New Flavors: One World Café sets a new course for UB’s North Campus

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Hillary Simon

April 12, 2023

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Choosing a college is a big decision, and for many people, it's a moment they'll always remember. It's often marked by a memorable "a-ha" moment when you realize a certain campus has everything you're seeking.

Factors like the campus beauty, the social life, the diverse student population, and academic offerings all play a part in the decision-making process, and sometimes it's a combination of these aspects that ultimately influence your choice

The new One World Café at The University at Buffalo’s (UB) North Campus is one of those “a-ha” moments that instantly captures attention. It's not just another cafeteria, but a central social nexus where students gather to socialize, study and grab a bite to eat. The atmosphere is electric, and it's become a must-visit spot on every campus tour.

The Vision

UB is a proud and world-renowned institution with a north, south, and downtown campus. UB set out on an ambitious Heart of the Campus master plan tracing back to 2012 to build community, a sense of place and establish a new learning landscape.

The new One World Café proved an exciting step in the overall master plan. It was envisioned as a campus destination that would showcase UB’s dynamic culture, empower student recruitment, and advance diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) missions. 

While UB has numerous areas that foster community throughout its campus network, it lacked such a “destination” partly due to the fact the original campus vision focused more on safety and circulation than community and gathering. Careful site selection, student engagement, transformative design - it all allows this project to break down old barriers and bring the campus community together in exciting new ways.

One World Café is an international eatery that fosters a centralized nexus of multicultural university life. UB has a rich, diverse population of students and they wanted this space to encompass them. Through extensive student engagement, everything that define One World Cafe came from students' ideas: the building's name, its design, it menus and food offerings, and the public art inside. 

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An international assortment of food was something consistently brought up during student engagement.
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There are large community tables implemented throughout the main floor of One World Café.

Peter McCarthy, our project manager for One World Café, and project design lead Luke Johnson, both UB graduates, are proud to have worked on such a unique project. As students, they walked the UB path from the bus to class and knew firsthand some of the challenges the campus faced and what One World Café could offer to these students. They understood the magnitude of this project—it was about taking a somewhat disjointed campus and tying it together via One World Café. 


  • The reason we were successful in winning this project is because we didn't focus solely on the kind of food production or the café components. We came at it understanding the long game —understanding the magnitude of the project. It was about tying back to the campus and strengthening its sense of community.

    Luke Johnson Project design lead

The Location and Design

The café is purposely located at the intersection of UB’s Capen and Norton Halls to capitalize on a key campus thoroughfare. Recognized by the design team as a challenge and an opportunity, this site was identified as the most congested location on campus.

That presented a great opportunity to bring in a high level of visual connectivity to the campus and allow a smooth flow of students inside and outside. The building fills previous gaps and slides past voids in this specific corner of the campus to create new front doors to UB’s North Campus on both its north and south sides. 

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The open floor plan allows connectivity throughout the entire building.
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The tall glass ceilings encourage engagement and interaction between those inside the building and passerby.
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The tall glass ceilings encourage engagement and interaction between those inside the building and passerby.

The design sits in contrast to the existing campus, while still feeling at home by borrowing similar materials and proportioning. Following a brutalist style, One World Café exudes energy and elevates the institution’s wellness culture through messaging, socialization and menus. Those who visit will notice the extensive use of glass, allowing natural light into the space as well as offering stunning views of the campus.

The Art

Tai Lopez
"I hope that people are able to take away a feeling of warmth when they see this mural, and that they are encouraged by it and feel represented," said Tai Lopez, artist of "One World" mural.

One of the showstoppers of this space is the public art—another feature that was encouraged through student engagement. Much of the art comes directly from past or current UB students, allowing them to celebrate the uniqueness of UB and its community through their personal experiences and perspectives. 

The overall project was deliberately designed with neutral colors to allow the artist collections to stand out and grab attention. Stunning artwork can be found on the ceiling panels and on the walls. 

Tayron (Tai) Lopez, A UB student at the time of the project, was one of the artists selected to display his artwork in One World Café. He created a mural, titled “One World," that is displayed on the 3rd floor—a moment he describes as impactful.

“I thought to myself—what do I want to see more of on campus? How can this piece be a reflection of that vision beyond the present image? For me, the answer was unity and the promotion of love..."

"...I think that was achieved through all the conversations I’ve had with students during and after the mural’s completion. Students from different cultures, backgrounds, and majors all came up to me to share what they got from the mural and how much they felt it needed to be there. It felt good in the end—it felt like a mission accomplished and history made," said Tai who graduated from UB In 2022.

Many eyes will also stop on the first-floor ceiling to see a stunning colorful panel created by artist Harumo Sato, who graduated from UB in 2015. 

The piece titled, “Megumu Megumi (Gift, Gifted),” includes colorful, abstract patterns and images of exotic fruits. It symbolizes UB’s diverse international students, as well as an opportunity to honor the Native American tribes who once lived on the land that UB now stands on. As students and faculty enjoy their food or converse with their study group, they can look up and see a ceiling panel that shows unique food that can be found across the globe—and it might just be available on the menus found right in One World Café.

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Harumo Sato worked with the CannonDesign team to infuse her art appropriately into the dynamic One World Cafe space.

Providing a Holistic Experience

One World Café is a hub for student activity with group seating and dynamic campus settings that encourage community interaction. Seating 500-600 people on a given day, those who visit can take advantage of the big community tables for large gatherings, soft seating or tiered seating. Luke adds that these diversity of spaces have allowed the space to geographically become the front door of the campus.

Through a flexible rotating series of different international culinary variations, students are able to broaden their palettes and almost forget they are in upstate New York. That was the thought behind the long-term maintenance of this project, to make it a space that can grow and thrive. 

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Each food station is designed to be conveniently evolved so that new dining options can be added.
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Each food station is designed to be conveniently changed so that new dining options can be added.
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Each food station is designed to be conveniently changed so that new dining options can be added.
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A diversity of seating options were implemented including some big community tables, soft seating, and tiered seating.
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A diversity of seating options were implemented including some big community tables, soft seating, and tiered seating.
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A diversity of seating options were implemented including some big community tables, soft seating, and tiered seating.

"This project hits close to home for me in a multitude of ways. One, it’s my alma mater so there is definite pride. I’m also a little vested in being a food enthusiast so this wasn’t just any project," said Peter. "This was a food service-oriented generational project for the university, so to be able to work with their food service team and share that passion together —along with building the community message gave me a lot of pride and determination to get the outcome right because it crossed professional and personal interests for me."

The university also wanted One World Café to encourage people to stay on campus for social and community engagement. The building features a separate area on the second floor known as the University Club. It has a designated kitchen with 80 seats and monitors and screens that can be utilized for events such as watching political debates or watching sports. This space also includes conference spaces that can be either divided or made into one large room. The thought behind the University Club was for hosting group department meetings or providing a space for the president to bring in potential donors.

University Club
"We saw this faculty/staff specialized venue as an opportunity to push the diversity and the facility even further," said Peter McCarthy.


  • “One World Café is located at the heart of our campus, so we wanted a space that was welcoming and could serve as both a gateway and an anchor. We are a highly international campus and wanted One World Café to promote our commitment to global citizenship both in the food served and in the branding of the space. Every time I walk through One World Café, I feel confident that the building is achieving its goals. The place is always packed, filled with students studying and enjoying time with their friends. The design truly expresses our values as an institution.”

    Graham Hammill One World Café project steering committee lead
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Geographically, this space has become the front door of the University of Buffalo campus.