University of Michigan

College of

University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI
142,000 SF
Completion date
June 2025

Set to be completed in 2024, the University of Michigan College of Pharmacy will serve as a landmark structure and a vibrant, welcoming place where students, faculty and researchers come together to learn, discover and make a difference in the world.

Founded in 1876, the University of Michigan College of Pharmacy is a historic institution with a long and distinguished history, notably as the nation's first College of Pharmacy located at a public university. Since its founding, the college has attracted top students and faculty from all over the world. Today, its educational program is widely regarded as one of the best in the country.

In response to a period of significant growth and transformation, the university engaged in a strategic planning process that resulted in a vision for the college to become a leader in pharmaceutical education, research and practice. A key component of this vision was the design and construction of a new building for the college that would promote collaboration and innovation. To achieve this goal, the university partnered with RDG Planning & Design and set out to create a state-of-the-art, boldly sustainable space that supports innovative pharmaceutical education. 

Once complete, the College of Pharmacy building will be LEED Gold certified and the tallest mass timber research building in the world.

Design Exploration

RDG's design for the new building is centered around the principles of unity, connection and information.

The existing College of Pharmacy Building was constructed in 1960, with a major addition built in 1992. The building’s narrow structural bays and shallow floor-to-floor heights don't allow for the reconfiguration needed for modern research and teaching laboratory spaces or modern classrooms. In addition, the building isn't large enough to meet the College of Pharmacy’s space needs and as such, the college’s teaching, research and office spaces are distributed across seven campus locations. 

Working closely with university stakeholders, the design team created strategies that would align and support three critical goals for the project:

- To create a highly flexible environment that can adapt to the changing needs of the program.

- To connect the building to the campus and community, both physically and visually.

- To incorporate sustainable and well-being design principles throughout the building.

The resulting 142,000-SF building, located on the corner of Glen Avenue and East Huron Street, is designed to house active learning-style classrooms, laboratories, associated support spaces, faculty and administrative offices and student-focused areas. 

A Flexible Environment with Community Connections

Representative of its significant investment in the future of the program, the College of Pharmacy engaged RDG to design a new, modernized teaching and research facility that would increase physical space for academic, research and student support functions. RDG's design supports the college's mission to provide innovative pharmaceutical education and creates a vibrant and welcoming environment for students, faculty and staff. To create a strong identity for the program, the building brings various departments and programs together in a single location and offers numerous collaborative spaces and flexible environments that encourage interaction, communication and collaboration. 

RDG's design is informed by the surrounding university and community and reflects the university's commitment to engagement and outreach. Connection to the community is reinforced at the street level, where the building's glazing provides a clear view of the interior, creating a sense of openness and encouraging passersby to visually interact with the mass timber structure. Massing provides access and flexibility and respects the neighboring church and neighborhood structures; likewise, the building's stone and terracotta materials complement the aesthetic of existing campus buildings while also providing a unique identity for the College of Pharmacy.

Accessibility and Well-Being at the Forefront

To support focus and encourage overall mental well-being, RDG's design creates gathering spaces at both of the building's entrances. In addition, the design prioritizes outdoor views, and access to natural light from interior offices and labs to positively influence the emotional and cognitive health of students and faculty.

Because of its initiation during the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic, design for the space emphasizes accessibility and physical space strategies were at the forefront of the design The design team met with the campus accessibility group to review the design and gain input from direct users.  

Sustainability at Scale

The use of mass timber structure is anticipated to achieve a 40% reduction of the building's embodied carbon footprint.

The building's mass timber structure and energy use reduction are key elements of its sustainable design approach. In addition to being the world's tallest mass timber research building, once complete, the College of Pharmacy building will be LEED Gold certified and estimated to have a 15% energy use reduction below the Energy Code, demonstrating the university's deep-seated commitment to carbon neutrality and design modernization. 

The building's height directly results from its location on a narrow site with a 22-foot grade change from East to West and allows the form of the upper floors to self-shade the transparent base at the ground plane. To maximize daylight, the building's facade pattern is designed to have a modular relationship to research bench depths, creating a dynamic representation of the innovative nature of the program.

University of Michigan: Design Diagram Animation