Michigan Law New Commons Facts
Several hundred students, faculty, and staff formed up outside three new sets of double doors leading into the space from Hutchins Hall. When the doors finally swung open precisely at noon (after the last construction worker had finished polishing the last piece of trim), a flood of humanity broke over the Commons' comfortable furnishings like a wave and settled in as if the place had always been there.
AN INT ER ESTIN G FACT ABOUT… the COU RT YARD The Law School’s construction project entailed more than adding new buildings to the landscape; it also gave a few of the Quad’s less-attractive existing features a makover. For starters, the Robert B. Aikens Commons was built upon a previously unused and unremarkable courtyard that contained little more then a dying elm tree and the occasional stash of landscaping equipment. Looking up from the courtyard-turned-commons, you will notice a new bridge whose design echoes the neo-Gothic aesthetic of the Quad, replacing the “trailer in the sky” that had connected Legal Research to Hutchins Hall since the 1950s. Similarly, the bleak metal siding that once covered Legal Research has been replaced with more congruous cladding, which shares architectural details with the building that surrounds it. A N IN TERESTIN G FACT ABOUT… t h e KIRKLAND & ELLI S CA F É Since its inception, the law firm of Kirkland & Ellis LLP has hired hundreds of Michigan Law graduates, many of whom have become leaders at the firm. Several K&E partners have served as adjunct faculty at the Law School as well. In honor of the firm's longstanding relationship with Michigan Law, all 26 Michigan Law alumni who are share partners at Kirkland & Ellis—in conjunction with the Kirkland & Ellis Foundation and William R. Jentes, '56, a preeminent former K&E litigator—made a combined gift of $4 million to the building project. The Kirkland & Ellis Café is named in gratitude for their generosity. A N IN TERESTIN G FACT ABOUT… the ROBERT B. AIKENS COMMONS “When I was in law school, there were few places for the off-campus students to have lunch or work other than the Law Library”—so observes 1954 Michigan Law graduate Robert Aikens. Fitting, then, that Robert and Ann Aikens' $10 million gift to the Law School—the largest ever made by a living donor—has funded construction of a space dedicated to the social and academic gathering of students. “I am pleased to help our school join other leading law schools with such a wonderful facility,” Aikens has said of the Commons, which provides the Michigan Law community with an architecturally unique and visually inspiring gathering space. A N IN TERESTIN G FACT ABOUT… the GRANI T E When the Law Quadrangle was being constructed in the 1920s, there was considerable correspondence among donor William Cook, Dean Henry Bates, and architect Edward York as to which material should make up the buildings' exterior walls. Because of its cost, the use of limestone was limited to ornamental work, while brick was lacking in majesty. York then suggested seam-face granite—both cost-effective and attractive—and Cook, after admiring a granite structure near his Manhattan home, agreed. Plymouth Quarries in Weymouth, Massachusetts, supplied the granite that gives the Quad's buildings their distinctive character and warmth. Today, granite from the same New England quarry covers South Hall and the newly constructed entrance to Aikens Commons. AN IN TER ESTIN G FACT ABOUT… the OLD ROOM 1 50 The Kirkland & Ellis Café sits on what used to be Room 150 Hutchins Hall (one of the least-favored lecture rooms in the building). The floor of HH150 was leveled, and the outside walls on its north side were cut at the windows to create an entrance that opens the Café to the Commons. The windows were removed and preserved for use elsewhere, and new limestone was cut to match the tracery above the windows in the Hutchins cloister. Why are there two types of glass on the windows in Hutchins cloister? The glass in the original windows was not enough to provide the state-required fire separation between two buildings, so a second layer of glass was added. AN INTERESTING FACT ABOUT… the CAFÉ T I LE The striking wall in the café is made of tile from Motawi Tileworks. Motawi has hand-crafted art tiles in their Ann Arbor studio for almost 20 years. Their tiles are known for their rich glazes and uniquely American designs, inspired by nature, art, and architecture. The tiles were custom crafted to our specifications and took many months to complete. AN INT ER ESTIN G FACT ABOUTâ€Ś the MEDI A SPACE While