Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

Michigan Daily seeks architecture critic

17. August 2005 • Murph
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As an attempt at cross-media pollination, Michigan Daily Editor in Chief Jason Pesick has asked me to advertise here for an architecture critic for the Daily – some lucky lurker’s chance to be read by thousands of bored students every week! E-mail Jason with interest:

The Michigan Daily is looking to recruit an architecture student (either an undergraduate or a graduate student) for the purpose to critique and analyze campus architecture in the Daily. When plans for new buildings are announced or new details are released on the design of something like North Quad, we could put a column on page 1. But this writer would technically be an Arts staffer who could write in that section on a fairly regular basis, if not a fixed schedule. Obviously, anyone who’s interested in filling the position could help us figure out exactly what it would entail.

Here’s some potential topics that he/she could write about:

  • An analysis of the situation with the frieze building, carnegie library and the facade. he/she could opine on which parts are worth preserving and why, and how feasible it would be.
  • If he/she knows anything about major architectural firms, he/she could offer insight into the reputations of the firms that the university has hired lately.
  • Something about how a lot of the architecture on campus mimics stuff at at other universities and if there’s any significance to that
  • Analysis/critique of the long-term plans for the medical campus and north campus
  • Obviously there’s a lot that could be written about the renovations to the stadium

If you are an architect, I’m sure you know what they’re looking for better than either Jason or I do.



  1. A few years ago, I had the idea of writing an architecture column for Current. I argued that architecture is entertaining and deserves a place in an entertainment magazine. However, DD was decidedly unenthusiastic about the idea, and I gave it up.

    Given my skeptical view of the architectural profession and its established dogmas and pieties, I’m guessing that I’m not likely to agree much with an architecture student who has to worry about finding a job with a firm after graduation.
       —Larry Kestenbaum    Aug. 18 '05 - 08:59AM    #
  2. Better to have it written by a planner who understand the havoc that architecture has wrought over the last fifty years.
       —Parking Structure Dude! (Parking Structures, Dude)    Aug. 18 '05 - 09:02AM    #
  3. While the Architecture school does have some pretty questionable studios (a past housemate was taking a studio in, quite literally, “context sensitive big box design”), better some (discussable) opinion than no opinion at all.

    And planners, for the most part, know a few small tidbits of architecture, but they basically only cover things like, “Can you touch the building from the sidewalk?”
       —Murph.    Aug. 18 '05 - 09:28AM    #
  4. When I was a student – grad or undergrad – I would have loved to do this. But there are some things, like fesability & cost, that most students just won’t know. Grad students have a slightly better chance of guessing at it, if they worked before going back to get their Master degree.

    I hope they find someone. I’ll forward this to the AIAS just in case. (AIAS = American Institute of Architecture Students)
       —KGS    Aug. 18 '05 - 09:42AM    #
  5. What about an architecture history student… We have one of those in residence in these parts. :)
       —Scott Trudeau    Aug. 18 '05 - 12:29PM    #
  6. they are rare, Scott, and not usually seen IRL. grin

    From what I’ve seen, most architecture history students hate modern architecture of any sort, prefering Classical and Neo-Traditional styles, so I would expect a bum rap for most designs the U has done in the last 10 years. It’s an unfortunate stereotype, but it’s there. At least some architecture students have an appreciation of both modern and historical, and are trying to bridge the gap (though they, too, tend to be a rare breed).
       —KGS    Aug. 18 '05 - 12:37PM    #
  7. I would expect a bum rap for most designs the U has done in the last 10 years

    Wait…so you’re saying that wouldn’t be deserved? And, by “10”, do you mean “40”?
       —Murph.    Aug. 18 '05 - 01:04PM    #
  8. Yes, it’s true that an architectural historian probably wouldn’t like what Robert Venturi wants to do to the campus.

