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Project to rethink North Campus aesthetics

By Claire Bryan, Daily Staff Reporter
Published April 17, 2014

At the University’s monthly Board of Regents meeting Thursday, the board approved the North Campus Grove project, which will transform the area’s outdoor space.

The project will improve the four acres of around the Lurie Tower, located in between the Duderstadt Center, Electrical Engineering Computer Science, H.H. Dow Building, Beyster Building and Stamps Auditorium. With a budget of $6.9 million, the initiative will renovate the central plaza, plant additional trees, improve lighting, add new walkways with seating throughout and feature an informal amphitheater.

The renovations are consistent with the North Campus Master plan that has been revised many times, said Tim Slottow, executive vice president and chief financial officer.

“The North Campus Grove project will greatly improve the quality of this outdoor space, creating more vitality and activity within the North Campus core, and providing more opportunities for multidisciplinary interaction,” Slottow wrote in a communication Monday.

A plaza, made primarily of brick, will be created on one side of the Tower to provide a meeting place and at times a stage for events, Dean of Engineering Dave Munson said. The space will accommodate approximately 800 people.

The North Campus Diag, which is currently flat, will undergo landscaping changes to create small hills for outdoor seating to be built into.

“It is not going to be a traditional amphitheater,” Munson said. “We don’t want that because amphitheaters when not being used look empty, and we don’t want our space to look empty.”

Additional ideas under consideration include the installation of a sandlot volleyball court, “playground” items and, in the winter, an ice-skating rink and computer controlled colored lighting, Munson said.

“We expect to create things for students to do on the North Campus Diag and to have someplace that will generate activity,” Munson said.

Taubman Prof. Douglas Kelbaugh, former dean of the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, wrote in an e-mail interview that the new trees, walkways, benches and lighting will create a more human-scaled and lively center for students, with the amphitheater facilitating informal and organized outdoor activities.

Kelbaugh said the space between buildings is often just as important as the actual structures.

“The North Campus has always had an inferiority complex vis-a-vis the Central Campus,” he wrote. “Conceived and designed as a suburban campus, it has less of a vibrant, walkable ambience and pedestrian vitality, which is often what graduates most fondly remember of their student days. Unlike Central Campus, there are few outdoor rooms - the leafy quadrangles, courtyards, and promenades defined by buildings that are delightful, comfortable outdoor environments.”

Munson said the funding is going toward a project that will benefit all of campus.

“We have a lot of buildings that face the Diag and we felt strongly enough we decided we would do the fundraising,” Munson said.

The project will be funded through gifts and College of Engineering resources. The College of Engineering expects that the project will be paid back for by additional gifts from donors over time.

The project will result in a temporary loss of some parking spaces, but there will be no permanent impact on parking. The project will also create 27 on-site construction jobs.

School of Art and Design freshman Olivia Moore said the North Campus Diag is currently a place she uses very rarely.

“If there was more to do in that area I think it would build a better sense of community between all the schools and students on North Campus,” Moore said.


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