It’s important, when looking ahead to the future, to also honor and acknowledge the past. The stories in this newsletter do both. U-M students have many opportunities to connect with the past. My own cherished memories include studying in the library at Ruthven, the former location of the Museum of Natural History. I often worked on the fourth floor, where it was peaceful and quiet. Students have found similar refuge at the Michigan Union in the courtyard, the MUG, and the lounges.
These places let us treasure the “oldness;” the history that surrounds us, and the unique comfort of having a space all our own. I knew I could find people and conversation at other locations on campus or in the more populated areas of the Union, but that wasn’t always the atmosphere I was seeking. The quiet spaces made me feel connected to those before me.
I felt a tie to those who had—in the past—sought out the same refuge to study, reflect, and relax. I still cherish that tie as an important part of my experience. And it’s been something I’ve been thinking a lot about as we progress with the renovation—this blending of placemaking, of history, and of progress.
Stories in this newsletter connect the old and new in the same way today’s students have stewarded the Union through its renovation—bridging the best thinking of 100 years ago with new ideas from the present day and with what we and future community members haven’t yet begun to envision.
Director, Michigan Union
From a part-time job washing dishes in the Michigan Union’s “MUG” to hand-creating additional squash blossom tiles to complement the historic tiles gracing the renovated facility, University of Michigan alumna Nawal Motawi is making her mark on the Union.
Motawi graduated from the University’s School of Art in 1988. She founded Motawi Tileworks, located on Enterprise Drive in Ann Arbor, in 1992, after spending two years learning tilemaking at Detroit’s storied Pewabic Pottery. At that time, she made her own tiles in a garage studio and sold them from a stand she rented at the local farmers’ market.
Today, Motawi is still designing and making tiles in Ann Arbor. In 2011, she purchased her clay supplier, Rovin Ceramics, and moved it from Taylor, Michigan, to Ann Arbor. Combined, the two companies employ more than 30 people in a 12,900-square-foot studio. The tiles are sold in more than 300 stores across the United States. Her tiles are also featured in other university buildings, such as the University of Michigan Medical Center.
Motawi’s designs will be included in the water fountains and refill stations in the newly renovated Union. Michigan Union staff recently toured the production facility to get a firsthand look.
The Motawi Tileworks portion of the renovation will include these features for the water fountain and water refill stations in the Michigan Union. In addition to the custom-made brown and blue field tiles, each station will feature distinctive accent relief tiles inspired by the iconic squash blossom − hand created by Nawal Motawi − to complement the historic Pond and Pond design. The placement of the tiles will be done by Michielutti Brothers, Inc.
Colleen Crawley, senior installation designer, explains the history of Motawi Tileworks and the company’s exclusive rights to use designs from Frank Lloyd Wright’s portfolio for tiles.
To create a mold for some of the tile designs, artisans first create the design in Adobe Illustrator. Then, using a controlled cutting machine, they place a block of clay into the mold to press. A network of wires and tubing is placed on the block to compress out air. The molds take about two hours to dry. They make two a day.
A pug (block of clay) is placed on the bottom mold. The 60-ton press − nicknamed Betty Lou − closes on the pug, forming the tile. The extra clay flows out of the mold. Air is used to release the tile from the top mold and the tile slides off the lower mold. The tiles are placed on racks and await trimming.
After drying overnight, relief and field tiles are hand-dipped in glaze. The raw glaze color doesn’t indicate the final color of the glaze, so this green will actually−after oxidation−be blue. After glazing, the tiles are loaded back into the kilns for their final firing.
A portion of Motawi tiles − the most popular designs − are hand-glazed and painted by staff. All staff members have a fine-handwork artistic background and work diligently to glaze approximately $10,000 worth of tiles each day. Some tiles take 10 minutes and others that are more intricate can take up to an hour.
Motawi also makes custom designs, such as this block M tile.
Jason Rowland (BA ‘19)
Since its very beginning, the Michigan Union has been a center for students. Initiated, developed, and implemented by students, the Union has a long history of having a positive impact on the campus experience. That’s why students have been immersed in the process of the Michigan Union renovation. Jason Rowland, who recently graduated with a bachelor of arts in organizational studies and a minor in writing, has been involved in the renovation through the Michigan Union Board of Representatives (MUBR). We spoke with him about his experiences.
How and why did you become involved in MUBR and the Union renovation project?
I became involved with MUBR during the winter 2016 semester.
My interest in improving the Union—and many other spaces on campus—started out when I joined Building a Better Michigan (BBR). Through that organization, I took a bus trip to Chicago to visit co-working spaces and various universities throughout the city. The goal of this trip was to take the good that we saw in the spaces in Chicago (for example, designs that encouraged collaboration) and brainstorm ways to bring it to our campus. After this trip, I realized I wanted to play a more active role in helping to improve our campus. As a result, I decided to look into ways to do so. Through that search, I found MUBR—and the rest was history.
