Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

North Quad Gets New Designer

31. July 2006 • Dale Winling
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The Ann Arbor News reports that the University of Michigan has hired Robert A.M. Stern Architects to develop a new design for the mixed-use North Quad project on the site of the Frieze Building. Stern is the dean of the Yale School of Architecture and has run his renowned practice from New York City for decades.

The Stern firm has recently worked on residence halls for Columbia University, and Georgetown University, among other projects for academia including Weill Hall, the home of Michigan’s Ford School of Public Policy.



  1. Ah yes, these residence halls look more appropriately academic. I can imagine Stern would do a facade that would be less controversial than the former one. Interesting that they are only going to do the exterior and Einhorn Yaffee Prescott is going to remain the interior designer. Weill Hall is certainly getting rave reviews. It is nice, but couldn’t they have built a whole wing up the hill instead of leaving that gaping hole of a surface parking lot between it and the Law Quad?


       —Juliew    Aug. 1 '06 - 03:04PM    #
  2. I’m impressed by Weill Hall too. I also like the addition to the Perry Building. The new U building kitty corner to Rackham, not so much. Though it’s got some nice features. I’m trying to figure out what to like about the new Life Sciences buildings. I suppose they are harder to architect as the space needs are so immense. It’s hard to make massive pretty.

    The academic buildings Stern did elsewhere look pretty terrific. I’d be glad to see any of them on the U-M campus—or done as commercial buildings downtown. No idea what the cost premium is though, and that might be a big part of why only a few buildings off-campus here look anywhere near distinctive if they’ve been built in the last 20 years. I’m not expecting good things from the new crop of structures, especially after seeing what became of the former Olga’s site. That would be a bad building in any location. But it’s especially out of place in that area, where far shorter, historic-looking buildings are so close by.

    I wonder what happened in terms of process on the North Dorm project? Did the decision makers not have a clue as to what they would be publicly presented by their first architect in terms of exterior look? That seems hard to believe. Would an architect want to surprise a client like this, and risk public rejection? Would a client like U-M want public “oops”?


       —AK    Aug. 1 '06 - 07:17PM    #
  3. About a week ago I posted a comment about the Pittsfield Recall, which strangely disappeared from this website although other comments remained and still others added. Please allow the following to appear:

    The Pittsfield Recall is totally phony if anyone compares the recallers complaints with actual recorded history. The recallers claim that they are trying to protect their children from the hazards of Wal-Mart’s traffic. They claim that the Pittsfield Supervisor, Treasurer, and Clerk arrogantly ignored their demands and approved Wal-Mart’s site plan, obfuscated their actions, broke laws, etc, etc.

    In fact, the Township Board of Trustees does not control the approval process—this is the domain of the Pittsfield Planning Commission. The Commission approved the Wal-Mart site plan in 2004—but the Recall activists offered no obstacles, raised no charges against the Planning Commission.

    The leaders of the Pittsfield Recall are predominantly Republicans. The Board of Trustees elected in 2004, all Democrats, are the targets of an attempt at premature regime change. Why can’t they wait for the end of the officials terms of office 2008 and fight a fair contest in the regular election cycle?


       —Abuelita    Aug. 2 '06 - 01:08AM    #
  4. Please excuse the off topic post above—while composing I was sidetracked and didn’t realize I’d switched over to the wrong topic. The item obviously belongs in the Pittsfield Recall section.


       —Abuelita    Aug. 2 '06 - 01:15AM    #
  5. Abuelita – I’m fairly certain nobody would have deleted your comments intentionally. I’d offer up the (oh so annoying!) mandatory preview as a culprit. I (even I!) have lost a great many comments for failing to hit post after preview. Stupid spam-blocking measures. Sigh.

    I do apologize for the inconvenience. oops.


       —Murph.    Aug. 2 '06 - 03:09AM    #
  6. Oh, snap! North Quad is going to cost an additional $38 million.


       —Dale    Dec. 13 '06 - 05:32PM    #
  7. well of course it added cost – what did you expect when the regents hired a big name architect that produces pseudo-historical drivel like that?


       —KGS    Dec. 13 '06 - 06:17PM    #
  8. I don’t think historicist=drivel by definition but this project did not require a pitched roof.


       —Dale    Dec. 13 '06 - 06:22PM    #
  9. No it doesn’t, but I’m so darned tired of the same old brick & ivy stuff we have everywhere. The UM has been the only folks to take great architectural risks in this town (see new BSRB and art museum addition) and it is disappointing to see them back away for the bland stuff that Stern churns out. Weill Hall is impressive for its materials but the massing is out of kilter and the detailing ho-hum at best.