its architectural details respect the history and original design of Hutchins Hall, the functionality of Aikens Commons addresses the needs of a tech-savvy student body. The lower commons gathering space and media wall enable students to hold group meetings where they will be able to plug in and display their work to the group. After a meeting or study session, students have the option to simply relax and watch a movie or play a game in the space. In addition, the glass and wood walls were designed to be fully retractable by the facilities team, so that the lower commons area can be opened up for larger student events. AN INT ER ESTIN G FACT ABOUTâ€Ś the ENT RANCE The Monroe Street entrance to Aikens Commons was conceived as a grand new entrance to Hutchins Hall itself. Its design is a meticulous meeting of accessibility and aesthetics. Look up before you enter: The groined arches in the entryway are identical to those found in other places in the Quad, and they allow for light to enter the arch from all sides. Like all the granite in the building project, the granite used for the entrance came from Plymouth Quarries in Weymouth, Massachusettsâ€”the same quarry that supplied stone for the Law Quad's construction in the 1920s and 30s. AN INT ER ESTIN G FACT ABOUT… the ST EEL T REES The curving design and impressive steel “trees” supporting the roof of Aikens Commons lend it an organic air, and complement the indoor/outdoor sensation of the space. But a lot of planning went into the structure that seems to grow out of the ground. Steel trees up to 24-feet high were assembled in Chesterfield, Michigan.The skylight ceiling comprises 180 panes of glass, with an additional 47 panes around the perimeter. The glass itself is three-layers thick: The top pane has a “low emissivity” coating, which saves energy, and this is topped with a silk-screened coating that lets in 40 percent of the sunlight. A half-inch of insulating air space lies between the top pane and the two-pane assembly that makes up the inner ceiling. Similar to a windshield, the inner glass remains intact even when fractured. A N INT ERESTIN G FACT ABOUT… the CORK FLOOR The material we know as cork is actually the bark of the cork oak tree, which grows most prominently in Spain and Portugal. Once a cork oak tree reaches maturity (25 years), the bark is harvested in a process that does not damage the tree, and, about nine years later, the bark has grown back and can be harvested once again. In addition to being a sustainable resource, cork—which also covers the floor of the Reading Room—is durable, insulating, and sound-dampening. AN INT ERESTIN G FACT ABOUTâ€Ś the FI RST FLOOR The glass roof of the Commons creates a stunning aperture for natural light to illuminate the space. In order for sunlight to reach the lower level as well, architects left an open perimeter around the main floor. The eye-catching result is that the main floor appears to float above the lower level. A N INT ERESTIN G FACT ABOUT… the ELM T REE When the University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA) added a new wing, wood was salvaged from the trees that were cut down and crafted into items such as peppermills, bowls, and clocks. When Aikens Commons was constructed, the Law School followed this example. From an elm tree overrun with carpenter ants, which had stood in the courtyard that became Aikens Commons, wonderful wooden creations sprang. In addition to lamps, pens, shelves, pepper mills, vases, and ornaments (for sale in the Art Museum’s store), wood from the elm tree became part of the furnishings in the commons. In new and beautiful forms, the tree has returned to the courtyard where it grew. Brunt Associates, a carpentry and millwork shop out of Wixom, Michigan, collaborated with Renee Cruse of U-M’s AEC-Interior Designs for visually striking pieces featuring the creamy blond wood. The hot stone quartz end tables and coffee tables next to the sofas on the main floor feature elm insets created by gluing two- to two-and-a-half-inch-wide strips of wood together. The banquettes, also on the main floor, are surrounded by hand-built latticework. The roughly 500 strips of wood that make up the lattice were pieced together on specially built jigs and painstakingly glued together; to preserve the clean lines of the wood, no fasteners were used. Finally, the lower floor’s media room features an impressive table that was crafted from the elm tree’s wood. For visual interest, the tabletop is made of alternating pieces of “4/4” (inch-thick) lumber and “6/4” (inch-and-a-half-thick) lumber.