New UM course takes architecture students around region in mobile classroom

By Meredith Bruckner - Community News Producer

(Left to right): Henry Womack, Demo Ford, Lauren Conroy and Nikhil Kharkar traveled to the small town Columbus, Indiana to see buildings designed by famous architects. (Credit: Lauren Conroy)

ANN ARBOR - An introductory course at the University of Michigan is literally giving students experience beyond the classroom.

On Site: Architecture in a Mobile Classroom, taught by professors Anca Trandafirescu and Claire Zimmerman, is in its first semester and has been taking its students on trips to regional cities such as Detroit and Columbus, Indiana, to view buildings firsthand.

"I am learning more by being able to encounter and experience the buildings, which cannot be done in a generic classroom setting," Lauren Conroy, a freshman architecture student, said in a statement.

Although it is a small town with an estimated population of 47,000, Columbus boasts works designed by several award-winning architects.

On a trip to Midland, Michigan, students explored the home and studio of Alden B. Dow, a 20th century architect known for his contributions to the style Michigan Modern. (Credit: Lauren Conroy)

"Everyday buildings, like a bank, library, church and elementary school are designed by famous architects in Columbus including I.M. Pei and Eero Saarinen, who was the architect that designed the St. Louis Arch," said Conroy.

“When we went to Columbus, I posted a few pictures of some of the buildings on my social media and one of my high school friends, who is an architecture student at a different university, commented and said he had just learned about those buildings in class. He was very jealous to hear that I actually had the chance to see them in person.”

Students have also traveled to Midland, Michigan; the Cranbrook area in Oakland County and the University of Michigan's campus in Ann Arbor to study architectural techniques.

"We wanted to create a class that lets students interact with the buildings while also figuring out why they were built the way they were," Zimmerman said in a statement.

Each class meeting has a different design theme, such as structure, churches, libraries and more.

During their tour of Ann Arbor, the students strolled through U-M's brand-new Biological Sciences Building, learning about sustainability in architecture.

While on the tour, one student asked, "Why did the designers decide to make such a large atrium through the middle of the building when the space could’ve been used for something else?"

During a sustainability tour of Ann Arbor, a student examined the artwork hanging from the ceiling of U-M’s Biological Sciences Building. (Credit: Nitya Gupta)

"We intentionally designed it so people have to go across the building to get coffee, go to the restrooms, etc., in hopes that they’ll run into other friends they don’t normally see," Scott Wood, project manager for the Biological Sciences Building, said in response.

The concept of a large atrium and the use of glass walls in the structure is meant to encourage communication and collaboration between research departments and laboratories that are generally very isolated.

While touring the Motor City, students explored industrial structures and abandoned buildings, as well as churches, newer office buildings and skyscrapers.

Freshman architecture student Amy Wang said she finds the course to be a breath of fresh air in a degree in which most courses focus on drawing buildings.

"I love seeing the buildings," Wang said in a statement. "It gives me more ideas about future drawings and renderings. I also like how we get to be critical and question why something was built the way it was."

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