piece to all of this project was to develop a series of drawings and images in true architect form. These plans consisted of plans, sections, elevations, and exploded axons of the boats constructed by the student groups. These were to aid in the understanding of how the groups thought, used their concept as a guiding principle, and the overall construction and assembly.

Photograph By Seth Amman

After two weeks of construction and water tests, students headed downtown to Gallagher beach to compete in the annual Regatta. Each of the student groups was composed of six students with two groups being instructed by a single professor. In total 5 studio groups consisted of 10 boat projects. Each studio group would compete together as a relay with each boat in a group having to make it there and back with different rowers each way. But before the race could start a panel of different architecture professors were brought to judge and award the student boats in three different categories. These categories were seaworthiness(how well the vessel exhibits buoyancy, stability, and control), innovation(vessel with the most experimental skin and frame system), and Concours d’ Elegance(the most beautiful and well-crafted vessel).

With the completion of the Regatta, the two student groups under the instruction of Kenneth MacKay won the Regatta. This was the first year MacKay has had a winning group. With this win, MacKay destroyed Jon Spielmen’s reign of always winning.

Photograph By Seth Amman

Moving forward the Junior Students have been tasked with designing a boathouse and museum on 17 Sweeny Street, North Tonawanda to help reinvigorate the waterway. For future updates on the UB architecture projects don`t forget to turn on notifications, but for more information in the meantime about the UB Architecture and Planning programs check out

Photographs by Seth Amman

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