University of Michigan
investing new life into an icon of scientific research
University of Michigan
A century ago, when celebrated architect Albert Kahn designed the University of Michigan’s Kraus Building, botany and minerology were still cutting-edge disciplines. Kahn met their laboratory needs by adopting the innovations of factory design, aimed at maximizing daylight, to an academic setting. It was a pioneering move, and the building became a campus icon and a symbol of research excellence.
The cutting edge of science has moved on, and today the university’s fourth largest school is devoted to kinesiology, the science of physical activity. As social understanding grows of movement’s importance to wellbeing, so does student interest in kinesiology, and the university needed to consolidate the school’s programs, scattered across multiple buildings, into a single home with room for expansion.
A perfect opportunity to renew the Kraus Building’s relevance – if a way could be found to transform the structure for the 21st century while retaining its historical character.
in-depth studies of the existing building reveal solutions for its renewal
Ballinger’s integrated architecture and engineering team evaluated every aspect of the building against programmatic needs of the School of Kinesiology and the School of Information, and determined it was worth preserving the original structure — which had included an inner courtyard
After Kahn’s time the courtyard was cluttered with additions: a massive chiller plant and a ring of low-ceiling buildings along the courtyard perimeter, which Ballinger’s team realized had no historic character, were antiquated technologically, and unsuitable for contemporary research and learning.
To leverage the potential of the courtyard, Ballinger’s design removes the modifications from the courtyard and replaces them with an infill building performing many functions.
filling an old courtyard with new construction & new purpose
As a reinforced concrete “tube,” the infill strengthens the building laterally, doing away with the need for columns and creating a four-story free-span space. Wrapped in curving staircases and overlooked by breakout balconies, this new commons, with its open-plan meeting places, acts as an academic crossroads for students and faculty. By encouraging collaboration, enabling interdisciplinary work, and reflecting human movement, it establishes a new identity for the building and new potential for the disciplines it houses.
The lowest level of the infill accommodates the high-tech requirements of researchers investigating mobility, such as lofty ceilings for motion capture cameras and overhead harnesses, along with recessed floor pits for equipment and vibration isolation.
Atop the new infill, a skylight penthouse floods the space with daylight, while in the existing building, the original windows — a hallmark of modernity for the historic structure — are once again accessible. Ballinger’s transformations of the building, now called the Kinesiology Building, have revived Albert Kahn’s spirit of innovation.