Building Construction and Use of Energy on the Historic Campus

This week I have been working to pull together my notes from the University Archives building construction and use of space on campus. Though this is not the focus of my project this year (this topic has been addressed by previous CAP researchers Eve Avdoulos and Sabrina Perlman), I believe there are some threads here that could be easily tied to my sustainability research. For example, in speaking with Archives researchers, I have heard that the earliest structures on campus were made of locally sourced bricks and stone. If Anyone has a reference for this or could point me in a direction where I could find more information, I would appreciate it! Since it is well-documented that the first cohorts of students were just as much laborers as scholars, it would be interesting to know what role students played in the construction of campus buildings.

An Aerial View of MAC ca. 1903
Notice how all the buildings are facing center, towards the Sacred Space.

In its present design, Michigan State University’s campus is impressively expansive. The campus began as a small cluster of buildings set in swampy wooded land which necessitated much clearing. The radiation of campus growth projected from this initial cluster, but not in an even concentric fashion from the center. Buildings in the center of campus (now only a “center” in metaphor alone) are now historical landmarks just as much as they are functioning university structures. Initially, college buildings all faced the center of campus; now, with growth of the institution, the buildings all face away from the center (even though the physical structure remains unchanged). Some shifts in building design reflect a temporary need for accommodation (e.g. facilities needed to teach in and house students after war).

Archaeological data illustrate the university response to growth in all arenas (e.g. need for increased food production/sourcing in response to greater enrollment, need for reevaluation of campus planning in response to changing transportation technology, and need for adoption of modern energy technologies in response to greater campus-wide usage). For example, during a 2012 CAP excavation, the remains of a boiler house were discovered in what is currently the middle of a road. Archival documents show that the university was under pressure to provide energy for the campus that was outgrowing the technology infrastructure. The boiler house, seen archaeologically as an abandoned technology, was the last effort prior to the adoption of an integrated system.

This semester I will continue to visit the Archives to fill in some gaps regarding food, energy, and transportation practices on the historic campus. While I think as this point I have exhausted the material from the President’s Papers and student diaries, I am going to investigate the Annual Reports to the Board of Agriculture next week.


Author: Amy Michael

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