Renaissance House and O'Keeffe House share a building just off Michigan's North Campus. With a total of about 150 members, these are the the largest of the ICC houses. The fairly theoretical institution of Escher House facilitates coordination of building-wide maintenance and other activities.
1516 Gilbert Court Ann Arbor, MI 48105-3101 - (734) 939-0274
Building & Grounds
The co-op building is a two-story tall square around a central courtyard - "The Mound" - which is open at one end, with a short path to the parking lot. A large grassy field beyond the parking lot, maintained by the University, hosts regular soccer and frisbee games, and a path leads along the edge of the field to a university bus stop by Baits Housing. The building is broken into 9 suites, each of which is entered from the courtyard. The suites have 16-18 bedrooms apiece, with a kitchen on the first floor and a living room/lounge on the second floor. The basement holds utility rooms and common spaces, including two restaurant-scale kitchens and large dining rooms, bicycle room, laundry, darkroom (more often used to store fermenting homebrew than for photography), workshop, quiet study room, computer room, and a recreation room with pool table, ping-pong, movie projector, and dance floor.
The ICC constructed the North Campus Co-ops in 1970, with a $1 million low-interest loan provided by the Federal government. It is the only co-op in the ICC system that was constructed as a co-op - others were all houses or fraternities that were purchased by the ICC. This intentionality means that the co-op's core needs are well-served; the large-scale kitchens are no afterthought, and the house does not sport the bedrooms tucked into attics or basements found in many of the co-ops. As a downside, however, some find the building rather "institutional", and lacking the quirks and character of other houses.
The population of Ren and O'Keeffe is generally older than members of other ICC co-ops; the majority of residents are graduate students or recent graduates staying on for the lifestyle. Unlike most of the co-ops, in which new residents share rooms, the north campus houses provide single rooms by choice, albeit for higher charges - the option of a private room helps attract graduate students, many of whom feel they're "too old for a roommate".
The houses additionally have a large number of foreign students, with some European schools referring a few exchange students every year. Membership is skewed towards the departments located on North Campus - engineering, music, art, architecture, and urban planning - though the houses are also fairly convenient to Central Campus, being a block from the Bursley-Baits bus in one direction and from the AATA Route 2 in the other.
In part because of the concentration of grad students, and in part because the houses accommodate cooperative living as an ongoing lifestyle, Ren and O'Keeffe typically have a number of experienced residents. Many members live in the house for 3-4 years while working on a graduate degree, with some house members with decade-plus tenures providing institutional memory to the houses.
The basic social unit in NCC is the suite - these 16-person groups are the folks whom you'll be arranging bathroom cleaning schedules with or asking to turn down the music at midnight. The suite is also the level at which lots of spontaneous daily interaction occurs, providing the most opportunity for building close friendships. As a result, suites frequently develop distinct cultures and may even approach familial bonding; it's not uncommon for members to switch suites after their first semester or first year, after finding a better "fit" or developing closer friendships with members of another suite.
The building itself is large enough that most members do not get to know all other members during the course of a year, particularly because these co-ops are very tolerant of the "reclusive scholar" type, who may wish only a room to sleep in and three meals a day. There are various opportunities for social mingling, however, starting with daily dinner, and including open invite movie nights, sports (both IM teams and pick-up games), a few parties each semester, and bonfires on the mound.
Co-opers could probably provide lots of stories...
- Charlie VanBoven - "To be continued," Dec. 6, 2007.