« Introducing Miss Sandra D. | Main | You Are Not Your GPA »

February 20, 2007

New Building Plan Changes Direction

By Ishai Mooreville

The University of Michigan Law School has inhabited the same building, Hutchins Hall, ever since it was completed in 1933. Since then, the student body has increased from around 500 to more than 1200, and the faculty has gone from 18 members to more than 70.

Given these facts, administrators have decided it is finally time to add a second academic building to the Law School’s campus. What the building might look like or where exactly it would be located are still undecided, but the need for more space has made future construction all but assured.

Under the supervision of Dean Evan Caminker, the Law School has recently hired the architectural firm of Hartman Cox to complete “pre-design” work for a new Law School building. The firm has previously done work for the law schools at Georgetown, Washington University in St. Louis, and Tulane. If all goes well, the firm could begin designing a new building within the next four to eight months.

“We’re very excited about collaborating with them, given their prior successful work in law schools and their experience working on and with a variety of traditional styles of architecture, including Collegiate Gothic,” said Caminker.

Caminker aims for the proposed building to provide new activity and study space for students, additional classrooms and seminar rooms, faculty offices, and some administrative space, all of which are in great demand.

One of the most important decisions to be made concerning the new building is where it will be located. Among the options are the southeast corner of the Law Quad (above the Law Library and opposite Dominick’s), in the areas south of the Reading Room, or even across Monroe Street in the parking lot of the new Public Policy School.

Should the building be built across Monroe Street, there has been talk of constructing a pedestrian bridge to connect it to Hutchins Hall so as to relieve students of the burden of walking outdoors during the winter months, but that is only speculation at this point.

This is not the first time the Law School has begun the process of constructing a new facility. Prior to Caminker’s appointment as dean in 2003, the Law School hired the renowned architect Renzo Piano, designer of the soon to open New York Times Building in Manhattan, to sketch plans for a new building. His design called for a new building on the last untouched corner of the Law Quad, above the Law School Library, along with extensive renovations of Hutchins Hall, and the construction of a new “piazza” entrance to the Reading Room, which was to be covered by a glass roof.

However, the total costs of implementing Piano’s plans were estimated to exceed $100 million and would have rendered portions of Hutchins Hall unusable for multiple years, causing great hardship to both students and faculty.

Caminker and the Law School have decided to scrap those plans and start anew, looking for a building plan that is both less expensive and less intrusive to the Law School community during construction.

Cost is likely to be one of the biggest barriers to new construction, with Ann Arbor reportedly having one of the most expensive average building costs in the country. The strength of local unions coupled with state regulations and a lack of competitors are all factors that contribute to this set of circumstances.

Hutchins Hall may also receive extensive renovations at some point, but there are currently no specific plans for such changes.

While the cost of the new building remains to be determined, the Law School began fundraising for its construction in May of 2004.

Though it is still early in the process, Caminker is looking forward to the prospect of expanding the Law School’s facilities.

“We’re very excited about our new ideas and our new architect, and we look forward to working intensively on the project with the goal of creating Law School space that is as functional on the inside as it is grand and inspiring on the outside.”

Ishai Mooreville is a 1L.