Pause at the plaza

Grace Plaza renovations add beauty to UB's North Campus


“Rice Krispie” textured concrete, asterisk-style seats and a variety of flowers are some of the new additions to Grace Plaza located outside Davis Hall.

UB constructed Grace Plaza in 2012 to honor Norman McCombs, a senior vice president of research and development at AirSep Corporation and UB alum, for his support of UB’s Biomedical Engineering Department.

Rhonda Ransom, the project manager at University Facilities-Planning and Design, proposed the vision behind the plaza’s reconstruction.

The plaza was named after McCombs’ wife and serves as unifying quadrangle encircled by the School of Engineering, she said.

“The concept of the plaza, integral to the original Davis Hall construction, was to be an environmentally friendly rain garden with pre-sedimentation and sedimentation basins areas for water to be stored, filtered, and to improve water quality,” Ransom said in an email. “Recent improvements … have focused on softening the space, providing pleasant exterior opportunities for people to gather, to enjoy being outdoors and providing scenic vista from the Davis South Gallery.”

Tour groups and students often pause to smile, take pictures and appreciate the plaza, Ransom said.

Liesl Folks, dean of the Engineering Department at UB, oversaw the plaza’s renovations.

“Our goal is to create an outdoor environment in Grace Plaza that is an extension of the learning landscape of our newest building on North Campus, Davis Hall, with space for reflection and collaboration, right in the heart of the engineering complex,” she said.

Joy Kuebler, a landscape designer, and Daniel Seiders, the project manager at the Joy Kuebler Landscape Architect (JKLA) firm, implemented the renovations at the plaza.

The firm “has a great deal of project experience in both green infrastructure designs, as well as campus and educational site design,” Seiders said in an email.

The “Rice Krispie” textured concrete is permeable concrete that allows water to pass through to plant roots, according to Seiders.

“We built upon the plaza’s ‘good bones’ and made a plan to improve the soil quality,” Seiders said in an email. “We expect that green infrastructure will be an increasingly important element of the built environment as we strive to make cities more livable for people and more sustainable.”

Matt Singer, a junior electrical engineering major, enjoys the natural, refreshing view of the plaza when he studies in Davis Hall.

“As an electrical engineering student who works in the building often, I can see all around me how you can implement an extremely environmentally friendly and technologically advanced design but still make it a beautiful and an overall nice place to be,” he said.

Ryan Peters, a junior computer science major thinks the plaza improved the overall appearance of Davis Hall.

“The landscaping is very pleasing aesthetically and adds to the architecture of Davis in a way that it improves the total look of the building,” Peters said.

Maryann Glab, a freshman chemical engineering major, thinks the plaza’s floras add beauty to UB’s bleak campus. Its unique design and asymmetrical shape inspires creative thinking, she said.

Connor Smith, a junior intended engineering major, agrees.

“They put a couple benches there between walkways for people to sit and hang out along with new asterisk-style seats which give the area a futuristic look,” Smith said. “It's a refreshing new addition to the campus.”

A team of volunteers from the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences will add hundreds of bulbs to the garden beds on Oct. 19 to create a bright display for the 2015 commencement ceremony, Folks said in an email.

“My hope is that Grace Plaza will provide a range of ways for the UB community to engage with the great outdoors; for small gatherings to meet, for reflection, for study, and for eating,” Folks said in an email. “As the space at the center of the engineering complex, it is also an important visual focus for the school’s community.”