What have you learned from working with MUBR and the renovation?
The biggest thing I’ve learned while working with MUBR is the amount of history in the Union. When coming to campus, I knew the Union was old— but that was about it.
I never knew about its history of women’s exclusion, or the protests over the tower, or even JFK’s speech on the front steps. Through MUBR, I’ve learned about the countless historical moments that took place on the property of the Union. Not only has this given me a richer understanding of our campus, but by studying the good and the bad side of the Union’s history, I’m also more motivated to make it more equitable moving forward.
What has been most rewarding?
As a student-at-large representative, this position has allowed me to have a direct impact on the future of the Unions, from working with architects to plan the layout of the space, to ensuring that all artwork in the building is culturally sensitive, I am excited that, as I leave campus to go onto the next chapter of my life, my contributions will remain standing.
Do you have a favorite memory/experience regarding the Michigan Union?
Freshman year, my roommate and I attended a ballroom dancing lesson in the Union. For context, it was my first and last time ballroom dancing. I didn’t know how to dance, and I didn’t know anyone there other than my roommate. However, none of that mattered. For one of the first times in my Michigan experience, I felt included in the larger community. People from all across the world came to the Union to learn a new skill and to mingle with other students—a solid metaphor for the Union itself.
Anything else you’d like to add?
In addition to my membership in MUBR, I was also a managing section editor of the Michigan Daily.
In that role, I was on the paper when the Daily digitized their archives for the school’s bicentennial. Through that process, I conducted further research on the Michigan Union—learning even more information about the Union’s, and MUBR’s, past. For anyone interested in learning more about the Union, I would recommend looking into the Daily’s archives hosted at bentley.umich.edu, the Bentley Historical Library website.
Restoring the past is not an easy task. For Full Spectrum Stained Glass, a Colon, Michigan-based restoration company working to fully restore the beautiful century-old windows of the historic Michigan Union, restoring the past involves tracking the progress of 540 windows, 1,150 individual sashes, 5,218 leaded glass panels, and 21,528 individual pieces of glass.
And they are doing this restoration with meticulous, painstaking care.
Representatives and staff from The University of Michigan’s University Unions, Student Life, and the student organization Building a Better Michigan recently toured the Full Spectrum facility to watch (and photograph) the process. From start to finish the pictures tell an intricate story of the Michigan Union’s past. And fortunately for those who will enjoy the Union when it reopens in winter 2020, those pieces of history will be intact—gleaming like they did at the turn of the 20th century—and more energy-efficient. Full Spectrum was contracted for the project via Walbridge, the renovation construction manager.
The windows are from three different eras—1919, 1937 and 1956—so experts need to modify the restoration of wood sashes, leaded glass panels, hardware, and weather-stripping to each era. The process is arduous and exacting. “We made a tracking sheet for each of the 540 windows, so at any given time we can tell you at what stage of restoration they are in,” Full Spectrum co-owner Valerie McCartney says.
“The windows will return to the original look and feel of the 1919 windows. That’s why we are restoring them to maintain our history, not universally replacing the windows,” says Amy White, Director of the Michigan Union. “Many of the structural renovations to the building will correct previous modifications, some that occluded its natural daylight and blocked its graciousness. Every detail of this restoration looks to bring back the natural daylight, while adding to the environmentally friendly efficiency, and restore the look and feel of the Union. That includes each detail right down to the windows.”
The window project began in August 2018, when Full Spectrum took four months to remove, document, and assess each window. The windows were then transported by cargo trailer to be housed in a custom-built unit on the company’s property. To begin the restoration, the windows first enter a containment room where hazardous leads, dust from putties, and paint on the sashes are removed. The leaded glass panels are separated from the wood sashes, as well.
Next steps in the process include liquid stripping to remove any finishes. Because of the age of the windows, many layers of paint needed to be removed. In the wood repair room, “one of the goals is to save as much of the original wood as possible,” McCartney says. “When necessary, we used salvaged wood from other Michigan Union windows.”
Completing the process includes refinishing century-old, tarnished hardware to a shine, and then reassembling the stained glass into the window frame with back bedding and glaze (or caulk) to seal the finished product. The inside portion of the windows will be storm windows by Peterson Glass Co. with energy-efficient weather stripping. These aluminum framed Thermolite windows will improve energy efficiency, as well as reduce the noise infiltration, and provide a security barrier. Other benefits of the window restoration include better air movement and easier cleaning and maintenance. The exterior of the facility’s windows will be restored to the original color, which is similar in tone to the limestone surround. This was discovered through paint samples uncovered on the windows.
“The windows will be able to close completely,” McCartney says. “You’ll see a big improvement in efficiency.”
Viewing the process was a sentimental journey for many on the tour.
Susan Pile, director of University Unions, who has been involved since the renovation was just an idea, was impressed with the meticulous and painstaking work.
“This is such a special project to all of us−a project from our hearts. It meant so much to us, taking this tour and seeing the work and care put into this aspect of the restoration,” Pile says.
