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

By 1917, because of the growth of the several natural history museums it was evident that new quarters would have to be provided if they were to continue to develop. On the basis of estimates made by the University, the legislature of 1925 appropriated $900,000 for a museum building and equipment and in another act provided for the purchase of the necessary land for the site between North Page  1739University and Washtenaw avenues. The appropriation for the building became available in 1927; construction was begun in the same year; and the building was completed in the spring of 1928. Albert Kahn, of Detroit, was the architect; Spence Brothers, of Saginaw, held the general contract; and Randolph A. Wiese designed the equipment. The building cost $724,952 and has a gross floor area of 128,976 square feet.

The Museums of Anthropology, Zoology, and Paleontology and the the University Herbarium are housed in the building. Of these the Museum of Zoology is the largest and most diversified. In planning the building it was necessary to recognize differences in size, the rate of growth and activities, and the needs of the four museums. No attempt was made to provide for any of the other University collections.

The site chosen for the new building — the block bounded by Washtenaw, Geddes, Forest, and North University avenues — is interesting in its topography. Almost level along the Washtenaw Avenue side, it drops off to the east so that the garages in the basement of the north wing are only slightly below the grade of the street, and much of the basement is lighted by windows. The site is large enough to permit expansion of the building to more than twice its dimensions, and, with a change in one street, to three times the size of the part now erected. In addition to the garages, the basement, which extends the full length of the north wing, houses vaults for valuable specimens and volatiles, machine rooms, and a large storeroom.

The general plan for the building was largely determined by a general policy adopted after a study of existing institutions and the relations of a state university museum to science, education, the state, and the university. On the basis of this idea the several directors and curators prepared detailed plans, which the architect, Albert Kahn, used in preparing the final design, completed in December, 1926. The building is a modern adaptation of Renaissance masses and details and is particularly adapted to the expression of the functions of the building. The windows are smaller than in most of the campus buildings and do not exceed the columns in width. The sashes are steel with heavy members.

The building is of buff Bedford limestone and maroon tapestry brick; the first floor, entrance façade, cornices, and spandrels are stone with contrasting brick throughout the body of the structure. The first story and parapet are variegated stone, the other stone being plain. A special feature is the reproduction of heads of pioneer American naturalists in relief on the spandrels between the third and fourth floors, on the entrance façade, and between the pilasters which repeat the entrance motif of each wing. The decorative motifs are principally animals, including mythological ones. The fourth-floor spandrels and stone plinths are ornamented with a series of these designs alternating on the spandrels with a conventional figure. Similar designs are on the carved main door lintel and jambs, on the bronze doors, iron grills, lobby and vestibule ceilings. The main entrance doors are perforated bronze.

On the entrance façade the parapet is continued upward to form an entablature which bears the inscription "University Museums" and Louis Agassiz's admonition: "Go to Nature; take the facts into your own hands; look and see for yourself." Two puma-like figures in black terrazzo, the work of Carleton W. Angell, stand at either side of the main entrance. The plan of the building consists of two wings meeting at an acute angle transected to form the entrance. The difficulty Page  1740of housing the working quarters and the exhibit rooms in the same building was solved by placing them in different wings.

The main entrance, at the corner of North University and Washtenaw avenues, opens into a vestibule and that in turn into a lobby. The lobby, which is two stories in height, with a balcony at the second-story level, opens directly to a broad staircase and the two wings. On the second floor balcony are the general offices, the library, and the map and mailing rooms.

The north wing, which is 298 feet long, contains the working quarters of the Museums of Zoology and Anthropology and the Herbarium. This wing has a northeast exposure and most of the laboratories and research rooms are on the north side. The south side of the north wing is given over to darkened ranges, to work rooms that do not require north light, and to aquarium rooms. The studios, which are on the fourth floor, are illuminated by skylights.

The first floor of the south wing, which is 238 feet long, contains laboratories, offices, ranges, and the preparation rooms of the Museum of Paleontology. Above this floor the south wing is devoted to exhibits. The second-floor exhibit hall is partly a single story and partly two stories in height, the two-story section being at the east end of the wing. The partial third floor and the fourth floor are each a single story in height. The third and fourth floors in this wing are suspended from the roof, thus doing away with columns in the second-floor hall.

The corridors of the north wing and the first floor of the south wing are closed at the lobby entrance by ornamental iron gates, so that the public is diverted to the exhibition halls at each level.

Built on the unit plan, of reinforced concrete with no load-bearing walls, the rooms may be rearranged, enlarged, or reduced in size, with little more expense than would be entailed in moving the equipment and removing or constructing curtain walls. There is but one fixed point — the entrance. From the entrance both wings can be extended to form a large quadrangle without departing from the style of architecture. The end walls, although finished, are temporary, and the structure is otherwise designed to be extended without remodeling.

The building is completely equipped for research, for instruction of graduate students, for public demonstrations, and for the preservation of research materials. To avoid the disadvantages of built-in systems, unit systems were adopted, as far as possible. The several divisions have improved types of laboratory tables and sinks, and each laboratory has gas, electricity, compressed air, and hot and cold water.

In the exhibition space the wall columns, which have been firred out to carry the plumbing, are treated as pilasters, and from these toward the middle of the wing, cases and screens are arranged to form alcoves, separated by a middle aisle eighteen feet wide.

The floors in the exhibition halls are of rubber tile, comfortable benches have been installed, and attractive rest rooms have been provided. In fact everything possible has been done to minimize "museum fatigue."

The large cases are movable and are built in five-foot units, which may be put together with or without division to form cases five, ten, fifteen, or twenty feet in length.

In the vestibule, lobby, and on the main stairs the walls are of polished Italian travertine marble — the floors badger gray and Tripoli pink Tennessee marble in attractive designs, and the ceilings of molded plaster, appropriately Page  1741decorated. The ornamental iron balcony and main stair railings are finished in verd antique and have bronze rails. The floors of the exhibit rooms, the halls, main offices, and library, have a covering of gold-black and black-gold rubber tile. The gates across the corridors of the floors devoted to research are of wrought iron, designed and executed by Mr. Roscoe Wood, and presented by Mr. Otto Hans.