A table for 12, six feet apart: University of Michigan architects reimagine outdoor courtyard


Faculty, students and staff at the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning created a

Faculty, students and staff at the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning created a “socially distanced” courtyard installation for the U-M Art and Architecture building. Photo by Eric Bronson, Michigan Photography

During a typical fall at the University of Michigan, students are often in the courtyard of the Art and Architecture Building socializing, studying and meeting as classes.

Even though the coronavirus pandemic has made this fall feel atypical in many ways, Taubman College students and faculty members wanted to ensure that the courtyard retained its ability to be a community gathering space.

A group of faculty and students recently created an outdoor, socially distanced instructional space to activate the inner courtyard at the Art and Architecture Building, home of the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning and Stamps School of Art & Design. The goal was to allow the university community to safely utilize the popular space by intuitively adhering to health and safety guidelines required by the pandemic.

“The social distancing challenges of the pandemic are amplified in design education, which relies heavily on collaborative, spontaneous and interactive exchanges in studio and classroom environments,” said Anya Sirota, associate dean for academic initiatives and associate professor. “One response to this dilemma was to harness our own disciplinary expertise to create a more engaging, empathetic spatial experience, which despite some very real constraints, rings true to our collective culture.”

Sirota, along with other Taubman College faculty and staff including Jonathan Rule (assistant professor of practice), Ana Morcillo Pallarés (assistant professor), Jacob Comerci (academic innovation program manager), and Ishan Pal (research assistant) co-designed two large, health-informed work tables, which each accommodate up to 12 people and adhere to health and safety guidelines.

Students Gary Zhang, Adrian DiCorato and Kristina Cantarero assisted with the fabrication of the tables. Taubman College’s Digital Fabrication Lab and woodshop provided additional support.

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