Building & Architecture News

February 2009

Ave Maria University-A Vision in Copper

The first Catholic university established in 40 years is being built, and roofed, with long-term sustainability in mind.

Personal commitment to an idea is a rare commodity in business. So when Thomas S. Monaghan purchased 270 tons of copper sheet metal to roof his dream project-a Catholic university in southwest Florida-he faced a difficult decision when the copper's value more than doubled within two years.

Monaghan, the founder of Domino's Pizza and former owner of the 1984 World Series champion Detroit Tigers baseball team, is a savvy businessman. He stood to gain $1 million or more in profit, but it would mean revising his campus architectural plans.

For a man of big ideas and well-defined goals, like Tom Monaghan, the choice was easy.

"We weren't looking to make a profit," he stated recently, gesturing toward the gleaming new campus and copper rooftops of Ave Maria University near Naples, Florida. "Our goal was sustainable buildings-not 20 year buildings, but 50 to 100 year buildings. If anything were to happen to me, I didn't want my successor to water down the building process. The whole theme is copper roofs."

Ave Maria exteriorAve Maria University

High-resolution version of this photo.

When completed, all of the campus buildings will have standing seam copper hip roofs with broad copper eaves, reminiscent of the Prairie Style homes designed by master architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Monaghan's vision for the Ave Maria campus stems from his longstanding admiration of Wright, who favored copper throughout his projects. An avid architecture buff, Monaghan's own copper-roofed home in Ann Arbor, Michigan, to which he commutes when he's not working as Chancellor at Ave Maria, also was designed to evoke Wright's iconic Prairie Style homes.

Ave Maria University is an ambitious undertaking. Originally, it was to be located in Ann Arbor near Domino Farms, the company headquarters Monaghan built that is reputed to have the world's largest copper roof. Then an unexpected benefactor, the Barron Collier Company, one of Florida's largest landholders, offered 10,800 acres of scrub and sand on the edge of the Everglades, miles from the nearest town, if Monaghan would agree to create a self-sustaining community along with the university.

"Our original intention wasn't to establish a community," Monaghan explains. "Once we were offered the land, we had to figure out what to do with it. The university acts as the nucleus of the town." Ave Maria's master plan includes a cathedral-like Oratory, elementary and secondary schools, parks, golf courses and a sports stadium, as well as 11,000 homes, condominiums and apartments.

Larry Peters, an architectural program manager for the Copper Development Association, consulted on the project in its planning stages. "This is the most extensive use of copper I've seen in the past 10 years, certainly in the Southeast," he says. "These people are building for the future, and that's why they chose copper. They know they've made a smart investment."

Despite the windfall the university could realize by selling off its copper, Monaghan says they will stick to the original plan of roofing all the campus buildings with the metal.

"It's a good long-term investment from an economic standpoint," he says. "I don't consider it a luxury because copper lasts so much longer than tile or anything else. Nothing is more beautiful. Eighty to 90 percent of a structure's appearance is the roof. We didn't have to put more money into the design of the buildings because it wasn't as important." Cu

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