The University of Michigan, an encyclopedic survey ... Wilfred B. Shaw, editor.
University of Michigan.
Mortimer E. Cooley Building

The Mortimer E. Cooley Building, usually called the Cooley Memorial Laboratory, or, simply, the Cooley Building, Page  1689was the first structure to be erected on the University's North Campus. It seems appropriate to record some of the events that led to the acquisition of this campus site and to sketch briefly the proposed development of the area.

In the late 1940's the facilities available to the Engineering Research Institute had become inadequate to cope with the increasing demands for government-sponsored research. Therefore, the Executive Committee of the Institute voted on March 7, 1949, to make certain funds accumulated in one of the Institute's accounts available to finance a building "which could properly house the Institute," and on March 11, Dean I. C. Crawford, chairman of the committee, transmitted a proposal to this effect to the University Committee on Plant Extension.

On July 14, 1949, at a meeting of the Engineering Research Council (which had just superseded the Executive Committee), the Vice-President in charge of business and finance, Mr. R. P. Briggs, mentioned the possibility of purchasing property away from the campus, but close to Ann Arbor, since the acquisition of a building site close to the Engineering buildings was extremely costly and would make future expansion very difficult. In the same month, Professor C. T. Larson, a member of the Council, addressed a communication to Assistant Provost J. A. Perkins, chairman of the Council, advocating "conscious decentralization" of University activities and the development of a "University Research Center" through expansion of facilities outside the Ann Arbor city limits.

Before the end of the year, December 16, 1949, Vice-President Briggs was authorized by the Regents "to purchase a parcel of land, comprising eighty-eight acres, lying to the north and west of the Huron River and east of the Municipal Golf Course, with the understanding that negotiations are to continue for the purchase of further properties in that area…" (R.P., 1949, p. 585). The Regents formally approved this purchase on February 24, 1950, and in October of the same year they authorized the acquisition of two additional parcels of land, one of some seventy-one, and the other of about fifty-seven acres, both adjoining the original eighty-eight. (It is interesting to note that purchase of seventy-one acres of Arborcrest property, originally laid out and planted for cemetery purposes, yielded the many beautiful evergreens which now adorn several buildings on the old campus, including the West Engineering Building.)

About two weeks prior to the formal approval of the purchase of the first tract of land, the Engineering Research Council devoted an entire meeting to the space problems of the Institute. Vice-President Briggs, who had been invited to the meeting together with Provost J. P. Adams, indicated that the Council "should consider moving the Engineering Research Institute to the environs of Ann Arbor, where land was not at a premium and where there would be ample opportunity for expansion." One member of the Council, Professor G. Granger Brown, "advised that he had been studying the idea of moving certain instructional laboratories, as well as research laboratories, off the campus." He had in mind moving primarily those laboratories in which students spend half-day periods, for this "would have the advantage of permitting continued integration of instruction and research…"

Exactly one year from the day when the Regents authorized the first land purchase, they initiated the negotiation of "an appropriate architectural contract with Cornelius L. T. Gabler, of Detroit, for the construction of a research facility to be provided from funds of the Engineering Page  1690Research Institute in the amount of $750,000," in accordance with a resolution of the Engineering Research Council submitted to the Regents and adopted by them on November 18, 1950 (R.P., 1950, pp. 1128-29).

Anticipating a continuing increase in student enrollment and an expanded program of research activities, both undirected and sponsored, and activated by a desire to keep the teaching and research functions of the University closely integrated, the Regents decided to entrust the over-all planning of the new campus to an architectural firm of national reputation. Hence, they empowered Vice-President W. K. Pierpont, who had succeeded Mr. Briggs in February, 1951, to enter into a contract with Eero Saarinen and Associates, of Birmingham, Michigan, to act as consultants in the development of the new campus, now commonly called the North Campus (R.P., 1951, p. 1297).

Saarinen and Associates, after many conferences with University administrators, presented long-range plans. The North Campus was conceived to embrace an engineering research area consisting of about seventy-five acres, as well as several other areas set aside for distinct educational functions. Of the total area, amounting to more than 378 acres, one section has since been reserved for apartments for married students and staff.

