photo by arts.umich
The University of Michigan Biological Station wraps around a finger of Douglas Lake like a humble and handsome engagement ring. Tiny gemstone cabins and diamond buildings dot the metal trails, twisting together to form a proposition we were all eager to accept.
In thirty-seven days, we will depart from campus to break ground on our build project; for many of us, it will be our first time at the Station, and for others, it will be a welcome return to a place of learning, discovery, and personal growth. Though the Biostation hosts mostly science courses like General Ecology and Ethnobotany, it also caters to students of writing and environmental history. We won’t be donning waders, but rather hardhats and work gloves. We also won’t be studying the history of the area, but rather adding to it.
The idea for a student-built structure came about with our University’s Bicentennial. Two-hundred years of UMich brought a new wave of enthusiasm for demonstrating what it means to go here, “what it means to be a Wolverine, the Leaders, and Best” if you will. (whatever that really means) Forward-thinking projects to showcase and celebrate our school were the key — and with all of the tall, flashy new LEED-certified buildings cropping up all over our home campus, one has to think: how green are they? The concept of truly “green” building had been faithfully carried out before, and not too far from this campus. Our professor, Joe Trumpey had built his own Straw Bale home a few years ago, and proposed that students taking on a similar task was not only momentous and exciting, but doable. With approval from the Bicentennial Committee granted and funding in hand, our team of 23 students from Environment and Art & Design began meeting every Friday morning of Winter Semester in preparation to build the newest, greenest natural structure. Our building won’t be tall, flashy, or LEED-certified, but it will be honest, handmade, and instinctively located on the homestead of our University: the Biostation.
The UMBS was established in 1909 on 10,000 acres surrounding Douglas Lake near Pellston, MI as a research facility. The land was purchased as a blank slate– literally. It had been totally cleared of trees by lumber barons; students and professors spend the early years studying the recovery of this ravaged landscape, and how exploitation impacted the natural environment. Over the years, the Station grew not only with additions of classrooms, cabins built by engineers, a dining hall, and volleyball courts, but also in the subjects it hosted. As interconnected issues of climate, invasive species, and natural history surfaced, the station welcomed an array of students and faculty researchers from across disciplines, making the strength of the station its interactive community dedicated to understanding the changing natural world.
In our time at the Station, we’ll not only build this interactive community, but also a structure unlike any other. We’ll be building a piece of history, as modern as they come.