    It’s also true that an architecture student would be in deep trouble with his field if he didn’t dutifully denounce any proposed new building that’s not an International Style box (pasted-on decoration optional).
       —Larry Kestenbaum    Aug. 18 '05 - 02:25PM    #
  9. Murph – actually, I think the U has done some nice buildings in the last 10, even 40 years. For example: the Wyley Hall business school bldg; Randall Lab; Dana building rehab; and the new Biomedical Research bldg (I like the glass facade & the Pringle auditorium, though the west facade needs more relief). Some are notably less than nice, of course, but I think the ones above are pretty darn good buildings. I’m also looking forward to the Museum of Art addition. And that’s just on Central Campus! there are a few more buildings on N. Campus that are pretty decent.

    And Larry, I think what you said is just not true. We’re way past plain boxes now. Really. It’s all about funky angles these days. :p
       —KGS    Aug. 18 '05 - 03:33PM    #
  10. I’ll grant the Dana rehab – which took one of the most beautiful buildings on campus and made it also one of the most functional – and the Randall Lab, but I will respectfully disagree with regards to North Campus. “Some buildings on North Campus have their okay bits,” is about as generous as I’m willing to be on that count. Working on Year 6 of some combination of live/work/class up there, during which time I’ve had classes or used office/lab space in almost every building up there, I have complaints about the designs of all of them, even if I’m willing to overlook the fact that somebody, years back, made the terrible decision that “sandstone and glass” was going to be the look of North Campus, and almost every building since has followed the trend (including the new CompSci building). The only thing breaking the visual monotony of the main quad is the world’s most useless clock tower, which they didn’t even deign to put a clock in.

    And that’s what I think.

    FXB would be a good building if not for the metal roof on the auditorium, which totally drowns out lectures during rain. That’s the least mean I can be to any of the buildings on NC. :)

    (Ah, inter-built form profession strife!)
       —Murph.    Aug. 18 '05 - 04:26PM    #
  11. North Campus buildings that are good: Music School (in bad disrepair, but a lovely building), FXB, and parts of the Engineering Admin towers. I like the plaza in front of them, especially. And related to the buildings, there is the Maya Lin Wave Field, a great picnic site.

    But the rest? yeah, raze it all and start over. I hate the useless lobby in the Media Union (though I’m really fond of the mosaics that are in the elevator to go down to the basement). The sandstone & beige brick look doesn’t do much for me. Not surprisingly, the worst building up there houses the School of Architecture… it seems to be a tradition on every single university campus I’ve heard of. And to think we gave up Lorch Hall for that piece of crap.
       —KGS    Aug. 18 '05 - 04:42PM    #
  12. The only good newer buildings on campus, in my opinion, are those that really took into consideration their context: The School of Social Work Building and the Alumni Center. LSI, North Campus and their ilk are a disaster. One really, really hopes that they don’t f-up the coming North Quad.
       —Brandon    Aug. 18 '05 - 06:29PM    #
  13. Well, if we can agree that leaving Lorch for A+A is the most ridiculous swap since Manhattan for beads, then, yes, we can agree on some aspects of architecture.

    The wave field is indeed one of the best finds in this town.

    And I like the way the Lurie Admin Bldg looks, and have had everything from engin school picnics to class projects racing boats in the pond on the plaza (a good space, though I’ve always thought it needed to be a skating rink in winter), but I don’t like the way Lurie works inside. I can handle weird angles, but when a set of double doors close together at an angle? Over the top.

    The Media Union has always seemed like a lot of wasted space. There are good nooks, and I especially like the 3rd floor overlook towards the VA hospital (uh, 3SE? Considering how little there actually is in that building for its bulk, it’s awfully hard to navigate); we had that section of the third floor past the training rooms for a (massive) office for about a year.

