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January 19, 2006 - Image 12

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The Michigan Daily, 2006-01-19

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w V

Structured Structures

It's Over Your Head


Architecture Column

By Austin Dingwall

As the North American International
F Au to Show wraps up in Detroit once
" gain, it may be time to reach with-
in our souls and reevaluate our continual
fascinaton with the automobile. I was told
recently that for Americans, cars are now
our new clothes. They are our shell that
surrounds us when we venture outside into
the unknown. Cars are what we wear when
we meet strangers and are seen in public
places. We rely on our vehicle's appearance
to convey our individual personalities as
much as we rely on them for transportation.
Yet clothes have a distinct advantage over
cars: they can be folded and neatly tucked
away when not being used.
Whether it be a sedan, minivan, SUV,
Hummer, hybrid or Smart Car, all vehicles
have one thing in common: They need to
be housed and a closet simply won't cut
it. In fact, UCLA professor Donald Shoup
estimates that the average car spends 95
percent of its lifetime parked. Vehicles that
bring us to the store, commute us to work
and transport us to the rest of the world are
extremely vital, but we rarely use them.
Ironically, our society has an appetite
of excitement for cars in motion, and a
distaste for the same cars at rest. As writ-
ten so poignantly in Architecture maga-
zine, "Parking occupies a passive place in
the collective consciousness. Most people
want garages and surface lots to be readily
accessible, but invisible; they think of them
as necessities, not amenities."
In the suburbs, inviting front doors have
given way to iconic four-car garages - a
gesture that suggests the importance of
the automobile. Urban areas, however, do
not have the luxury of boundless space to
house a fleet of private transportation.

Enter the parking garage, a simple solu-
tion that condenses parking b;y stacking.
Later, the implications arise. The parking
structure becomes a building type, con-
strained by context and ridiculed as an eye-
sore. It punctures the urban fabric between
buildings and becomes an architectural
concern. An engineered structure built for
its efficiency of function is no longer a mere
product, it is a building. And architects are
still wondering what they should look like.
Coming to Ann Arbor as a freshman, I
was told that I could bring my car with me
as long as I brought a parking spot with
it. Spaces are hard to come by, and no one
knows that better than David Miller, direc-
tor of parking and transportation for the
To face the campus parking situation,
Miller and his team have one new parking
structure slated for completion every year
until 2010, and possibly a sixth structure
after that. New structures will soon appear
on Division Street and near the Cardiovas-
cular Center in the coming years, and later,
adjacent to the Arthur Miller Theater on
North Campus. With those plans in place,.I
have confidence that the University is doing
all it can to alleviate any parking shortages.
So let us venture beyond the numbers and
start imagining what the new structures
will look like.
In terms of both parking garage con-
struction and cost, there is little room
for invention. While past architects like
Louis Kahn proposed more radical ideas
for gigantic, cylindrical parking structures
outside the city, most architects today have
resigned to the acceptance that these are
non-negotiable designs. Usually designed
with concrete for structure and organized

This structure - just off of Main Street - is extremely inconvenient for students.

for maximum capacity, these multilevel
lots sit very sanely within the bounds of
city blocks. The guts of each building are
the same: an unattractive box with dull,
gray concrete striations indicating each
Any design element that makes the
structure look unique comes in the form of
a skin. As an urban building type, archi-
tects are still struggling to create a suffi-
cient statement about parking structures.
Our society shuns these beasts, and we are
often frightened inside them. And so, for"
lack of a better term, we simply decorate
them externally to shield both their harsh
appearances and their harsh functions.
Almost completed, the Ann Street park-
ing structure is to be the newest structure
on campus. As of now, the edifice appears
just like the abhorrent boxes described ear-
Tier. When finished, however, the building
will have a cool screen of wood-colored
slats that will elegantly filter the light both
in and out of the structure. This skin will
appropriately match the channeled concrete
panels on either end of the structure while
expanding and contracting vertically along
the entire south side.

With a budget of $13 million, the Ann
Street structure will have roughly 530
spaces. Doing the math, that equates to
about $24,500 per parking space. This is
not an insanely horrific number; parking
structures are inherently expensive build-
ings. Typical urban structures routinely
cost $10,000 to $20,000 per space and are
even more expensive in downtown dis-
tricts. All of these pragmatics and expens-
es make architectural design seem like a
wishful frivolity when it comes to parking
Like most parking structures, the Ann
Street screen is a one-act play, a singular
statement that tells nothing of the building
internally. Can an urban parking structure
be more than that, though? Can the archi-
tecture of stationary masses finally come
to terms with the architecture of motion?
With six new parking structures in the
works, I hope the University continues to
explore the notion of design in terms of
parking structures either individually or as
a whole. Once we reconcile this precarious
balance of form and function, maybe then
we'll feel like taking off our coats and stay-
ing a while.

