The Duderstadt Center on North Campus encapsulates a multitude of identities. The building — affectionately known as “The Dude” — is a gathering spot for the University’s bright, thirsty minds, a state-of-the-art facility equipped with the latest resources in media and information technology, a second home for many students who likely sleep in its plush chairs more than in their actual beds and, oh right, an actual library housing a mammoth collection.
After all, during its conception in the early ’90s, the Center was only necessitated as the combined library for the schools on North Campus — Engineering, Music, Art and Architecture. By that time, those schools had finished moving up north, and the campus’s missing link was a library. But the Center’s planning team, including then-University President James Duderstadt, seized the opportunity to take the library to the next level.
“We began to realize that because of technology, things were changing so fast that building a traditional library might not make a lot of sense,” Duderstadt said in an interview with The Michigan Daily. “(The space) would be an experiment in the way of what the library of the future might be, but it might also be an experiment of what a university future might be.”
University alum Randall Frank, the project director for the design and construction of the Center (then known as the Media Union), said the team was inspired by its vision of what the future would be.
“The physical location of collections would be less important,” Frank said, referring to libraries of the future. “A place that wasn’t simply about storing printed materials but about … having a place where people could learn how to create digital materials.”
That foresight was quite remarkable — the Internet was in its nascent stages and the thought of digitizing books seemed like something ripped from a Philip K. Dick story — and it led to the decision to place the majority of the physical collection in compact shelving in the basement.
A stroll through the Duderstadt Center today shows the fruits of this decision — originally a controversial one, according to Frank. Instead of dominating the facility with stacks and stacks of books, the second and third floors of the Dude are populated by group study rooms, clusters of workstations and study tables — a reflection of Duderstadt’s belief that students learn best by interacting with each other. It also freed up space to add a Digital Media Commons, which now includes a media conversion facility, recording studios and a 3-D lab — all accessible to any University student.
The program design for the Dude was all about giving students access to the tools of the future and maximizing their creativity. The architecture, on the other hand, was all about attracting students to the building and making sure they had a comfortable work environment.
For the building’s design, the University hired the late famed architect Albert Kahn’s namesake firm, whose architects were sent around the world for an idea-generation tour.
“(The architects) came back with some interesting designs,” Duderstadt said. “One of them was for the Pompidou Center in Paris, which has all the pipes on the outside.”
“We said ‘No, we don’t think that’ll work,’ ” he chuckled.
The architects eventually came up with the design seen today — a grand atrium with glass walls letting the sunlight beam in, towering brick pillars both inside and outside, sleek glass elevators and a perfectly symmetrical system of escalators.
“I referred to this as kind of a post-modernist version of the Temple of Karnak … almost a 3,000 year old design,” Duderstadt joked.
The robust design was part of the plan to make the building “spectacular,” according to Frank.
“People living on North Campus had always viewed themselves as living in Siberia,” Frank said. “So one of the goals was to make this building a ‘destination building,’ not just for North Campus, but for people from Central Campus to come up here, even if they didn’t have a class here.”
The Dude’s blueprint was drawn with students’ needs in mind. There are countless quiet touches that might go unnoticed — the paint, the surfaces, the architectural lines, the art in the elevator shafts — all planned to make students’ time in the building more pleasant.
Even one of the most common complaints about the building — the dueling escalators that only go up from the first to second floors — is a necessary evil. As Frank explained, the two “up” escalators force anyone leaving to come behind the circulation desk and pass through the security scanners, allowing the Dude to stay open around the clock and only have a few employees on staff.
As the only academic building constantly open during the school year, it’s an ideal fit for the study habits of most University students.
“Probably the best thing about (the Dude) is that it’s open 24 hours, so I have a place to work or access CAEN (Computer Aided Engineering Network) any time of the day, which is incredibly convenient,” said Engineering senior Gregory Galyanov, who spends about 20 to 30 hours a week in the building.
“It’s awfully tall,” Galyanov said of the Dude’s massive atrium. “Which gives a nice sense of openness.”
The Dude has also allowed students to drive its evolution since it first opened in 1995.
“The students essentially view this as their own building,” Duderstadt said. “And it is their building, so we are very attentive to what the students want.”
The building opened a coffee shop for students early on, at a time when it was discouraged to eat in libraries. Additionally, students are continually surveyed to see changing preferences in technology, be it Windows, Macs or Linux machines — changes that are often then adopted.
The Dude’s model has proven to be so successful, it has been imitated by several universities around the country, including Yale, the University of Southern California and the University of Texas, which sent an entire delegation, including its president, to survey the Center.
In true tradition to the student body’s influence on the building, the Duderstadt Center’s omnipresent nickname was coined the minute it was renamed for the former president.
“When they dedicated (the building), students hung signs all over in the middle of the night, hanging on balloons that said ‘The Dude Abides,’ ” Duderstadt recalled. “I didn’t know what that was at the time and someone said, I had to see ‘The Big Lebowski’ to understand what they’re saying.”
Because of the founders’ extraordinary foresight, The Dude certainly does abide — and will continue to do so for decades to come.