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April 29, 1956 - Image 12

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Michigan Daily, 1956-04-29
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Page Six


Sunday, April 29, 1956

Sunday, April 29, 1956


Sundy, Aril 29,! 1956

Sunday, April 29, 1956 THE MICHIGAN DAILY


We're not interested"in establishing
a set style but rather in employing the best ideas
and concepts of modern building"

-Daily-John Hirtzel

Daily Staff Writers
of Regents were 'interviewing
building material suppliers before
construction of a new edifice. The
first offered the standard red brick.
He was rejected. The second of-
fered a more unusual orange brick.
He was rejected. The third of-
fered the finest granite building
blocks imported from France. He
was rejected.
The last lopeful was a little
bit embarrassed. His brick was
of the most uniusual nature and
had never been seen anywhere in
the world. He was accepted.
While the validity of this anec-
dote has on occasion been ques-
tioned, it exemplifies the general
campus attitude toward the "di-
versity" of University architec-
Students frequently wonder at
the planning, or lack of planning,
of building designs around here.
Sleek Haven and Mason Halls ex-
tend from the back of a ponderous
Angell; aluminum paneling shat-
ters the stillness of the predomi-
nately Gothic Law Quad; from the
"big orange palace" on State Street
to the "somewhat older" design of
Romance Language, the Universi-
ty seems to provide an architectu-
ral patchwork.
HOWEVER, the Univerity has
invested large sums of money
to provide these buildings and is
planning to spend one hundred and
eleven million dollars more in the
next five years for expansion. No
group, no matter how affluent, can
afford to plunk down such large
quantities of cash without a great
deal of forethought, and the Uni-
versity has spent a great deal of
time evolving an architectural
This is, in the words of Lynn
W. Fry, Supervising Architect, "to
use the style - of architecture per-
tinent to the times and problems.
We're not interested in establish-
ing a set style but rather in em-
ploying the best ideas and con-
cepts of modern building."
Fry explained this further.
"You'd certainly want a doctor
to use the most up to date methods.
Well, it's the same way with ar-
In addition to planning for fu-
ture buildings, the University has
already developed an architectur-
al pattern much more substantial
and desirable than many people
OBVIOUSLY, some of the older
buildings will not come up to
the current standards of modern
architecture but many were out-
standing examples for their era.
Prof. Marvin J. Eisenberg of the
fine arts department, observed that
"not all these older buildings are
due the negative criticisms they
receive. For instance, the Econo-
mics building is a good example
of architecture in general plan
and craftsmanship. and, whether
people believe it or not, the Ro-
mance Language is one of the
most beautifully designed and one
of the finest "examples of archi-
tecture on campus. These build-
ings have simply become lost next
to Angell, Haven, Alumni Memorial
and the Library. They ' are an
anachronism not because of their
quality as architecture but because
of their failure to meet the needs
of a huge, modern University."
At any rate, it is difficult to
judge some of the older buildings.
As Prof. Walter B. Sanders, chair-j
man of the architecture depart-
ment, explained, "We have to con-
sider the building's purpose in re-
lationship to others. They should
not be taken out of context. We

should learn how they performed
in the original situation."
It is also significant that some
of the older buildings have various
types of historic importance. Such
a building as Romance Language
represents an early experiment
with structural steel whereas the
Clements Library is a fine adap-
tation of the Italian Rennaissance
style. Fry noted that it was an
"architectural gem in its time."
BUT THERE are other reasons
for keeping the older struc-
tures, and one of these is the
evolutionary concept of architec-
ture-the ability of buildings to
suggest campus history. Prof.
Eisenberg explains "The tradition
and history "of a university are
very important to preserve, and a
certain number of older buildings
perform this function. A variety
of architecture on campus repre-
sents the progress of the school
since its formation. The Law Quad
could be used as an example. It is
an excellent example of Collegiate
Gothic architecture; symbolic of
universities for centuries and re-
taining that romantic spirit of
looking to the past."
Nor is this feeling of evolution-
ary architecture an isolated one.
Prof. Frank L. Huntley of the
English department agrees that
the University's history and tra-
dition is preserved in this manner.
"We must live and work with the
past, present and future."
There are also strictly economic
reasons why the University can't
tear down old buildings. In oth-
er words, they don't have enough
"The University just isn't in a
position to demolish many of the
older structures. If one group
moves out, it frequently happens
that someone else will move in,"
John McKevitt, assistant to the
vice-president, said.
HOWEVER, it is fairly obvious
that the new modernistic
buildings are highly superior. The
experts tell us that there are at
least three good reasons for this--
Function, Aesthetics, and Economy.
The first, functionalism, aims
toward the most profitable use of
the space available. But this must
be done within the limits of the
other two, according to Prof. Ralph
W. Hammett of the architecture
"The Business Administration
building is one of the best for
function on campus with its lay-
out of class rooms, lecture halls
and faculty offices," explained
Prof. Hammett. * "Another build-
ing that has impressed me with
its functionalism is the Union.
Built in World War I for about.
4000 students it has been enlarged
and still looks good and its cen-
tral section (the old building) still
works perfectly."
In some of these respects, the
Law Quad is one of the poorer
buildings on campus, Prof. Sanders
indicated. "Collegiate Gothic was
designed for a climate like Great
Britain's. There is considerably
more snow and ice here than in
England and the pressure caused
by the expansion of freezing wat-
er continually injures the metal
spouts and coverings on the roof.
One sheet metal company works
about six months a year just to
keep them in shape."
The aluminum paneling on the
addition points up another weak-
ness in this type of architecture.
"It's quite difficult to get the ma-
terials now for such a building.
Even if we could locate enough
stone cutters, they would take
much too long. It's almost impos-
sible to go back to some virtually
medieval process."
DROF. HUNTLEY refers to the
principle of functionalsm as

