As architecture students return to campus at the University of Michigan’s Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, they will be greeted by a new construction project—the first update to the highly ranked program’s center of operations since it was built in 1974.
In addition to long-needed renovations to 11,000 square feet of the existing structure, the project includes a new 36,000-square-foot wing containing studios, offices, a classroom, and an airy atrium intended to unite faculty and the student body. The project is expected to cost $28.5 million and, according to Taubman administrators, will give the program a flagship space along the lines of Crown Hall at the Illinois Institute of Technology.
Paying it a backhanded compliment, design architect Preston Scott Cohen described the existing structure as “ruthlessly systematic.” In contrast, said Cohen, the new building is organized around a sense of discovery for its occupants.
The new wing meets the existing structure with a hexagonal, multi-height atrium designed to serve as a central commons, said Cohen, who is working in conjunction with Integrated Design Solutions, an architecture firm based nearby in Troy, Michigan. Students and faculty across all design disciplines—from landscape architecture to city planning—circulate throughout the building via the white-walled atrium using ramps that ring the room.
“We think of architecture as an interdisciplinary field that has design at the center,” said Monica Ponce de Leon, the third dean of the college to plan new studios. (Ponce de Leon was named dean of Princeton’s School of Architecture in May.) “The atrium really becomes a heart for the building,” she said, praising the design’s multiple student lounges and open studios that she hoped would help unify the disciplines of architecture and planning.
Cohen described the building’s so-called central commons as a kind of sunken living room. “The whole building is organized around this idea where the sequence is one of subtle descent,” he said. “It makes the place you’re going not an arduous climb—it makes it a destination.”
A procession of sawtooth cuts in the new wing’s roof allows natural light to flood the atrium and studios from above, hinting at factory-like clerestories, and bestowing a vertical presence to play off the low-slung, non-identity of the adjacent building. Large, diamond-shaped areas of soldier-bond brickwork break up the masonry facade, complementing the roof texture with a herringbone pattern farther up.
In a nod to the increasingly high-tech focus of the discipline, Taubman officials were joined by a robotic arm at the groundbreaking in April. Rather than the college’s namesake—billionaire A. Alfred Taubman, who donated $12.5 million to help fund the project—it was the mechanized arm that ceremoniously tossed the first patch of dirt. The building is expected to open in summer 2017.