The University of Michigan, an encyclopedic survey ... Wilfred B. Shaw, editor.
University of Michigan.
Architecture Building

For twenty-one years after a curriculum was re-established in architecture in 1906 instruction was carried on in accommodations provided in the West Engineering Building. An office for Professor Page  1576Emil Lorch, head of the department, one large office for the staff, and adjacent drafting rooms for students were on the second floor of the west wing. The beginnings of the Architecture Library were maintained in the Engineering Library on the second floor. The classes in freehand drawing and projection drawing met in the single large skylighted room on the fourth floor at the north end of the north wing, quite remote from the main quarters of the school. Lecture courses for architecture were included each semester in the scheduled assignment of classrooms in the Engineering Building. The East Engineering Building had not as yet been built.

When the enrollment growth of the department after World War I made these accommodations entirely inadequate, added drafting room space and two large offices were obtained through the remodeling of the second and third floors of the old Engineering Shops Building, unofficially renamed "The Parthenon." The Parthenon was linked to the regular drafting rooms and offices in the West Engineering Building by a second-story enclosed bridge. This bridge was termed "The Bridge of Sighs," but it more or less satisfactorily united second-floor activities. When Eliel Saarinen, the distinguished Finnish architect, was Visiting Professor in 1923, he was assigned the room at the end of the west wing for his hand-picked graduate class. Much of the student circulation over the bridge to the Parthenon went, mainly on tiptoe, through this studio.

In the early 1920's, with the postwar increase in enrollment, the need for a separate and sizable building became obvious. Following the recommendations of Professor Lorch, the Regents in 1924 passed a resolution approving a request to the legislature for an appropriation of $400,000 for an architecture building.

As a result of the University's request, the legislature in 1925 appropriated $400,000 for the purchase of a site and the construction of a building for architecture "in accordance with plans and specifications as prepared by Emil Lorch and Associates and as approved by George D. Mason" (R.P., 1923-26, p. 909). Mason, long an outstanding architect in Detroit, had led the campaign for the building.

Through this preliminary period, Professor Lorch had made many studies of the facilities needed for the growing school. He had worked with the University authorities, members of the legislature, the Detroit Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, and the building industry. Emil Lorch and Associates, Architects, began the preparation of complete plans immediately upon approval of the building project by the legislature. The term "Associates" included George M. McConkey ('14e) and Harold A. Beam ('22). Professor McConkey has been a member of the staff since 1911, and Harold Beam has long been associated with the Great Lakes Steel Corporation in Wyandotte, Michigan. In 1926, the Buildings and Grounds Committee was authorized to advertise for bids on the plans and specifications then prepared. The contract was awarded to the Weber Construction Company of Bay City and construction was begun on October 1, 1926.

The site chosen was the south half of the block bounded on the north by South University Avenue, on the west by Tappan Street, on the south by Monroe Street, and on the east by Haven Avenue. The north half of the stated block was occupied by the Martha Cook Building and its extensive and well planted grounds. It was assumed by the architects that the main entrance of the new building would be on Haven Avenue. Although the property was then considered by some observers to be remote, it Page  1577was faced on three sides by University buildings. The site of the Architecture Building was purchased from private owners at a cost of $137,717.50. When completed the building with its equipment was valued at $515,106.

In the construction of the building some changes were made in the interests of economy but in general it proceeded as planned. The department moved into its new quarters in September, 1927. At that time the building was usable, but construction was not completed until June, 1928. Because of building costs the appropriation from the state proved insufficient, but gifts from alumni and friends made it possible to retain features which otherwise would have been omitted. Mr. George D. Mason was a staunch backer in this situation, and Mr. George G. Booth made a substantial contribution for equipment and the purchase of art objects. The building industry in the state contributed certain materials and provided others at reductions in cost.

The Architecture Building is L-type in plan along the east and north sides of the property, the projected plan for long-time development being that of a quadrangle, with wings on the west and south sides to be added eventually. The wing running north and south is 168 feet long and that running east and west is 111 feet long. The building has 76,223 square feet of floor space.

The structure is without basement, and each of the wings is four stories in height. The tower is the main vertical circulation, supplemented by the south stairway on Monroe Street. Externally, the wall surface material is brick, and the sloping roofs are slate. Although the structural frame is mainly of steel, there are many piers and modulated wall surfaces so that the general effect is to some extent monumental. The north side of the wing running east and west is largely of glass, providing light for the large drafting rooms on the lower three floors. At the fourth-floor level and for the fifth-floor studio these large windows are arched.

The entrance lobby at the ground-floor level of the tower is finished in limestone, with tiled floor. It is somewhat formal in character and aims to express not only its function but by its character to speak for the profession housed in the building. This lobby opens directly to the adjacent architecture auditorium, the principal public room on this level, which seats more than 350 people. Originally, the hall extending south to the Monroe Street entrance was a spacious exhibition area equipped with glazed cases in open alcoves for exhibition purposes. The wing running to the west at this ground-floor level was a single large drafting room for freshman architecture students. It is paralleled and served by a corridor leading to the west entrance.

