IDS had just completed several student housing renovations on the University of Michigan campus with national design firm, Hanbury Evans Wright Vlattas. Next up was East Quad. There are many commonalities to these projects but no one could have anticipated the role of a ‘big old tree’. Big because the circumference measured almost 54 inches, and old because it is truly deemed a historic tree—it predates the State of Michigan back to the early 1800s. Needless to say, the tree provided one of the more unusual challenges of this project.
The East Quad residential facility was originally built in three sections with the north half in 1938, south in 1946, and in 1969 a theater was added. This facility has always been home to the LSA Residential College, the largest learning community on campus serving almost 900 students. In 2002, IDS was commissioned to do a feasibility study for the RC but the project did not come to fruition until 2010 when it was funded by UM Housing. The project called for full infrastructure upgrades and complete renovations to both the public and private areas throughout the building. The nearly 300,000-square-foot renovation project had an aggressive timeline, and with the assistance of the Construction Manager Walbridge, the site was completed in July 2013.
The existing building presented a myriad of challenges to the design team. The lower level was a maze of dark, cavernous space with ductwork everywhere and very low ceiling heights. “To make this space suitable for academic use, we first removed the ductwork,” IDS Principal-in-Charge Chuck Lewis explains. “By raising the ceiling heights, we made way for reasonable classrooms and studios to occupy the space.” The addition of a two-story glass atrium spanning the full length of the building in the north courtyard allows a flood of light into these rooms.
The atrium addition was the first encounter with the historic tree, affectionately dubbed “East Quad Oak”. The root system presented a unique challenge: how to anchor the foundation into the footprint of the tree. With the help of the University arborist, the IDS team used special foundation systems to minimize the process. The canopy of the huge oak tree basically covered the roof with many of the branches touching the building. “We had to be incredibly diligent in tearing off the roof to thread the new mechanical infrastructure into the building,” IDS architect Brandon Sundberg recalls. The new heating and cooling equipment housed on the roof was also a concern. “The tree was being attacked on many fronts,” adds mechanical engineer Matt Perez. “We did studies to make sure that the mist from the cooling towers was not poisoning the tree.”
The Housing Department was concerned with ensuring a clear separation between students’ private residential space and any public spaces. Since this building included the RC, academic areas needed to have a clear, separate path and footprint in the building. The project required a lot of collaboration and compromise with demands for space coming from all directions. “In an ideal world lower level would be reserved primarily for building systems infrastructure,” IDS engineer Tom Carron explained. “But in this building, many areas on that level were needed for functional academic space.” Working with different groups that have competing interests is common for the IDS team but East Quad provided an extra challenge. “I have never worked on a project where so many different groups needed space,” Perez reflects. “The RC, Housing, Dining, Facilities, Plant, Storage…you name it; they all needed more space, but everyone compromised and the outcome was incredible.”
The solution to the space issue for food services was to place a large student dining area on the main level and then move the main kitchen to the lower level where the staff is supported by a service elevator. Students are now able to socialize and eat together in a beautiful area, made for connecting.
The theater addition connected the north and south parts of the building with a garden patio and art courtyard, giving students a new social pathway throughout. Student rooms received air conditioning, new insulation, additional outlets for electrical and data, and full life safety and fire suppression updates. Community bathrooms were updated and given a residential feel to make students feel at home with spa-like shower heads and changing areas.
The building was recently awarded the Energy Star and has a 30% better than ASHRAE’s 2-90-I standard.
The reluctance from staff and students to change the quirky nature of the spaces took the design team by surprise. The RC includes language, arts, literature, poetry and humanities—a very creative group of individuals who had come to love East Quad as it was. So it was satisfying to hear that, ultimately, their reception to the new space was very positive. “We knew it would be a challenge to modernize a building that had such a rich history of quirkiness and try to meet the standards of a heritage building,” Lewis muses. “In the end, we’re hearing the word ‘transformative’ a lot and when we talked with some of the students, they felt that we did a great job to balance the old and the new.” Still home sweet home.