Bollinger details concerns that led to work on comprehensive master plan

By Jane R. Elgass

Major concerns about the physical layout of the Ann Arbor campus and its increasing sprawl led President Lee C. Bollinger to contract with Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates to develop a master plan, he told an audience of some 50 individuals participating in the Committee on Institutional Cooperation Academic Leadership Seminar held in Ann Arbor in February. (See article on page 8.)

Returning to campus in 1997 after two years at Dartmouth, Bollinger identified four bothersome areas-disconnected spaces, disconnected intellectual relationships, a lack of vitality and a history of "mediocre architecture and landscape planning."

Disconnected spaces

One of the most disconnected spaces, Bollinger said, is North Campus, with a pastoral setting, a bell tower, a "flashy" Media Union and very little sense of community.

Bowing to forecasts of huge growth in enrollment in the 1960s, a master plan for the area was created by Eero Saarinen based on studies done in 1951-58. The School of Music was the first resident. North Campus now is home to three other academic units-College of Engineering, College of Architecture and Urban Planning, and School of Art and Design-as well as residence halls and student apartments. Some students like it there; others are depressed and "feel like they're stuck in Siberia," Bollinger noted.

"We've created a complicated situation. How do you get the [North Campus] academic units to connect with Central Campus? There's a road. Very few people use the sidewalk. No human being wants to walk on it because it's so exposed."

The connecting problem has been compounded in the past decade with the expansion of the Athletic Campus, construction of the East Ann Arbor Health Center on Plymouth Road, and the addition of the Briarwood Campus, home to many service units in Wolverine Tower as well as Health System Health Centers across from Briarwood.

What it amounts to, Bollinger said, is a problem of "sprawl."

Lack of vitality

While the lack of vitality on North Campus is partly a result of the disconnected spaces, Bollinger told the audience that "the spaces we created lack vitality." The Diag on Central Campus, as it moves out and into the community is "a vibrant area that bespeaks a university campus," he said.

North Campus, he said, "lacks a sufficient vitality," possibly due to the way the roads are laid out and the structure of the buildings. "Something is not working there," Bollinger said.

"A campus is at its best when it merges with the surrounding community, when there are no fixed boundaries. The Diag works. North Campus has no community. We may as well have walls."

Disconnected intellectual relationships

While the physical distance may be very small, there is a large intellectual distance between Central Campus and the Medical Campus. Chemistry and biochemistry may be closely related fields, as are biology and microbiology. However, located on separate campuses and separated by the physical boundary of Washtenaw Avenue, they are miles apart.

Mediocre architecture and landscaping

The University's architectural history can be seen through the epochs in which the buildings were constructed, Bollinger noted.

The 1930s was a period of great buildings-the Rackham Building and the Law School, for example-with a great deal of attention to aesthetics.

Of the buildings that went up in the 1950s and 1960s, Bollinger said, "I would tear them down if I could. Some architecture is a pity."

And while the Fleming Building has "some interesting architectural features, it's not a good building for the administration. It's a fortress that keeps students out and provokes images of burning oil and wax coming out of the windows."

Bollinger said that one of the major advantages of launching the planning effort is that "things are no longer allowed to just happen. Ideas have to be reviewed through the planning process. We've drawn attention to major, serious issues," he said. The problems with North Campus and potential sites for life sciences programs "are being thought about more carefully because of the master planning process. There will be a thousand little decisions that people won't realize were made."