Good Morning Taubman students and welcome back to your new and confused institution! We’re reporting live from the “Thunderdome,”1 the college’s newest mixed-use “Commons,” a 5700sf arena with no pin up space. The details of this decadent atrium are really what make it magical: from the staircase designed by starchitect Preston Scott Cohen in a Revit tutorial, to the long cracks and hairy fibers scattered across the concrete floors, new “intentional” details are noticed every day! But be wary of those railings, one false step and you may get shanked by the sharp corners.2 This space can hold half the seats as the auditorium, but now we host all our lectures here. Show up on Michigan time? You can make intimate eye contact with your punctual peers down below.
Speaking of intimacy, how about those encircling faculty offices? Now students can have a productive day in studio with the interminable feeling of someone looking over their shoulder. By winter, professors will have their transparent doors covered with posters of themselves working at their desks; students will build their models from home on their spacious $120 IKEA desks.3
With the long-established appeal of undergraduate/graduate student engagement and the spectacle of a new addition, Taubman College will receive more applications this year than ever before! The cross-pollination of studios will continue to be used as a major marketing strategy while the addition will be used to segregate the undergrads from the rest of the school.
Looking for a calm evening stroll to take your mind off studio? Pedestrians are now joyfully met with an abrupt greeting by Taubman’s $40 million awkward cousin. The addition has successfully brought a “spark” to Michigan’s North Campus: the opposite side of the street is now ripe with activity, a detour around the intruding “Rose Mary Woods.”4 Business at Panda Express has never been better.
With all the thrills of a new semester and new addition, most students at Taubman College are just excited that laser cutters #1 and #3 are up and running.5
Two ideas enter, one idea leaves!
The Commons, or as some students have taken to calling it “The Thunderdome,”1 is the outcome of a common practice within collegiate life. Planning committees and boards design space and then try to impress an identity onto said space that aligns with their intentions for the school’s future. Students then interpret the new space with a “fuzzy” understanding of what the space could be, which is uncomfortable. The Commons for some is a space that should foster gatherings and community, where for others it is a space of intimidating scale, where eyes are always trained down on you.
This is perhaps what makes the duality between “Thunderdome” and “Commons” interesting. In the 1985 movie Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, actor Mel Gibson plays Max Rockatansky who is on a journey across the dystopian Australian wilderness, wherein on he encounters (the poorly named) city of Bartertown, the site of the titular Thunderdome. The Thunderdome is a large arena space where the people of Bartertown settle most of their differences, albeit through a fight to the death. We know this immediately from the townspeople, who chant, “Two men enter, one man leaves!”
The Taubman Commons’s nickname “Thunderdome” is more likely due to its scale rather than on the impact it plays on social landscapes at Taubman. However, I’d like to make the case that the Commons might already exist within the collective imaginations of Taubman students as a place where we can go to hash out ideas, and potentially find a direction. What we might be waiting for, to activate the space, is for a challenger to appear to try to claim ownership over the commons, and over the academic trajectory of Taubman. If we’re lucky we should have one in the last weekend of September.
I saw you sitting on the floor of the new Commons™ and I wondered why one would do such a thing? Why the floor? Were you waiting for someone? Something? The light from the skylight shining brightly, showering over the new 5,700 sqft double height Commons™, now dubbed the Thunderdome,1 with golden natural light, a feature only there to accentuate your beauty. As I walk towards the stairs, eyes looking onto the, 5,700 sqft double height Commons™, hand gliding over the ADA compliant handrails, feet gently being guided on the new concrete floor from the lower level on the old building towards the stairs of the new building. I could hear the disappointment in the students as they came to the realization that the microwave in the new student lounge still doesn’t work. I gaze across the grandiose 5,700 sqft double height Commons™ to the faculty offices across, trying to snoop through the transparent windows.
