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North Campus ‘Grove’ project aims to build community

The four-acre lawn at the center of the University of Michigan's North Campus will be renovated this summer with the goal of transforming it from a space people pass through into one where they linger and connect.| Short Read

The four-acre lawn at the center of North Campus will be renovated this summer with the goal of transforming it from a space people pass through into one where they linger and connect.

Today, the U-M Board of Regents approved a design for the $6.9 million Eda U. Gerstacker Grove project. The Grove will include:

  • New walkways and a large, paved plaza next to the Ann and Robert H. Lurie Tower
  • Elevated landforms around the plaza that create a natural amphitheater
  • Energy efficient lighting
  • More than 180 additional trees in a rolling landscape, with rain gardens that capture storm water runoff
  • A sand volleyball court
  • Improved wireless and electrical capabilities
  • Spaces for tents where events could be held.

“The Gerstacker Grove is one of the most iconic and sacred open spaces on North Campus,” said Sue Gott, university planner. “A fundamental goal was to create a destination spot for all members of the university community.”

North Campus is home to the College of Engineering, the Taubman College of Architecture + Urban Planning, the Stamps School of Art & Design and the School of Music, Theatre & Dance. It also holds several residence halls.

Plans for the North Campus Grove project grew out of the 2008 North Campus master plan and ideas generated through the 2007 WorkPlay competition, which invited interdisciplinary teams of students and faculty to submit ideas for an attractive and interactive gathering place.

The master plan outlines a coordinated system for safe and convenient walking, biking, transit and driving on North Campus.

“The plan also focuses on the quality and vitality of North Campus as a unique destination, identifying opportunities for sitting facilities and services to make the space a vibrant, around-the-clock destination for the broader community,” Gott said.

North Campus was designed in the 1950s by Eero Saarinen, the noted Finnish architect behind the St. Louis Gateway Arch. While the campus provided much-needed space over the ensuing decades, its sprawling layout is more suited to cars than pedestrians, says David Munson, the Robert J. Vlasic Dean of Engineering.

“If you’re on central, you’re sitting next to State Street and all it has to offer,” Munson said. “You don’t have to work so hard to create community. On North, we’re spread out and we don’t have the same environment. Given that, we have to be more intentional about it.

“There are plenty of freshmen who live up here. I don’t feel they should have to get on a bus to join a community. I think it should be right here.”

In 2007, Munson worked with the other North Campus deans and to organize the WorkPlay competition, which aimed to create an attraction that would draw people to North Campus. The Grove is inspired by the winners.

“The design of an interdisciplinary mixed-use outdoor space on North Campus brings U-M’s premiere arts, architecture and engineering communities together in an unprecedented interactive and visible way,” said Monica Ponce de Leon, dean and Eliel Saarinen Collegiate Professor of Architecture and Urban Planning at Taubman College. “Conceptualizing the existing space for new purposes will provide a venue for recreation, exhibition and performance unlike any other on Michigan’s campus, creating a new destination for the arts and sciences.”

The blueprints blend the natural and built environments. The deans envision an ice rink in the winter months, and in warmer weather, farmers’ markets on the lawn and movie nights or concerts in the amphitheater.

“We expect the Grove to quickly become abuzz with a wide range of creative explorations and productions between our schools that already have a history of interdisciplinary interactions,” said Guna Nadarajan, dean of the Stamps School of Art & Design.

The Boston firm Stoss designed the project. While parking may be affected by construction, the Grove won’t reduce parking long-term. The Grove is expected to be completed in Fall 2015, an early project leading up to the university’s 2017 Bicentennial. Funding is made possible in part by a number of donors, including a lead gift from the Rollin M. Gerstacker Foundation.

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