Renovated, improved, historic Michigan Union offers intriguing features


Expanded public areas and student spaces, energy efficiency and sustainability, and flexible meeting areas — there’s something for everyone in the recently renovated Michigan Union.

The Union, which recently underwent an 18-month, $85.2 million renovation, will reopen Jan. 13. The occasion will be marked with a reopening celebration with remarks from key leaders, performances and an open house.

Doors open at 11:30 a.m. with remarks at noon. An open house and tours of the renovated facility will take place from 1-4 p.m.

The project includes space adjustments and carefully designed renovations to help the university meet the needs of current and future students, honor the architectural and historic integrity of the Union and complete significant infrastructure upgrades, said Susan Pile, senior director of University Unions and Auxiliary Services.

Photo of the newly enclosed Michigan Union Courtyard
The Union Courtyard is now enclosed with a glass ceiling on curved arches created to match the building’s historical design. The newly enclosed courtyard will bring natural daylight to the interior of the building, while providing occupants with a connection to the outdoors. (Photo by Austin Thomason, Michigan Photography)

Staff will see benefits

In April 2018, the Michigan Union officially closed for renovations. For most people, that’s when the transition began. But for the 140 U-M staff members who worked at the Union, the transition began months earlier with a carefully orchestrated move-out plan to ensure services and operations were not interrupted.

“The process included a detailed move-out plan, with some staff relocating to temporary spaces as early as January 2018 in advance of the Union closure,” said Amy White, director of the Michigan Union.

“Communication was key throughout the process and included bi-monthly newsletters and a website to keep everyone informed. We are very pleased with the move-in and move-out phases, and excited to be back to work in our Michigan Union.”

Today, many of those staff members are home again. Staff, visitors and students will see many new benefits to the renovated, historic facility.
Included in the upgrades for staff are:

  • New, flexible meeting spaces. Rooms divide to accommodate a range of event and meeting sizes.
  • Consolidated offices. Department groupings now allow for more public space, and are designed for more fluid interaction. The building was rezoned for more efficient office space, returning more square footage for student and community use.

A focus on students

“Dating back to its beginning in the early 1900s, the Union was founded first by students as a club, with the current building opening in 1919,” Pile said.

“It has always been a central location for student involvement, leadership, learning, and social connection. The renovation will honor that history and the Union will serve for another 100 years as the place where Michigan memories are made.”

Specifically, the project details include:

  • Enhanced program and social space on the main level by enclosing the courtyard.
  • Expanded and improved informal gathering spaces through restoration of the original 1919 floor plan.
  • A newly created state-of-the-art student organization and involvement space, The IdeaHub, is located on the second floor of the Union, and will wrap around the newly enclosed courtyard. This inclusive space for student organizations aims to be a welcoming environment that will foster collaboration across all types of student organizations.
The renovated Michigan Union has a variety of expanded and informal gathering spaces for students to meet and work. (Austin Thomason, Michigan Photography)

Helping the environment

Overall upgrades in the 250,000-square-foot landmark focused on energy efficiency and sustainability, with an estimated 37 percent energy savings. This included:

Photo of water fountain and refill station
Motawi Tileworks created tiles for the Union’s water fountains and refill stations. In addition to the specially made brown and blue field tiles, each station features distinctive accent relief tiles — hand created by Nawal Motawi — to complement the historic design. (Photo by Austin Thomason, Michigan Photography)
  • Complete restoration of the Union’s 540 windows by Full Spectrum Stained Glass, a Colon, Michigan-based restoration company. This included the restoration of wood sashes, leaded glass panels, hardware and weather-stripping.
  • The restored windows are energy efficient with the inside section as storm windows by Peterson Glass Co. that include energy-efficient weather stripping. The aluminum framed Thermolite windows will improve energy efficiency as well as reduce the noise infiltration and provide a security barrier.
  • Improved air-conditioning system throughout the building.
  • LED lighting used in all renovated areas.
  • Occupancy sensors used in all renovated areas.
  • Daylighting controls in the courtyard.
  • A 20 percent water consumption savings obtained through the use of low-flow fixtures, a regional chilled-water plant that allows for lower operating costs and less equipment to service and maintain, and chilled water for air handlers and fan coils.

All exterior walls and a majority of interior walls were reused, with local and regional building materials sought wherever possible for a low carbon footprint. Other reused materials were some of the historical light fixtures, historical furnishings, and many of the doors.

The project also provided deep infrastructure renewal including:

  • Adding a sprinkler system, and electrical, mechanical and plumbing system improvements.
  • Elevator replacements and upgrades.
  • Replacement of the roof and restoration and replacement of windows.
  • Interior finish upgrades on floors one through four.
  • Restroom upgrades.
  • In addition, the Michigan Union’s North Entrance was redesigned to become a more welcoming, open and light-infused entrance with an enclosed ramp.


  1. Mira Lancaster
    on January 15, 2020 at 1:34 pm

    Amazing. I love the contrast of the old with the new.

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