A Setting for Excellence: The Story of the Planning and Development of the Ann Arbor Campus of the University of Michigan

By Turcotte, Claire L. | Planning for Higher Education, October-December 2015 | Go to article overview

A Setting for Excellence: The Story of the Planning and Development of the Ann Arbor Campus of the University of Michigan


Turcotte, Claire L., Planning for Higher Education


by Frederick W. Mayer University of Michigan Press 2015 200 pages Cloth ISBN: 978-0-472-11953-0 E-book ISBN: 978-0-472-12092-5

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

As the University of Michigan (U-M) campus planner from 1968 to 2003, Fred Mayer clearly has the quality experience and expertise to tell us this story. Mayer presents a comprehensive history of the university's main campus in Ann Arbor and the extensive planning involved in its development.

His focus is on the central campus as the oldest and most historic of the U-M campuses. In the preface he tells us that he is working on a manuscript covering the medical center, North Campus, and the athletic area. We eagerly await this companion piece as the development of these adjacent campus areas is significant in understanding the entire campus complex.

Mayer begins this historic account with the establishment of Michigan statehood in 1817 and the founding of a university in downtown Detroit. The story continues with the 40 acres offered by the Ann Arbor Land Company in 1837 and the university's subsequent move from Detroit to Ann Arbor. Apparently, this was not unusual across the United States during this time as new towns competed for colleges as they developed.

Along with this specific story, we read a history of campus planning in the United States. This is helpful in understanding various influences, including European precedents, on campus development across the country. For example, the 1893 Columbian Exposition and the White City created new ways of thinking about architecture and planning that influenced subsequent campus planning approaches.

In 1838, the regents of the university retained the services of New York architect Alexander Jackson Davis. The early planning for the university involved the development of a "collegiate row" along the State Street edge of the 40 acres with a cluster of buildings grouped around open space behind the row. This concept of a "building in a park" was popular at the time and is identical to that of Yale University. Along with building arrangements, the early plans incorporated landscapes, tree plantings, and walkways.

As the 20th century began, the U-M campus possessed both buildings and landscapes but lacked an overall sense of order. The need for a comprehensive plan to create some cohesion and harmony was critical. At that time, the auto industry was a major influence, and as the population quickly expanded in Michigan, particularly in the Detroit area, so did the demand for education.

Architect Albert Kahn and his landmark campus buildings (e.g., Hill Auditorium built in 1913) marked the expansion of the campus northward beyond the original park/Diag area. Kahn's buildings include the 1883 library that serves as a focal point of the Diag. …

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