You place one foot on the first white step, feeling the reassuring solidity of the massive stone slabs beneath your sandal. You carefully avoid the watchful eyes of the ancient figures sculpted into the building’s expansive face. As you slowly ascend, you can’t help but humbly admire the line of majestic Doric columns, stretched like enormous tree trunks from the polished floor of the portico up to the building’s intricately carved cornice. Are you a Roman senator preparing to give a weighty speech? A citizen of ancient Greece coming to pay tribute to an angry god?
Actually, you’re just late for your English lecture.
Angell Hall is just one of the four buildings collectively referred to as the Angell Hall complex. A series of interconnected halls, the complex houses everything from the Department of History to an astronomical observatory. Angell Hall makes up the complete western face of the building, while Mason Hall sits at the northeast corner and Haven Hall makes up the southeast. Tisch Hall, the smallest of the four functions as a connector between Haven and Angell at the south end of the building.
“It works as a complex — each building provides its own individual functions, but as with any complex, it ultimately works as a whole system,” University Planner Sue Gott said. “The different halls provide invaluable interconnectivity and complementary programmatic spaces, so the classrooms, auditoriums and office spaces all work holistically.”
Angell Hall was the first of the four buildings to be constructed, and its imposing effect on observers is as powerful now as it was during the early years of its completion. Finished in 1924, the four-story limestone building was a response to a dire need for more space at a time when University enrollment was rapidly swelling. Coping with this influx of students required a new building that would eventually replace University Hall, which stood where present-day Mason and Haven Halls exist and was considered a central point around which the University functioned. Angell Hall was designed to be the answer to the growing student population, and was erected directly in front of University Hall in anticipation that the latter would be demolished soon after.
The striking neo-classical design of Angell makes it the most iconic of the four halls. Its architect Albert Kahn was inspired by the aesthetics of nearby Alumni Memorial Hall (now the University of Michigan Museum of Art) and the Lincoln Memorial, which had been designed by one of his close friends, Henry Bacon. The building needed to be spacious enough to act as an efficient multi-purpose facility, holding classrooms and, at the time, the offices of the University president and the dean and the College of Literature, Science and the Arts.
Kahn’s efforts were overwhelmingly successful, and the University was granted not only more room for expansion but also a building that to this day acts as a stunning visual gateway into the rest of the University. His mastery of architectural grandeur is evident in the attention that the hall receives even today.
“Walking up to Angell Hall is one of the best feelings at U of M,” LSA sophomore Abigail Meert said. “I take classes in Angell just so I have an excuse to walk up to the building from State Street. It really is a gorgeous building, and there’s no way you’d get that feeling if you walked into other places like, say, Dennison.”
Despite its beauty, Angell Hall was not large enough to accommodate the rapidly growing University enrollment for long. The destruction by fire of the first Haven Hall (which was originally a separate Law building to the north) spurred on plans for multiple additions to the back of Angell Hall. University Hall was finally demolished, and construction for Mason and Haven Halls was completed in 1952.
Mason Hall was built to house classrooms, while Haven was utilized as a center for administrative offices. The designs of these new halls diverged noticeably from their predecessor’s Parthenon-like elegance, since the neo-classicism that had been favored in the ’20s had been phased out and replaced by the modernism of the ’50s . Mason and Haven were given simpler designs that, despite contrasting with Angell Hall aesthetically, greatly augmented the functionality of the building by creating one highly integrated structure whose classrooms, study areas and offices functioned as one efficient network. Despite these obvious stylistic differences, the building’s different visual layouts are seen as a positive aspect of its architectural character.
“I don’t think that the differences in architectural style take away from the building,” LSA sophomore Sarah Abraham said. “I like Angell, but you don’t really see inside of it from State Street — I like that the big windows on the Mason and Haven side let you see what’s going on inside the building. It has more of an actual college feel to it since you can see students there walking around and studying on the window benches.”
The complex received another addition much later, in the form of Tisch Hall. The smallest structure in the complex, it was built in 1996 as a connector used to bridge an awkward gap between the ends of Haven and Angell Hall, allowing people to pass between the buildings more easily. Additions to the Angell Hall complex have always been done with a goal of making the buildings function smoothly as one large entity, in which time and shifting tastes have created a visual timeline of the University’s architectural history.
“The designs of the buildings are very complementary, even though they represent different architectural expressions,” Gott said. “The history of the building’s expansion helps explain how this single building has come to look the way it does, and how the architecture has evolved along with the different time frames of the building’s additions.”
The unusual design of the Angell Hall complex only complements the story of the building’s necessary development from a solitary limestone edifice into the sprawling network of classrooms, offices and auditoriums that remains a social and academic hub for the University.