       —KGS    Dec. 13 '06 - 09:25PM    #
  10. I’m pretty sure that’s what people in the community want.


       —Dale    Dec. 13 '06 - 09:53PM    #
  11. Anybody want to comment on the $486 per square foot cost? I liked the design when I saw it, until I saw the price tag was around $175 million for 360,000 sq. ft. Seems to me someone is going to make a killing on this project. BTW, the monthly mortgage payment on $175 million would be about $ 1 Million or about $2900 per month each for 360 1000 sq-ft apartments. Another comparison is to the cost of renting commercial space on Main Street in downtown Ann Arbor which goes for about $24/sq-ft per year vs $35/sq-ft per year just to pay for the mortgage on the new building. As a final comparison, if one assumes 40% of the space will go to house the 460 beds for the new dorm, the construction cost is about $150,000 per bed versus about $30,000 per bed for the cost of ICC (Inter-Co-Operative Council) housing.

    My point here is that there is no way the dorm fees will ever pay for this project on the student housing portion. This project will raise the operating cost of the University which has seen tuition go up on average every year for the past 30 years at twice the rate of inflation. I consider this an irresponsible use of scarce public resources at a time when the state’s economy is realing from major job losses in the automotive sector of the economy. If the U needs more student housing, give the ICC the $14 million for the 460 beds and save a bundle!


       —Chuck    Dec. 19 '06 - 03:00AM    #
  12. In my best imitation of David Cahill, I put in a FOIA request re: NQ financing almost 2 years ago. No money was slated to come from the state — it was all endowment, current cash (“central equity” I think they called it), and future fees. It’s not all public money, though I agree much of the equipment they have talked up sounds like it will be overpriced and underused.


       —Dale    Dec. 19 '06 - 04:29AM    #
  13. If the U has “current cash” sitting around, why not use it to offset future tuition increases? A big organization like the U always has debt somewhere that in theory could be paid down and hence, lower its operating expenses. Another point, if the use of the endowment money leads to higher operating expenses, maybe the money should be given back, no? Kilpatric at EMU got no money from the State for the $5 million on the President’s Mansion; but got in trouble for offsetting construction cost overruns by diverting operating funds.

    Finally, just because money does not come from the State does not mean it is not public. The UofM is owned by the people of Michigan and the tuition increases of the last 30 years are a disgrace. It’s financial sinkholes like North Quad that I believe are responsible for much of the unreasonable increases in tuition. I really wish the State would step in and tell UofM that any tuition increase over the next five years will result in a dollar-for-dollar reduction in state aid; if they did, we’d see white elephants like North Quad disappear immediately. (Ya, Ya I know, even though football makes money for the U, they’d still threaten to cancel it just out of spite!)


       —Chuck    Dec. 19 '06 - 05:47AM    #
  14. So I was surprised to “Chuck” listed in so many comments when I checked in—I remembered commentin on city council but not on North Quad.

    I don’t think I’ve been sleep blogging, so to make sure things keep clear, I’ll start posting with my full name, or at lead my first name and last initial, so that folks know which Chuck is which.

    For the record, this is my first comment on this topic, and now that I have a chance to share my opinion, I find Stern Hall’s exterior to be too-large, daunting, and to appear as an ugly box from the west (the view from the North is okay), and the design features feel tacked on to me, and what I’ve seen for North Quad looks like more of the same. I’m not impressed.


       —Chuck Warpehoski    Dec. 19 '06 - 08:17PM    #
  15. Here’s another theory for tuition raises, maybe it has to do with 40%, 100k+ raises

    I’m always amazed when somebody’s raise is several times more than my annual salary.


       —Chuck Warpehoski    Dec. 19 '06 - 08:21PM    #
  16. Chuck W (and thanks for the name clarification, I was wondering): I think you have to be careful when you talk about unfair salaries. As the article points out: One of the administrators with the biggest raises was promoted while the other two administrators’ salaries were raised to reflect what comparable institutions are paying. The University still pays far less than what the “private” market pays for most job families. Equity raises are a way of trying to keep good people. People work at the U for many reasons, usually comparable pay is not high on the list. Almost everyone I know who has left the University has gone for more money: often tripling their salaries. We just hear about salaries at the U because it is public information. Most companies keep salary information very private. I’m not saying it is all fair, but there is a marketplace reality.

