The University of Michigan at Ann Arbor was inaugurated as part of Michigan's Comprehensive State Education Plan of 1837. At that time, the university moved from Detroit to Ann Arbor. Confident of state support, the regents accepted the Ann Arbor Land Company's gift of forty acres on which to develop the school and they enlisted the services of New York City architect Alexander Jackson Davis. Davis produced two elaborate U-shaped building designs, one Gothic Revival and one Greek Revival, but the proposals were too expensive for the fledgling university to execute. By September 1841, however, five simpler Greek Revival buildings—four professor's houses and a main classroom and dormitory building—were erected. These buildings were the focus of the campus through the nineteenth century and into the early decades of the twentieth.
In the latter half of the nineteenth century the campus developed irregularly, with the principal buildings facing the major boundary streets. Of the original buildings, only the southwest residence, or the president's house, survives. The university's first permanent president, Henry Philip Tappan (1805–1881), nurtured its early development. The university organized a distinguished faculty, greatly expanded its research facilities, and established a science-oriented curriculum as an alternative to a classical education. The combination Greek Revival and Italianate Detroit Observatory, erected in 1854 at 1308 E. Ann Street, and restored for use as a museum (1996–1999, Quinn Evans), contained the first large telescope constructed in the United States, and the first chemical laboratory building at a state university was erected in 1856 (demolished). Together they illustrate the university's progress.
By the 1870s the university had attained a national reputation for academic excellence. Skilled at obtaining legislative appropriations, President James Burrill Angell (1829–1916) guided the university and established separate schools of engineering, pharmacy, and dentistry. In 1894, Detroit architects Spier and Rohns designed Tappan Hall (519 S. State Street), a simplified Romanesque Revival classroom building that was constructed of rust brick. Ten years later they added the West Medical Building (now S. T. Dana Building, School of Natural Resources and Environment), a large dignified collegiate building in the Renaissance Revival mode located at 430 E. University Avenue. It was renovated by Quinn Evans in 2003 and LEED certified by the U.S. Green Building Council. Mason and Kahn designed the West Engineering Building at 550 E. University Avenue, which was completed in 1904 and added to in 1909–1910. The L-shaped plan for the building features a vaulted central archway that serves as the southeast entrance into the diagonal and preserves the diagonal pathway that students had always trekked, crisscrossing the original plot.
The eclecticism continued in 1910 with the buff brick and Indiana limestone–trimmed Chemistry Building (930 N. University Avenue) completed to the designs of Smith, Hinchman and Grylls, and Donaldson and Meier's Beaux-Arts classical Alumni Memorial Hall at 525 S. State Street (now the Alumni Memorial Hall Museum of Art, 2006–2009 renovation and addition, Brad Cloepfil of Allied Works Architecture).
With the appointment in 1909 of William L. Clements (1861–1934) of Bay City as regent of the university and as chairman of the Building and Grounds Committee, Albert Kahn assumed a more important role in the university's architectural development. His commissions included Hill Auditorium ( WA7.1); the Natural Science Building (1915), a variant of his industrial designs that was remarkable for its structural efficiency and subtle ornamentation; and the General Library (920 N. University Avenue) in 1920.
In 1920 a comprehensive plan for campus development was implemented. Clements organized a Committee of Five to oversee building location and design. It included Kahn, as the university's supervising architect, and University of Michigan President Marion Leroy Burton (1874–1925), whose fund-raising abilities helped to spur the largest building expansion in the university's history. Until this time, primarily due to a constant shortage of building funds, the university's architectural development lacked unity.
The central space of the pedestrian diagonal had been haphazardly preserved until the completion of the General Library, which occupied a pivotal area from which all paths diverged. Kahn and the Cleveland landscape firm of Pitkin and Mott developed a plan with a central open space surrounded by a complex of new buildings, designed to accommodate the large growth in student enrollment that had occurred following World War I. Kahn implemented the plan with his designs for the Clements Library ( WA7.6) and Angell Hall of 1924 (435 State Street), a great Classical Revival building with a giant Doric portico that unified the university symbolically and housed the expanding College of Literature, Science, and the Arts.
In 1923, Smith, Hinchman and Grylls designed the East Engineering Building (525 E. University Avenue), and York and Sawyer of New York City worked on the largest project begun during the Burton era, the Collegiate Gothic Law School Quadrangle ( WA7.7), located next to their Martha Cook Building (1915). The Law School was also funded by alumnus William W. Cook. The engineering and law school projects noticeably extended the campus area to the south and east beyond the limits of the original forty acres. A few years later, the Central Campus area began to expand northward beyond the original site; this pattern of expansion continued into the 1930s.
A 1927 site plan developed by Pitkin and Mott created the Campus Mall, a one-quarter-mile-long avenue extending from the Graduate Library north to Washington Street. The mall's development began with the Women's League Building, between N. University Avenue and Washington Street. Echoing their design of 1919 for the university's Student Union Building, architects Allen B. Pond (1858–1929) and Irving K. Pond (1857–1939) of Chicago developed the League Building's five-story plan in a picturesque Collegiate Gothic design. In 1936 the development continued with the Burton Memorial Tower ( WA7.2), just north of Hill Auditorium, and in 1938 with the Horace H. Rackham Building ( WA7.3). Following World War II the university considerably expanded its facilities, with modernist buildings such as Albert Kahn and Associates' Undergraduate Library (1957), known as “the Ugly”; the Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library addition (1967–1970); the Physics and Astronomy Building (1963) at 501 E. University Avenue; and Alden B. Dow's cube-shaped Fleming Administration Building (1966–1967) at 503 Thompson Street.
More recently, historicism and a celebration of the existing architectural heritage are apparent in Hugh Newell Jacobsen's Alumni Center ( WA7.4), which responds to its Collegiate Gothic neighbor, the Women's League Building, and in Lukenbach/Ziegelman's addition to Tappan Hall (1984–1985), which complements the Romanesque Revival character of the original building with a large semicircular entrance arch. Despite a few disappointing intrusions of design and scale, the University of Michigan's Central Campus still possesses the school's largest concentration of significant buildings. Dating from 1840 to the present, they encompass the diverse architectural and historic development of one of the most distinguished public universities in the world. Since 2000, major construction and renovation for science, medicine, health, art, business, sports, and student housing have been completed or are underway throughout the U of M campuses. For example, on South Campus, renovation and multistory expansion of Michigan Stadium (the Big House, 2007–2010, HNTB Architecture; S. Main Street at E. Stadium Boulevard) increased seating capacity to 108,000. On the Medical Campus, replacement of C. S. Mott Children's and Women's Hospitals (2006–2011, HKS Architects; 1500 E. Medical Center Drive) created a state-of-the art facility with expanses of glass overlooking Nichols Arboretum, a naturalistic landscape begun by O. C. Simonds in 1907 (1610 Washington Heights).