eventually decided to stay after
being offered a new lab in LSI with
a robust funding stream.
State legislation to change these
laws has stalled in the Legislature,
and Gov. Jennifer Granholm won't
even speak out in favor of it. Kelch,
the University's vice president for
medical affairs, made a strong state-
ment against the state's restrictions.
He said it's inconsistent for the state
to try to be a leader in the life scienc-
es while such stringent restrictions
on embryonic stem-cell research are
on the books.
This issue seemed like a perfect
one for Coleman to address publicly.
Her own expertise as a distinguished
biochemist would have given her
additional authority on the issue.
But Coleman would not go as far
as Kelch. In a September interview
with the Daily, Coleman said she
supports both embryonic and adult
stem-cell research, but said her role
should be to educate the public. She
wouldn't say she agrees wholeheart-
edly with Kelch, let alone make her
own statement, and she wouldn't say
the governor is wrong not to pur-
sue this issue, even though it's clear
Coleman feels strongly about the
topic. A
Coleman probably made a tactical
decision to try to work behind the
scenes to change state law. But if she
is unwilling to be vocal about issues
in which she has expertise and that
directly affect her University, let
alone the well-being of millions of
people around the country, how is
she going to make a name for her-
In a spring survey of instructors,
Coleman received a 3.72 out of 5 for
inspiring confidence in her over-
all leadership. By comparison, she
received a 4.1 for her fundraising
When asked if Coleman is less vis-
ible than some of her predecessors,
Regent Maynard replied, "The East
Coast and the West Coast always get
more attention than the Midwest."
I asked Charles Vest, the former
president of MIT who rose to the
position of provost at the University
of Michigan, how Coleman is per-
ceived around the country and if is
she is as well known nationwide as
her predecessors at Michigan.
"Michigan has had a long succes-
sion of outstanding men and women
as its presidents, and each, including
President Coleman, has been well
recognized around the country," he
wrote in an e-mail.
Of course she is well recognized
- She's worked at five universi-
ties across the country. But Vest's
statement is a far.cry from saying
Coleman has an excellent national
reputation that rivals her predeces-
Information Prof. Robert Frost,
the poet's great-grandson, countered
criticism that she is too reserved and
not well known around campus and
around the country.
"As is her style, when given a
choice between being out there and
saying a lot of stuff and not being
out there and doing a lot of stuff,
she's generally better at the latter,"
he said.
Besides, while Bollinger may

have been a more exciting president
than Coleman, a number of people
referred to him as a "pseudointellec-
tual." I got the impression that if he
had quoted a Robert Frost poem one
more time, people would have devel-
oped vision problems from rolling
their eyes so much.
Bruno Giordani, chair of the Sen-
ate Advisory Committee on Uni-
versity Affairs, the executive arm
of central faculty governance at the
University, said Coleman strikes a
balance between the meek presi-
dents no one ever sees and the wild
presidents who are constantly get-
ting themselves into trouble.
"I don't find her being particularly
protective or anything or reserved,"
he told me.
And she does often debate and
argue with faculty members at
SACUA meetings, which are open to
the public. Giordani noted that after
Coleman's State of the University
address this year, she did not leave
until she had answered all the ques-
tions faculty members had for her.
Maynard is right that a president
in the Midwest is going to have a
more difficult time getting into the
national press than an Ivy League
president, but she also described a
woman who thinks before she leaps.
"She doesn't shoot from the hip,"
Maynard told me. After noting that
her own husband is an attorney,
Maynard said that as a lawyer, Bol-
linger tended to be more verbal than
"They love to play around with
English and how it sounds," May-
nard said. She said scientists look at
facts, and that once Coleman makes
a decision, she does not back away
from it.
Rudgers described Coleman as a
president who is a public relations
department's dream come true:
"She's very rational, and she's very
practical, and she has a lot of good
common sense."

Eisendrath, who probably has
more connections with members of
the national media than anyone else
at the University, said Coleman does
well with the New York crowd and
alums on the East Coast.
Eisendrath added that by not
constantly sharing her opinions,
Coleman lets the faculty stand for
something - a point with which
Chamberlin, the political science
professor, agreed. Chamberlin said
he wouldn't always want the presi-
dent to volunteer her opinion.
"I think there are some times
when the institution as an institution
needs to take a stand," Chamberlin
said, citing affirmative action as an
example. But he added that it is more
important for debate to take place at
the University. He said having the
president "declaring that they have
discovered the right answer" can
stifle debate. He described a tension
between leaders speaking out when
it is necessary and restraining them-
selves at'other times because presi-
dents shouldn't "foreclose some of
those debates." His view is that pro-
fessors and students should seek out
answers to important questions.
Coleman understands this trad-
eoff. In her address to the Senate
Assembly in September, she quoted
former University President Alex-
ander Ruthven, who "wrote in his
memoirs that it was the president's
job to make speeches - 'to say some-
thing,' he observed, 'that deans and
professors can criticize.' "
While Coleman does not have a
provocative comment to go along
with every issue she faces, she
becomes quite passionate about two
issues in particular: health care and
the value of public higher educa-
Her public statements advocat-
ing universal health care can be
quite powerful. In 2004, she gave an
address calling for universal health
coverage by 2010 after helping write

Former University President and curr
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J16 5

One of the few times campus parking structures have empty spots.

OFFICE, CALL 313-394
The Michigan Dail

4B - The Michigan Daily - Thursday, January 19, 2006

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