For students living on North Campus, the bus commute to and from Central Campus serves as a daily reminder of just how different the two University campuses are.

Kelly Fraser
(SAM WOLSON/Daily). The Mortimer Elwyn Cooley Laboratory on North Campus, shown here, was the first building constructed on North Campus. It was dedicated in 1953 to Mortimer Elwyn Cooley, the College of Engineering Dean from 1904 to 1928, who helped est

And while many gripe about the bus ride, few know the story of why the University created North Campus.

In the 1940s, the University’s Engineering Research Institute had outgrown its existing facilities. At the same time, rising demands for government-funded research meant the University needed to expand its engineering facilities.

R.P. Briggs, then the University’s vice president of business and finance, suggested that the University purchase property away from campus rather than build new facilities in the cramped area near the existing Engineering buildings.

The “conscious decentralization” of campus officially began in 1950, when the University Board of Regents approved the purchase of 88 acres of land northwest of the Huron River. With this purchase, North Campus was born, with more parcels added to the original property soon after.

North Campus property eventually totaled 378 acres, including sections designated for apartment buildings.

A portion of the annexed land was originally slated to become a cemetery. In addition, many of the evergreen trees currently on Central Campus, like those near West Hall, came from this cemetery area, although the cemetery never came to fruition.

In an effort to maintain a consistent architectural theme on North Campus, the regents selected a single architectural firm to develop plans for North Campus. W.K. Pierpont, the University’s then-vice president, contracted Eero Saarinen and Associates of Birmingham, Michigan, to consult on the development.

The first building built on the new North Campus was the Mortimer E. Cooley Laboratory, followed by the Phoenix Memorial Laboratory. In anticipation of the College of Engineering’s complete relocation to North Campus, the Automotive Engineering Building and Aeronautical Laboratory were also built on North Campus.

In 1964, the School of Music building followed and was the first school to officially adopt North Campus as its base. The move resulted in a new student lounge, a place to eat, and the construction of North Campus residence halls.

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