    As for North Quad being a waste of money, I think it is important to remember just how big the University is. The 2006-2007 annual general fund budget is $1.2 billion. Tuition last year was $725 million. So yes, North Quad is going to be expensive, but it is but one of many large building projects (and one of the smaller ones actually). It won’t make much of a dent on the University’s bottom line and not building it wouldn’t go toward much of a tuition reimbursement.

    I’m so darned tired of the same old brick & ivy stuff we have everywhere.
    I certainly like the new design better than the former design. I understand about taking risks, but personally I don’t really like the BSRB, the Museum Addition, the South Thayer Building, or the Palmer Drive buildings either for looks or function (especially the pedestrian experience). The University has some lovely buildings, but it really isn’t a very pretty campus overall, it isn’t easy to navigate, and it isn’t cohesive. Although I grew up in Ann Arbor, I went to the University of Colorado and my idea of a college campus was really formed there. It really has a much better feel than the UM campus. It feels like a Place, and the UM campus doesn’t ever have that sense. I don’t think UM can or should go as far as CU does for uniformity, but some similarity in the buildings wouldn’t be such a bad thing.


       —Juliew    Dec. 19 '06 - 11:27PM    #
  17. As to the salaries: Ann Arbor has a surplus of talent, so UM salaries (apart from faculty superstars) are generally low. I used to commute to a job at MSU; when I sought a similar position at UM, I noticed that the salaries were much lower, while the responsibilities and the required qualifications were greater.

    Strongly agreed with Julie about the university building projects that she listed, none of which are appealing. Bricks and ivy are a big improvement over stale and sterile Modernist junk.


       —Larry Kestenbaum    Dec. 19 '06 - 11:53PM    #
  18. Julie,

    So your point is, yes…the University wastes money needlessly on bloated, overpriced projects; but, since they’ve been doing it so often for so long, it dosen’t really matter? My concern is that the UofM has been raising tuition at a rate which is double the over-all rate of inflation for the last 30 years. The same decision making process that led to the decision to spend about $500/sq-ft. on North Quad is being used to make countless other bad decisions that are not in the public interest. I expect much better from a public university and it appears obvious that the officials running UofM don’t even see themselves as accountable public servants. In fact, saying that the money is not public money exposes where these people are coming from; I will repeat, all of the money is public money because UofM is a public university.
       —Chuck L.    Dec. 20 '06 - 02:50AM    #
  19. The Biomed building is good, I think. I like the pedestrian experience on the E, N, and W sides of the building and the auditorium/plaza/open space on the south side is both visually striking and pleasant to look at.

    The Life Sciences buildings are also decent exterior designs, although best viewed from afar where you get the intended sense of these as industrial buildings. I do agree that walking near these on Washtenaw is an alienating experience; however, this was an unfortunate if understandable response by the firm to separate from the already unpleasant Washtenaw rather than try to meet and improve it.

    Memo to Chuck L.: public universities usually have partner foundations that are private corporations handling the endowment, which is where the money is. (I can’t find any specific indication which is the case at U-M). The Michigan attorney general’s office has issued an opinion that university foundations’ records are not subject to FOIA because they are not public bodies. It’s not quite as simple as you think it is. Also, if you can point me to the section of the state constitution requiring the university to prioritize economy in educational decisions, I’d appreciate it, because I can’t find any article detailing that responsibility. All I can find is the constitutional responsibility of the state legislature to appropriate for institutions of higher education.


       —Dale    Dec. 20 '06 - 03:11AM    #
  20. So your point is, yes…the University wastes money needlessly on bloated, overpriced projects

    No, that is your point Chuck L, not mine. I think the University has a lot of requirements and a lot of pressure from a lot of sources for their buildings and although I don’t always agree with their decisions, they do try to do their best. Space at the University is always in great demand and North Quad is actually being built in response to student and city request. If the University wasn’t getting a lot of pressure to build a new dorm, I’m sure they wouldn’t. Students may say they want tuition decreases, but they also want wireless everywhere, green buildings, air-conditioned dorm rooms, more resources, high-speed connectivity, interactive classrooms. Those things all cost a lot of money. Add to that donor’s requests for specific buildings, department requests and needs, faculty and staff requests for wireless everywhere, green buildings, air-conditioned office space, more resources, high-speed connectivity, and interactive classrooms. Then there are state and federally mandated requirements for universities, especially ones that have any state funding (which is only about 1/4 of the University’s overall funding anyway). As Dale says, it isn’t as simple as you think.