At the head of the main stairway on the second floor are the administrative offices. In the wing running to the south the major part is the Architecture library. This is an impressive room forty by ninety feet, architecturally the most admired room in the building. At the third-floor level the space over the library, measuring 3,600 square feet, was designed as an exhibition room rising thirty feet through the fourth-floor level. Twenty-five years ago the galleries of museums and art institutions such as the Metropolitan Museum in New York and the Art Institute in Chicago, featured lofty halls and permanent exhibitions of full-size replicas of historical elements of architecture, equestrian groups of sculpture, and similar items. The lower wall spaces and the standing screens in this room provided space for exhibitions of architectural drawings and paintings. As to the use of the wing running Page  1578to the west, the second and third floors follow the pattern of the first floor, namely, that of the large drafting room, but without corridor. At the fourth-floor level are fully equipped studios for drawing and painting. The building originally provided nine faculty offices along the west side of the south wing, and at the south end of the building on Monroe Street were eight classrooms with blackboards, two on each floor.

At the time of its completion in 1928, the facilities of the Architecture Building were outstanding among the architecture schools of the United States. It provided handsomely for the student body and faculty of that day and permitted a certain amount of expansion. The drafting rooms were well equipped with drafting tables and the drawing and painting studios with easels and tables. In general, however, the furnishings were inadequate, and for many years the classroom benches were of varying vintage that had been discarded elsewhere on the campus. The library, for example, was provided with overhead lighting fixtures discarded by the General Library. These make-shift arrangements served for many years, and a miscellaneous collection of tables and chairs of the kitchen-chair type were used as the library tables and as seating furniture. Faculty office furniture was obtained soon after the building was erected and still serves satisfactorily as far as the limited number of items is adequate.

In the early years after the building was occupied, the open site space comprising the entire southwest area of the block was developed as a formal garden, with a sunken square in the center focused on a central column. Flagged walks and rows of clipped evergreen hedges outlined this space. Through the efforts of Professor Lorch and friends of the school a number of fragments of architecture were purchased or donated and appropriately placed on the axes of the garden about the sunken court, or against the walls of the main building. Those of particular interest are fragments of American buildings illustrating by example the range and sequence of architectural development in this country. The arrangement aimed to make the open space agreeable, to relate it to the existing building, and to suggest the quadrangle which would appear upon completion of the whole structure. In 1954 it was necessary to erect a temporary research laboratory of unistrut construction in the garden. Not long after the occupation of the building Haven Avenue was closed as a street, and its place was taken by a mall with a broad sidewalk, thus depriving the Architecture Building of its main entrance by a street approach.

To meet the pressure of growth in size, coming to a climax in the years immediately after World War II, many changes had to be made in the effort to obtain every possible square foot of teaching space. Equally demanding in the use of space has been the growth of the Visual Arts curriculum. When the building was constructed architecture was almost the only concern of the school. Through the years, however, instruction in decorative design has gradually become a degree program in the visual arts, which now has more than two-fifths of the entire enrollment in the College. The developing emphasis on art teacher education exerts added pressure. Landscape Architecture was transferred to the College in 1939, and, although a small unit, it has required a certain amount of space. Over the past six years, architectural research has become an activity of growing interest for staff and students. Integrated with the curriculum in architecture, it, Page  1579too, requires space for analytical studies, drafting, the construction of mock-ups, and the testing of assemblies.

Thus far no violence has been done to the basic structure of the Architecture Building as the result of these developing needs, but many elements have been modified. On the ground floor the freshman drafting room has been divided into three sections, none of which is now used for instruction in architecture. This division provides in approximately equal areas for sculpture, general shop, and ceramics, disciplines not available in 1928. The installation for ceramics is permanent in character and represents a considerable investment. In the east wing of this floor the exhibition alcoves have had to give way to permanently enclosed faculty offices. The auditorium has been provided with adequate, permanent seating and is now equipped for film as well as for lantern-slide projection. It is used as a University auditorium in the evenings, mainly for movies. The two south classrooms are used for architectural research.

The second floor is least changed. The administrative offices for the College, however, have been remodeled, eliminating the storage vault, and accommodating an office for the assistant dean, an administrative function not foreseen when the building was erected. Another office has been gained on this floor by enclosing a large alcove opposite the double doors to the library.

Soon after World War II the large exhibition room on the third floor was converted into a single drafting room. Its extreme height is uneconomical, but the floor space is in active use. At this level, as on the floor below, an office was built in. The fourth floor alone remains unchanged. The large studio of nine hundred square feet, twenty-three feet high at the fifth-floor level, was originally thought of as a suitable studio for a distinguished visiting designer, painter, or sculptor, who might there carry on creative work while meeting students as an artist in residence. This room is now regularly filled to capacity with classes of students in painting. The sixth-floor room of twelve hundred square feet area, a considerable climb in these days of elevators, was, for more than twenty years, filled with stored casts and other art objects. Under the pressures of present necessity, it is now a photographic studio with darkrooms and like facilities.