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A Window On the New Buildings

A Window On the State of Legal Education

By Katie Vloet
Photography by Philip Dattilo and Leisa Thompson

The South Hall Façade

How's this for a nod to history? Law School administrators and the architects of the new Law Quad South Hall wanted the exterior to be a clear part of the family of buildings to its north, and of particular importance was the stone façade. So they went to the same quarries that the architectural firm York and Sawyer used in the 1920s and 1930s. Even then, getting a near-match proved tricky.

The South Hall Façade

"The stone choice was a real challenge," says Lee Becker, the lead architect on the project. On the original Law Quadrangle buildings, the stone with the classic gray, tan, and deep rust hues was seam-face granite—that is, the vertical layers (seams) of rock excavated from the quarry were used as the face of the exposed stone.

But deeper stone in the quarry includes less seam-face granite and more split-face, which features more texture but less of a range of colors, says Jon Devine, owner of Plymouth Quarries in Hingham, Massachusetts. South Hall, then, is a blend of the two types. It has a similar appearance to the longstanding buildings because quartzite was incorporated to the mix to add more orange, says Becker, a partner with Hartman-Cox Architects of Washington, D.C., which designed the building in association with Troy, Michigan–based Integrated Design Solutions.

"It will darken in time and will begin to look even more like the existing buildings," he says. "As a series of buildings, I think South Hall is an undeniable extension, though it tends to be simpler and a little more modern than the existing buildings. It isn't directly derivative of another building, but it speaks in the language of the buildings around it."

The use of stone from the same quarries, Devine notes, is a sign of the importance Michigan Law places on honoring the past. "Tradition is very strong at the University of Michigan, and the buildings that comprise the Law School played a big part in creating that tradition. Being able to continue the architectural style of the original buildings over 80 years later by using the same stone, from the same quarries, enables the University to continue that tradition, and we are thrilled that we could be a small part of that."

The South Hall Interior

While the exterior of the building is a blend of old traditions and new realities, the interior is decidedly modern. It is equipped to accommodate the latest technology in classrooms, and to adapt to future technological changes (see story, next page). The building also makes room for a student body that has more than doubled, and a law faculty that has more than quadrupled, since Hutchins Hall opened in 1933.

"Times have changed since the original buildings were designed. Today there is considerable input from the users that determines what is needed within, and we work closely with clients like the Law School to figure out the practical needs. While the existing buildings are some of the loveliest in terms of the elements of style and the surprise details," Becker says, "I am told that the original architects, York and Sawyer, and Law School benefactor William W. Cook, went to New York to think about the design. They did not consult about the amount of books, which led to the addition and expansion of the stacks in the 1950s.

The South Hall Interior

"We also need to blend the modern principles of architecture with the understanding that both size and needs will change and evolve over time."

Areas that will be frequented by students are clustered around the stairs or are on the first floor and lower level. The clinics were put on the west end of the second floor so clients could reach them through a side entrance. Research faculty are together on the east end of the third floor, while clinical faculty are on the west end—immediately above the clinic suites (see floor plans in foldout pages for more details).

The classroom spaces were a particular focus for the Law School building committee and the architects. "One of the first things I asked the architects was, 'Have you been to a class?' because I wanted to make sure they fully understood the needs of our faculty and students," explains Michele Frasier Wing, '98, director of finance and planning. They attended classes, which led to, among other things, changes in the acoustics to accommodate the dual needs of classroom interaction and low-noise-reflection videoconferencing.

An effort to tie the new building to Hutchins Hall manifested in a variety of ways: stone floors, arches, high ceilings in some areas. A single piece of oak veneer (a flitch) was used as the veneer on all the desks in room 1020. Some of the glass from the Hutchins Hall cloisters—which featured cartoons of legal scenarios and had to be removed to make way for the entrance to the Robert B. Aikens Commons—has been preserved as the glass in some South Hall doorways.

"The building has a little bit of everything for everyone," Frasier Wing says. "The administrative space is bright, well lit, and inviting for students to visit. The classroom spaces are not only beautiful but functional. I think people are going to be surprised by how grand a modern space can be."

The Robert B. Aikens Commons

An early rendering of the Commons included a peaked roof

An early rendering of the Robert B. Aikens Commons featured a peaked roof that would mimic the roofline of the other buildings on the Law Quad (see image, top left). At a meeting, recalls Dean Evan Caminker, another idea was proposed.

Ginny Stein, the wife of the late Eric Stein, '42, the Hessel E. Yntema Professor Emeritus of Law, "said the archways you would see from inside the Commons are more curved, and that we should reconsider the shape of the roof," Caminker says.

The final version of the glass and steel roof indeed is curved, rather than reaching a central peak. The arched roof of the 16,000-square-foot structure provides stunning views of the surrounding buildings, Legal Research and Hutchins Hall.

Aikens Commons—which instantly became the main gathering place for law students and faculty—also is open-air between the main level, with the Kirkland & Ellis Café (photo, bottom left and p. 72), and a lower level, where student groups can meet informally or host seminars or speakers.

"It is really an attempt to provide a center space that not only improves linkages between the various academic areas that exist in the Law School," architect Becker says, "but also to create a space that fosters social and intellectual interaction beyond the workaday spaces at the school.

"People who visit the building will immediately sense the vitality and spirit of the University of Michigan Law School," Becker predicts. "The Commons will be the heart and soul of the school."

More information about the the New Building...

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