The University Record, April 22, 2002

Undergraduate science instruction to flourish in new building

By Michelle Begnoche
News and Information Services Intern

(Graphic rendition courtesy of Venturi Scott Brown)
The University is about to make concrete its goal of enriching undergraduate science education. A four-story Undergraduate Science Instruction Center will take shape adjacent to the Life Sciences Institute, a research building now under construction.

The location and innovative design of the $61 million, 140,000-square-foot building are intended to encourage greater interaction between undergrads and the University’s researchers.

“In addition to having world-class research, we have to make this research available to our students, and this is the building where it will happen,” said Robert Kasdin, executive vice president and chief financial officer, at a meeting of the University regents April 18.

Nestled between the Life Sciences Institute and the Dental School, the Instruction Center will represent a significant addition to science and technology facilities for U-M students when it opens in Fall 2005. Its facilities will include state-of-the-art teaching laboratories for the Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology, unique lecture/lab rooms, and novel smaller teaching settings.

The new building will feature nine small classrooms and seminar rooms and 20 teaching labs, in addition to large lecture halls that will accommodate approximately 100 students each. Four of the teaching labs offer a dynamic one-two punch, enabling professors to make smooth transitions between lecture and laboratory exercises within a single class period. These “Integrated Studio Labs” could be used for interdisciplinary courses that utilize technology extensively, said Associate Provost Pamela Raymond, a professor of cell and developmental biology. Another group of classrooms is actually modeled after a dinner theater, with students seated together at tables of four to encourage group learning and more personal interaction between students and the instructor.

The building also helps U-M attain one of the primary goals of the Life Sciences Initiative by providing a focal point for educational activities for all undergraduates, non-science majors as well as science majors, in the basic concepts of the life sciences.

“Issues that are driven by today’s technology and research will have a major impact on the student’s life,” explained Raymond, who served on the building’s design committee. “The Instruction Center provides all students an opportunity to learn about these issues.”

The design plans for the building are as innovative as some of the classes it will host. Planners and architects were faced with a challenging task: fitting the University’s ambitious goals in life science research, teaching and collaboration into the densely packed Palmer Drive site adjacent to the University’s Central Power Plant—without exacerbating campus parking problems. The solution: build the Instruction Center on top of a 1,000-space parking structure, and tie three buildings together with a plaza and walkway that has many places for “incidental seating” and informal meeting.

An area of the building called the Undergraduate Resource Center will create a common space for programmed and spontaneous interactions between students to occur. “It is a multipurpose fluid space for undergrad and graduate students,” Raymond said. Students may use the common area as a place for groups to work on projects, meet with instructors or just to take a break from studying.

The two wings of the building, one long and narrow, the other short and wide, lend the building its current nickname, “the L-shaped building.” Its exterior appearance will be compatible with the LSI and the Commons buildings, using rose-colored stone and limestone with pentiful windows on all sides.

“We are trying to follow the great tradition of your Albert Kahn Buildings,” Architect Robert Venturi told the Regents. “These are not copies of what Kahn did, however. They are almost an evolution of that tradition. In this kind of architecture, the details are very important.”

Pedestrians will flow through the three-building Palmer Drive Life Sciences complex and past the front door of the Instruction Center on a plaza and walkway. A pedestrian bridge will span Washtenaw Avenue at Zina Pitcher Drive, making crossings between the Medical Campus and Central Campus safer and easier.

The Palmer Drive development will provide an important connection between Central Campus and the Medical Center, eventually with an elevated walkway over Washtenaw Avenue, a state highway. The plaza level will feature outdoor seating in an informal manner. The walkway wraps around the front of the new Commons building, flows over the bridge at Washtenaw Avenue, and then slopes back down to ground level at Couzens Residence Hall.

The Instruction Center will house offices for several programs for students, including the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP) and the program for Women in Science and Engineering (WISE), which reach out to and engage diverse groups of students. The Life Sciences Values and Society Program (LSVSP), another key component of the Life Sciences Initiative, also will call the Instruction Center home.

“This building reflects the unique vision of the Life Science Initiative at U-M, which is to bring together science and technology with social sciences and humanities to consider the impact that discoveries in the life sciences have on our society and our culture,” Raymond said. “The Instruction Center will provide many opportunities for our undergraduates to study, learn and mingle with their fellow students and with life science researchers.”

Most of the funding for the building is coming from the University’s central sources, including $17 million from the sale of property on North Campus to Pfizer Inc.

SmithGroup from Detroit is employed as the Architect of Record, and Venturi Scott Brown and Associates of Philadelphia is doing the design architecture for the site.

For a live WebCam view of the construction area, log on to