"honesty.". "Many buildings pre-
tend to be what they are not. A
library should look like a library,
not a Gothic Cathedral," he said
in reference to a well-known East-
ern school. "The law school vio-
lates this to some extent. The
Rackham Building, the Taj Mahal
of higher education, is uneconomi-
cal with a great deal of wasted
There exists among many ex-
perts a belief that buildings pro-
perly designed functionally will
have the second necessity of archi-
tecture - beauty.
Frequently the Administration
building comes under fire for an
alleged lack of beauty due to its
orange brick as well as its design.
Many people claim that the back
side is considerably better looking
than the side facing State Street.
Prof. Huntley argues, however,
that "the front has always im-
pressed me as very business-like,
and, while the back may be slight-
ly more attractive, possibly some
foresight was shown since this side
faces th'e Student Activities, Pub-
lications and the University Press
Many subjective factors enter
into the aesthetic evaluation of a
building. It has been said the
color of the brick has softened
somewhat since the Administra-
tion building's construction, a fact
that may have led to a more favor-
able reaction in recent years. Prof.
Theodore Larson of the architec-
ture school, points out that when
the building was erected another
red brick building stood between
it and the Union and the colors
of modern architecture are
quite large. "Angell Hall, for in-
stance, is an example of a build-
ing where a great deal of money
was spent on the outside and the
inside suffered," Fry said. "The
women's swimming pool is a beau-
tiful building and this was ac-
complished with little exterior or-
namentation. The modern archi-
tect gets his beauty by the ar-
rangement of mass, and doesn't
rely on the complex handiwork
of the older buildings."
Modern architecture also calls
for economy of space. As Prof.
Huntley said, "You can get more
for your money in modern designs
than in the false type of build-
ings. The huge size of the reading
room in the main library is un-
necessary and another floor might
have been added there. We will
get more for our money in the
new undergraduate library in get-
ting away from the Grand Cen-
tral Station architecture of the
present structure."
THE INEVITABLE result of the
University policy," keeping
pace with the times," is a patch-
work effect or perhaps an "ar-
chitectural treasury." But the ad-1
vantages are so great that even
such conservative and establishd
institutions as Harvard and Yale
have switched to modern concepts,
in building.
Such a diversity in architecture
need not lack harmony. Prof. San-
ders feels that the architect can;
help buildings to relate effectively
to each other even if they are not
of one style. "Sometimes we fail,
to do this in the short run, but,
the final effect will still be there."
Criticism of the multiplicity of
architecture is not justified when,
the moving, advancing nature of1
the art is considered. It has been,
suggested that if a consistent pol-
icy were followed everything on1
campus might wind up looking,
like the Romance Language build-
ing' .
One of the best analysis of the3
state of University .architecture

came from Prof. Hammett: "The
architecture of the main campus
is obviously an ultimate of diver-
sity but isn't that better than a
costume straight-jacket? Schools
with one style have beauty but the
University should and is develop-
ing individual styles. As each
building is erected it is studied by
an architect working toward that
aim. Buildings are as individual as
the times in which they are built'
and the people who build them."s!
Prof. Huntley asks, "Is not the
new architecture as beautiful as
the crumbling-stone Ivy League?
At Oxford there has always been
one style but here we have a mod-
ern school and it would be imita-
tion to follow a set pattern.
POSSIBLY the key to beauty of
a campus architecture is to be
found in the landscaping of the
grounds. Prof. Larson explains it
this way: "Aesthetic value that
can be gained by removal of build-
ings which have outlived their
usefulness is tremendous.
"For instance," Prof. Larson il-
lustrates, "a wonderful feeling of
openness and beauty is felt when
you walk from the northwest cor-
ner of campus toward the Engine
Arch. Won't it be better when the
Romance Language building is re-
moved and someone coming from
the Union can look all the way
across campus? The considerable
congestion on campus shouldn't
be compounded by adding new
buildings where old ones are
coming down."
Sitting in his Uhistrut office in
the yard of the architecture build-
ing, Prof. Larson pointed to the
southeast corner of the Law Quad,
the only one still open, and com-
mented on the desirability of be-
ing able to look into the center.
"It's an odd paradox that beauty
can be created by tearing down,"
he reflected.
University architects hope that
sometime in the near future Bar-
bour and Waterman Gymnasiums
will come Zdown to help provide
the needed open space.
problems whichthe sidewalkj
superintendent is often unable to <>
A basic problem results from
attempting to "accommodate aca-
demic function"" to space and
economy. It has been observed
that occasionally cold- facts such
as the emptying and refilling of
four auditoriums, holding approxi-
mately 1,000 persons at one time
are overlooked in building design.
The University is broken down
into four smaller campus areas:
the athletic plant, the central
campus, the Medical Center area
and North Campus. On the first
three lack of space limits the ar-
chitect in his work. However, on
North Campus the plentiful sup-
ply of land makes these space
limitations less pressing.
Money, or rather a lack of it,
is another fnajor problem. Many
experts recognize the desirability.':,
of erecting new buildings to re-
place those that have outlived 4
their usefulness but the finances
are not always available.
Sometimes smaller units are
feasible, but again the cost factor
enters the situation and a larger,
complex building is the result.
But the University is making a
great effort to overcome these dif-
ficulties. There is a staff designed
to handle the financing, an ar-
chitectural staff, and two faculty
advisory groups which contribute
their aid. All of these groups are
working to make the University a
more desirable place. Our archi-
tecture, far from being in an un-
healthy state, has a great deal of
"rhyme aid reason."


-Courtesy of University News Service




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