NASCC 2017

Night School


University of Michigan Law School Commons Wins National Architecture and Engineering Award

August 7, 2012 from American Institute of Steel Construction

(Chicago, IL) – The Robert B. Aikens Commons at the University of Michigan Law School in Ann Arbor, Mich., has earned national recognition in the 2012 Innovative Design in Engineering and Architecture with Structural Steel awards program (IDEAS2). In honor of this achievement, members of the project team will be presented with awards from the American Institute of Steel Construction (AISC) during a ceremony at the building on Thursday, August 9 at 3 p.m. Conducted annually by AISC, the IDEAS2 awards recognize outstanding achievement in engineering and architecture on structural steel projects across the country. The IDEAS2 award is the highest, most prestigious honor bestowed on building projects by the structural steel industry in the U.S.

The project team members include:

  • Owner/developer: University of Michigan Law School, Ann Arbor, Mich.
  • Architect: Integrated Design Solutions, Troy, Mich.
  • Architect: Hartman-Cox Architects, Washington, D.C.
  • Structural engineer: SDI Structures, Ann Arbor, Mich.
  • General contractor: Walbridge, Detroit
  • Bender/roller: Kottler Metal Products, Inc., Willoughby, Ohio (AISC Member)

The Robert B. Aikens Commons is a National award winner in the category of projects $15 Million to $75 Million, making it one of only five projects around the country to receive the National honor. Each year, the IDEAS2 awards honor National and Merit award winners in three categories, based on constructed value: projects less than $15 million; projects $15 million to $75 million; and projects greater than $75 million. Each project is judged on its use of structural steel from both an architectural and structural engineering perspective, with an emphasis on: creative solutions to project requirements; design innovation; aesthetic and visual impact of the project; innovative use of architecturally exposed structural steel; technical or architectural advances in the use of the steel; the use of innovative design and construction methods; and sustainable design and construction.

The University of Michigan Law School, constructed in the 1930s around a quadrangle on the Ann Arbor campus, inhabits one of the most beautiful examples of university gothic architecture in the country. And while the tree-shaded open spaces and the cathedral-like library are among the most cherished spaces on campus, the Law School itself has always lacked a central community space to bring its members together.

The Robert B. Aikens Commons was conceived to fill that void, providing students, faculty and staff with a meeting space that would draw them together in a public square. A long-neglected courtyard, nestled between grand academic halls, was selected as the location for this new community space. Hartman Cox-Architects envisioned a grand sky-lit atrium and selected steel to create a stunning meeting space that complements and accentuates the surrounding historic structures.

“The building defines how modernity can coexist with tradition,” commented Asma Momin, P.E., a structural engineer with PageSoutherlandPage in Dallas, and a judge in the competition.

The atrium roof is a lattice of gently curved HSS 8x3x14 members, consisting of 54 curved ribs and four tiers of purlins. These members allowed for exceptionally clean detailing and were pre-assembled in the fabrication shop prior to being shipped segmentally to the site for erection. The roof is supported by eight tree-like columns fabricated from W24x84 sections. Each column extends through the main floor slab to the lower-level space below, providing an opportunity to create fixity at the column where it penetrates the slab. This fixity creates lateral stability for the atrium, which is subject to unbalanced wind loads and snow loads. An HSS perimeter member creates an attachment surface for both a gutter and an expansion joint. The lateral stability created by the trees, working in conjunction with the perimeter expansion joint, ensures that virtually no gravity loads and no lateral loads reach the walls of the historic stone structures surrounding the courtyard.

Besides creating a successful community space, improvement of pedestrian traffic routes between the Law School buildings was also necessary, and a new Gothic-style HSS truss bridge, crossing over the atrium, spans between two buildings: Hutchins Hall (an academic building) and an un-used tower in the adjacent William W. Cook Legal Research Library. The pedestrian route is completed, despite a significant change in elevation, through use of a two-stop elevator cradled in the tower on a new grid of W24x94 members.

The 10 IDEAS2 winners for 2012 were chosen from nearly 100 submissions received from architectural and engineering firms throughout the U.S. Each submission is reviewed and award winners are selected by a nationally recognized panel of design and construction industry professionals.

The IDEAS2 award dates back more than 70 years to the earliest years of AISC’s existence. Roger E. Ferch, P.E., president of AISC, said, “The entire Robert B. Aikens Commons project team has shown how structural steel can be used to create structures that combine beauty and practicality. The result is a space that serves the law school and the campus community extremely well, while providing an example of what can be achieved when designing and constructing projects with steel.”

High resolution images of the Robert B. Aikens Commons project are available upon request by contacting AISC’s Tasha Weiss at 312.670.5439, [email protected].

UofM Law School Commons
Photo courtesy of SDI Structures

For more information contact:

Tasha Weiss
Communications Department
(312) 670-5439
[email protected]




American Institute of Steel Construction
The American Institute of Steel Construction, headquartered in Chicago, is a not-for-profit technical institute and trade association established in 1921 to serve the structural steel design community and construction industry. AISC’s mission is to make structural steel the material of choice by being the leader in structural steel-related technical and market-building activities, including: specification and code development, research, education, technical assistance, quality certification, standardization, and market development. AISC has a long tradition of service to the steel construction industry of providing timely and reliable information. 

130 East Randolph St. Suite 2000
Chicago IL 60601
Phone: 312.670.2400
Fax: 312.626.2402