    SSW is another one I really like from the outside but don’t care for inside. It works really well next to the Ed school, and the plaza is actually nice, and the angles make it distinctive but still respectable…But, considering how much space is taken up inside by the silly spiral staircase lobbies, shouldn’t you be able to pass somebody else on the stairs without turning sideways? (cranky much? Yes, thanks.)
       —Murph.    Aug. 18 '05 - 08:12PM    #
  14. Ugghh, if the Biomedical Research Building is the one on the corner of Glen and Huron, it scares me! It is about my least favorite new campus building. That thing on the Huron side looks like a crane fell on whatever was supposed to be there and they moved the crane, but left the structure. I actually thought that is what happened when I first saw it. I was even looking for the accident in the paper the next day, but when I didn’t see anything I looked at the plans and realized it was intentional! It is the most openly hostile building to pedestrians that I have ever seen. The Glen side looms malevolently over the sidewalk and where the Huron and Glen sides meet it comes out and looks like it wants to poke any pedestrians off into the street in some sort of horrible architectural blood lust game. I have started cutting through on Ingalls and Thayer rather than go by that building.
       —Juliew    Aug. 18 '05 - 09:06PM    #
  15. (Excellent . . . Julie commented on the pedestrian hostility of Biomed so that I didn’t have to.)

    Personally, I’ve always thought the Pringle-auditorium looked like a countdown to a skateboarding fatality.
       —Murph.    Aug. 18 '05 - 09:47PM    #
  16. I like the UM admin building (with the Mondrian facade), too, and its side-street modesty compares very favorably with MSU’s fortress behemoth.
       —Larry Kestenbaum    Aug. 19 '05 - 08:11AM    #
  17. Ugghh, if the Biomedical Research Building is the one on the corner of Glen and Huron, it scares me!

    It just depresses my spirits. What is that metal, bug-shaped pod out front? How about we add some legs and feelers and make into a giant cockroach? And when did monochrome panels come back into vogue? (I thinking also of the Public Health addition—only a bit of the exterior is finished, but UGH). Buildings like that built in the 50s and 60s were tacky when new and aged badly. I thought that look had been expunged from Central Campus with the re-skinning of the UGLi, but now it seems to be making a late, lamentable comeback.

    And I’m really REALLY dreading the Art Museum addition—a jumble of modernist cubes has NO place in that context, but that’s what we’re going to get:

    http://www.umma.umich.edu/news/building-update.html

    Not to mention it appears it appears we’re going to end up with little more than a dark alley between Angell and the museum. Noooooooooo…..
       —mw    Aug. 19 '05 - 08:32AM    #
  18. I like the UM admin building (with the Mondrian facade), too, and its side-street modesty compares very favorably with MSU’s fortress behemoth.

    Yes, we have a small fortress rather than a big one. The story I heard as an undergrad was that it was actually designed as a fortress—with the idea that it could be defended against student protesters who might try to occupy the building. Perhaps just an urban legend, but a plausible one nonetheless. And how bad must it be to work in there with those gun-slits for windows?
       —mw    Aug. 19 '05 - 08:55AM    #
  19. mw – multiple sources have told me the designed-as-fortress bit is just a fun campus legend, and that the real reason the building was designed that was is because that’s just how the architect designed it.
       —Murph.    Aug. 19 '05 - 09:01AM    #
  20. Whereas MSU’s Hannah Admin Building really WAS designed as a huge concrete-walled fortress against expected student riots, with bulletproof windows on the first and second stories.

    But all those defenses were unavailing: student protesters still did manage to take it over.

    Eventually the bulletproof windows were replaced with more energy efficient ones.
       —Larry Kestenbaum    Aug. 19 '05 - 10:21AM    #
  21. I actually got to see the “designed-as-fortress” element at work one time during a rowdy protest where people were actually trying to bust into the building and it worked as advertised. With a few officers, you can effectively control all access to the building. It also has the added bonus that even if people get inside to “occupy” the building, there’s no good way for them to advertise their presence.

    Designed that way? Maybe not but it sure functions and looks that way. During the protest, I kept waiting for the boiling oil to come pouring down from the ramparts – er, I mean windows.
       —John Q    Aug. 19 '05 - 10:31AM    #