       —Juliew    Dec. 20 '06 - 10:01PM    #
  21. “Space at the University is always in great demand …”

    I have a fuzzy recollection of reading something somewhere recently about a vast surplus of space available for scheduling on campus and that the pressure for additional space results in part from demands for convenience by students and faculty alike (e.g., no morning classes, no Friday afternoon classes, etc.)

    However, in trying to confirm this fuzzy recollection, I came up with nothing online. Does this ring a bell with anyone?

    Also a question about the drawings of the exterior. At this point in the process, will there already be blueprints that go along with those drawings that specify things like electrical conduits, water pipes, and floor drains? Or do the architects wait to plow time and effort into that sort of thing until they get a sign-off on the exterior?


       —HD    Dec. 21 '06 - 12:27AM    #
  22. No working drawings yet, but concept drawings and probably some floor plans. There would have to be some calculations and modeling done regarding structure and space (so they can say with some justification that a pitched roof will cost x million more dollars in structure and materials). This one is a little weird since EYP is/has already been working on this, but I don’t think working drawings would normally be ready.


       —Dale    Dec. 21 '06 - 01:13AM    #
  23. I have a fuzzy recollection of reading something somewhere recently about a vast surplus of space available for scheduling on campus

    I’m pretty sure the article was in the News, but I can’t find it quickly. There may be space available (Palmer Commons is a prime example which is almost always available for class use), but the space is not available for offices. So it isn’t always the right type of space in the right place. Which is why I think any new buildings should be made as flexible as possible so if needs change, the buildings can still be used. As long as I have been at the U, office space has been in demand.


       —Juliew    Dec. 21 '06 - 02:22AM    #
  24. Second Dale’s comment. The items HD asks about would be in detail design drawings for MEP systems. Those wouldn’t get started until the conceptual design is accepted.

    I guess I am learning something working with engineers. Turns out they’re not the fourth axis of evil that we always referred to in the MUP program either. Live and learn…


       —Scott TenBrink    Dec. 21 '06 - 03:14AM    #
  25. Juliew,

    Tuition at UofM is about 2.5 times greater in constant 2006 dollars as in 1975 for an in-state undergraduate. Tuition for one semester is about $5000 today versus about $2000 in 1975. That figure, of course, does not include housing costs at University housing which has also outpaced inflation since 1975. I’m left wondering what an undergraduate student studying History, Philosphy or Math is getting today that his/her parents did not get in 1975. Yes, students in 1975 did not have broadband access, which Ameritech or Comcast will supply to you for $30-$50/month. So, that leaves a gap of $3000-4*$40 = $2840 to still account for per semester. Green buildings? They should cost less, not more because they save money. Air Conditioning in the Fall, Winter and Spring? Please, I see that Sears will sell you a 12,000 BTU window mounted air-conditioner for $340.00 which costs $0.12/hour to operate. Assuming 4 Months X 30 Days/Month X 24 Hours/Day X $0.12/Hour = $345.60 in electricity plus $9.49 month to finance the unit for 48 months @ 12% = $345.60 + 4 X $9.49 = $383.56 per semester. Our gap goes to $2840 – $383.56 = $2456.44. As for the other items/mandates you mention, $2456.44 per student per semester is a lot of money and I really doubt you will be able to account for it with the items you mention.

    I believe that undergraduates are being billed for the overhead associated with the University’s research function. This is of marginal benefit to most undergrads and I seriously doubt if the quality of the education is 2.5 times better than in 1975.


       —Chuck L.    Dec. 21 '06 - 03:17AM    #
  26. I guess I am learning something working with engineers. Turns out they’re not the fourth axis of evil that we always referred to in the MUP program either. Live and learn…

    So you’re saying you’ve crossed over to the other side?


       —Dale    Dec. 21 '06 - 03:29AM    #
  27. Julie,

    Thanks. Palmer Commons was the missing clue. Dave Gershman’s A2 News piece on space is probably what I was thinking of.

    W.R.T. Chuck L’s comment, “ ... it appears obvious that the officials running UofM don’t even see themselves as accountable public servants.”

    It’s worth pointing out that the accountability for tuition increases rests at least in part with the Regents, elected representatives who must approve such increases. Accountability also exists in the form of allocations by the state legislature, as noted by Dale and others. Also it’s worth noting that the UM is not unique nationally with respect to tuition increases outpacing inflation over the last however many years.