The first building to be begun and completed on the North Campus is the Mortimer E. Cooley Building, named so in honor of Mortimer Elwyn Cooley, Dean of the College of Engineering — the name was changed twice during his deanship — from 1904 to 1928, one of the outstanding personalities in the field of engineering. Since he was responsible to a large degree for the establishment of the Department of Engineering Research (Engineering Research Institute), it was appropriate that the first building constructed for Engineering Research Institute activities should bear his name. About a total of $100,000 contributed during his lifetime by friends, colleagues, and former students to the Mortimer E. Cooley Foundation, and after his death to the Cooley Memorial Fund, was added to the various sums, totaling $1,045,000, from various reserve funds of the Institute.

The Cooley Building, situated at the southeastern end of the area set aside for engineering research, was dedicated on October 24, 1953, climaxing the Engineering Centennial celebration. The building is of reinforced concrete, brick-faced and flat-roofed. The major portion of the front, which faces south, consists of Thermopane windows set in aluminum sash. The over-all dimensions are approximately 243 by 56 by 27 feet high (from base grade). At the north side near the east end there is a projection, 49 by 25 feet, approximately 18 feet deep (the top just extending above grade level), which houses heating facilities that presently serve two additional buildings and are sufficient to serve several more to be built in the future. The general contractor was Jeffress-Dyer, Inc., of Washington, D. C., and Ann Arbor.

A special feature of the Cooley Building is a structurally isolated room, 18 by 24 by 16 feet high, near the southeast end of the building. The walls, floor, and ceiling of this room — it is really a building within a building, since it rests on its own footings — are of high-density concrete, so that a fairly loud, sharply uttered sound reverberates up to thirty seconds. This "Reverberation Room" was constructed for noise-reduction investigations carried on by the Sound and Infrared Group, which occupies space on all three floor levels, amounting to about 20 per cent of the total space available for research.

Page  1691About 55 per cent of the total laboratory area is used by the Electronics Defense Group, which carries on important research in communication engineering.

The other research activities presently housed in the Cooley Building are nuclear power development (5 rooms), development of shock mounts for tank fire control instruments (1 room), and study of blast loads on buildings (1 room).

The total number of research workers employed in the various laboratories is about 120, of whom virtually all are engaged in classified research. The major part of the building's laboratory equipment has been supplied by the federal government. The building also is the headquarters of the College of Engineering Industry Program, which is administered by Professor H. A. Ohlgren as an Institute project.

The Cooley Building, having been planned as the nucleus of a sizable research area, has two lobbies, two lounges, two conference rooms, and an auditorium, which are available for informal conferences and for meetings.

The furnishings of all the conference facilities except the auditorium were presented by various alumni, groups of alumni, and friends of the University.

In the west end of the basement is an auditorium — seating capacity 125 — which was furnished with Institute funds. It is provided with a projection booth and a large door behind the screen and blackboard area and is equipped with a public address system and a motor-operated autotransformer for control of overhead lighting. Near the entrance to the auditorium is a plaque honoring Professor A. E. White, Director of the Institute from its inception until his retirement in 1953, when he was succeeded by Professor R. G. Folsom.

To the west of the Cooley Building is the Phoenix Memorial Laboratory, constructed with some of the funds donated by alumni and friends of the University for research in peacetime applications of nuclear energy, and to the south is the Library Service and Stack Building, which serves as a storage facility for little-used library materials and also houses the University Bindery. A pedestrian tunnel is to connect the Cooley and Phoenix buildings, since some of the research activities in the two buildings will be closely related, especially after completion of the nuclear reactor, which will adjoin the Phoenix Building.

Presently under construction are the Automotive Laboratory, being built with state-appropriated funds, and four aeronautical research laboratories, for the construction of which Engineering Research Institute funds are being used. The Automotive Laboratory is a short distance north of the Cooley Building, and the aeronautics buildings, some distance northeast.