I reached the top of the stairs, my hand still gliding over the new ADA compliant handrails, my eyes right back on you. I slowly make my way down the stairs, twisting in and out. I walk onto the second floor, a group of students in the open classrooms discussing the programmatic value of this space. I look down, the monumental stairs leading to the lower level welcoming me with wider steps but I turn away thinking “does anyone even go down there?” I make a u-turn, my eyes back to you, the same questions still going through my head. I come closer, I hear a sound one I have heard hundreds of times before: drip, drip, drip. Where is this sound coming from? Drip. Drip. Drip. Why is this sound inside the building? Drip. Drip. Drip. As I get closer, it starts to click in my head. I start to register the need for you to sit on the floor of the Commons. You weren’t there because you wanted to, but rather placed there by someone. Now standing above you I look down and notice you staring back...you were a trash can collecting water from the leaky roof. Oh, by the way, we need you in the laser cutter room...
Regarding the new
Addition: subsidize my
Strathmore instead, please
It’s not one of the better detailed buildings I’ve been in. I’m still questioning what’s going on with that handrail, fire curtain, etc. etc. It’s not been used as a teaching tool, and we never saw the construction process. This seems a little odd for a school of architecture. It’s not particularly innovative...yet. It’s also not the same old TCAUP, and hopefully not a pristine artifact to put on a pedestal. Rather it’s an opportunity to do something we’ve not yet thought of, to avoid letting the space become part of the routine or shoehorning in the presupposed logics of what an architecture school should be. It is whatever we decide it is its, and that should be liberating, exciting, and uncomfortable.
The new Preston Scott Cohen building wing acts as a hinge or connection point between the "linear end" of a once "open studio space" and the starting point to the Neu Studio space. Cohen’s design seems to be guided by projection lines that he draws from adjacent buildings and the building parapet entrances. Three connection figures pertain to the new wing; The Bridge, The Mass, and The Surface. The Bridge quite literally bridges the old and the new structure, The Mass is experienced as a quality of mid-air entrance into the third floor/ramp of the structure from the Thesis Studios and The Surface is a quality reached at by the walkable exterior plaza formed between the two buildings. With that, Cohen ensures that the need for multiplicity and variety of an interior/exterior interaction is an essential quality that lacks thereof in today’s building norms. By all means, that’s only my personal opinion but it would not bother to think of the advantages of these liveable qualities that apply to every standing structure.
Of all the things I'm most excited for for this new building, I'm excited to finally have a “commons.” During my one year here, spatially, our college has lacked a soul. The closest to an efficient gathering space was (and arguably still is) the tables and seating adjacent to the Media Center. But for such a large college, why haven't we had a large gathering space? Why were social spaces on the third floor so linearly oriented and fragmented?
During my Spring Travel Course with the department to Brazil, our group had a chance to visit FAU-USP, a massive building housing São Paulo's Architecture and Urbanism students and faculty. What I loved the most about this building was that the commons was the point around which all other things were organized. It made a statement—that the revolution could happen here. That thoughts, ideas, opinions, and movements would occur in this commonly held space where everyone had a platform and audience. Voices echoed and seemed to be carried across from one end of the building to another.
It's difficult to recreate an experience, but in my limited use of the commons so far, I see it beginning to operate in this way. Projects have gone up, are going up, with an audience always around the railing. Voices waft through the building into every corner and crevice. Quite literally, for better or for worse; a whisper on the 3rd floor by the microwaves sounds like a full-blown conversation on the lower level. As we learn more about this building, as we present our work and perspectives, hopes and desires, I hope that we all listen.
John Lucas Denit
The Addition Edition
On September 8th, we celebrated the opening of the new A. Alfred Taubman Wing. As students of the built environment, we will inevitably formulate opinions about its design and construction. For Issue 02: The Addition Edition, we asked for thoughtfully considered commentary and criticism of the new space. Responses might range from the strictly architectural to the overtly political, the spatial to the logistical, the raving to the ____.
submit to: firstname.lastname@example.org
submit to: email@example.com