    My sense is that the publicness of the institution that Chuck L. is concerned with has to do with its accessibility as measured by its tuition rates, and I don’t think it’s a trivial point. I wonder what the impact on higher education nationwide would be if Mary Sue Coleman were to be so audacious as reject ‘market comparisons’ as the relevant metric for compensation for the ‘leaders and the best’ and to commit to a system of raises for herself and her cabinet that were directly proportional to decreases in tuition as adjusted for inflation. Tuition goes up 3% in real dollars? Compensation for top executives does down 3%.

    Under such a compensation scheme, the North Quad project doesn’t seem like a place that executives could reasonably seek to earn a raise. [cf. Dale’s breakdown of the funding above.]

    The impression I’m getting from news reports is that the first architects were tasked with prioritizing a pretty strict economic constraint [Coleman: “In all fairness to (the original architects), we had put them under very strict guidelines in price-per-square foot, ...”] while the second architects were tasked with prioritizing the function of ‘signature building’.

    The fact that we get a dramatic change (upwards) in price might be analyzed as less-than-perfect communication, or even as a change of mind about priorities. There’s a collective psychology to wanting a signature building that, I think, is similar to the individual psychology of wanting to spend $70 on a new Christmas-red shirt for a holiday party. I find it hard to argue against the shirt. Christmas comes but once a year.


       —HD    Dec. 21 '06 - 04:49AM    #
  28. Tuition at UofM is about 2.5 times greater in constant 2006 dollars as in 1975 for an in-state undergraduate.

    Does anyone know how the “sticker price” tuition increase compares to need-based financial aid that wasn’t available in 1975, and to state budget cuts in higher education?


       —ann arbor is overrated    Dec. 21 '06 - 05:23AM    #
  29. After Christmas there may be a flashy shirt purchased for the New Year’s bash; then something special for Valentine’s Day. That may be followed by an Easter outfit and then a special patriotic frock for July 4th, and so on. Eventually you have a full closet, but no wardrobe.

    HD, I heartily agree with your point about the psychology of signature buildings but think the real issue is not the cost associated; university buildings must be made of the most durable materials and therefore can be quite expensive. My problem with signature buildings, and U of M in particular, is that everything (OK most) are signature buildings, or are trying to be, such that there is no there, there. This, I believe, is exactly why juliew finds no campus feeling here.

    In another thread, some time ago, there was a discussion of how Columbus, Indiana could serve as a model for AA. I think Columbus is the ultimate example of why a collection of signature buildings should be avoided as it does not guarantee that you will end up with a cohesive whole.


       —abc    Dec. 21 '06 - 03:46PM    #
  30. A timely article from the NY Times in which the University of Michigan figures prominently.


       —Juliew    Dec. 21 '06 - 04:33PM    #
  31. “After Christmas there may be a flashy shirt purchased for the New Year’s bash; then something special for Valentine’s Day … “

    Hmm, okay, then let me re-think. I’m counting on the Christmas shirt serving double duty for Valentine’s … and maybe even for 4th of July. (Red is pretty versatile when you think about it.)

    It’s a fair point you make about Columbus, Indiana, my hometown, and how you don’t get coherence from one-off buildings. I wonder, though, whether the North Quad building is supposed to be a ‘signature building’ in the same sense as the North Christian Church That’s Eero Saarinen’s signature as to what a creative rascal he could be. The North Quad Building is supposed to be UM’s signature, anchoring that corner of campus, as far as I understand it. I mean, to my untrained eye, the drawings just sort of look big and college-y, not like any individual’s creative flourish.

    Also, the drawings of North Quad seem like it might cohere nicely with the Methodist Church across the street as well as that building next to Zanzibar’s. Of course, the Methodist Church is not a university building, so I don’t know if that counts as a positive, if you want campus to have a sense of place as contrasted with the surrounding community. Not sure how the former Olga’s location brick box (which I think is not quite as awful as most people) will look. My guess is that it’s not going to become more beautiful against the background of North Quad.


       —HD    Dec. 21 '06 - 04:35PM    #
  32. I think what UM is trying to do is “bookend” State Street. Stern on the south, Stern on the north with mainly collegiate looking buildings between. I believe they view State St. as more or less the face or front door of the U and, the new art museum addition notwithstanding, all buildings along State (Yost, Museum, Law Quad, Union, Angell etc. and now North Quad) are all pretty classic collegiate.


       —Jackson    Dec. 21 '06 - 07:23PM    #
  33. Demolition has begun on the ugliest part of Frieze, the 1960s addition near Rackham. Signs are already up to divert traffic from the sidewalks near the old high school portion though, so it might go quickly.


       —KGS    Jan. 29 '07 - 09:33PM    #