The newly restored windows will be reinstalled in fall 2019, as the Michigan Union prepares to reopen in winter 2020. For updates or more information, visit uunions.umich.edu/reunion.
With precision, exact planning, and enormous cranes with 6-ton lift capacity, the beginnings of the elegant Michigan Union Courtyard roof installation took place in February.
The first step of the process was to install the “ribs” using an onsite crane located on State Street. The crane lifted the ribs up over the roof and placed them into the courtyard roof. The ribs—measuring 64 feet by 48 feet—were too large to bring through the building, according to Laura Rayner, project manager for Auxiliary Capital Projects.
The process was exacting and required equipment with specific abilities, she says, citing specifications provided by Walbridge, the project construction team. Here’s how it worked:
- The ribs were assembled off-site and then taken apart prior to delivery to ensure that all the pieces would fit when they re-assembled them at the Michigan Union. Walbridge used a 265 hydraulic Liebherr 1220-5—an all-terrain mobile crane that has a maximum lift capacity of 220 tons, a maximum telescoping boom length of 197 feet, and a long-folding fly jib extension of 141 feet.
- They also used a Potain HDT-80 tower crane, which is a self-erecting hydraulic tower crane that has a maximum lift capacity of 6.6 U.S. tons, a maximum hook height with horizontal jib that reaches out to 112 feet, and a maximum hook height of 176 feet with 148 foot length with a raised jib. The operating hook radius of the crane works within 148 ft.
- All frames and loose pieces were properly marked and matched to the erection plans developed specifically for this project.
- Each piece was marked according to the sequence and phase.
- When the glass for the roof is installed, a similar process will take place.
Assembled during February’s freezing temperatures, the entire process took about three weeks to complete, Rayner said.
The glass skylight framing will begin June 1 and the glass within the framing will start July 8. This part of the process will include installing the glass in individual sections.
According to Lee Becker of Hartman-Cox Architects, they will install insulating glass with a “Low-E coating and ceramic frit in a dot screen pattern.”
“The glass assembly has a quarter-inch heat strengthened outer section, a half-inch space filled with Argon−which provides additional insulation value−and an inner layer of 9/16-inch-thick laminated glass,” Becker says. “The glass is engineered for solar and thermal performance and to allow only about 17 percent of the daylight to enter.”
Becker adds that the insulation values, shading coefficients, and the tuning of the light transmission is energy-efficient and that the glass is a color that will not cause glare from reflections off of the top of the skylight.
Each four-foot-square piece of the glass will be held in place using pressure caps (fastened with bolts under a concealing cover) and silicone joints at each horizontal purlin (section of the frame), Becker says.
Precise planning in design will keep the structure secure in all phases of Michigan weather.
“The entire system is supported on four columns. The tops arch outward and provide bracing. The structure needed to be designed for significant snow loads and areas which may hold drifts. It is also designed to allow for a certain amount of movement from deflections, depending on the variable distribution of snow loads,” Becker says.
Since its opening in 1919, the Michigan Union has been a uniquely welcoming space for students, staff, and the community. From special events and milestones in history to quiet times studying and bonding with friends, the memories made are priceless. As the Union readies for opening in winter 2020, here’s a look at a few of those memories, and some anticipation for what’s to come.
“The Union was the first building I entered at U-M. I’ll be back after graduation for a picture. And (when it opens) I’ll come in multiple times a week to study, get coffee, or meet up with friends. The Union has been a central part of my college experience.”
- Caroline Richburg (BA ‘19)
“My favorite memory (at the Union) was eating chocolate croissants from Au Bon Pain outside with friends after classes.”
- Chelsie Thompson (BA ‘19), International Studies and Sociology major
“(The Union’s) sense of strong communal tradition, of warmth, is exactly what attracted me to this campus three years ago. The Union made me feel welcomed in a place I was completely unfamiliar with−a place 252 miles from the only home I had ever known. As the school year continued, my connection to the now 100-year-old building only grew and allowed me to form a bond that would lead me to apply to be on the Michigan Union Board of Representatives.”
- Nina Pantoja (BA ‘21), Spanish and Sociology major
“The Union was where my first ever tour of the university began and was the place where I got my first glimpse of what it was like to be a Wolverine. Now, I walk through the Union almost every day and am constantly admiring its historical and architectural significance… Overall, the Union gives me the feeling that I am home here at Michigan.”
- Nick Schmidt (BA ‘20)
“I was here when President Kennedy announced the inauguration of the Peace Corps on the front steps. Unbelievable. An enormous number of students were there. Students were very, very excited about public service, and this was the grand opportunity for future public service for students who were just graduating.”
- Ted Beals (’56)
The Chance to Make Your Mark
The renovation of the Michigan Union is your opportunity to support the Michigan Union, its mission, and Michigan students for generations to come. Your gift will help restore and re-energize the Union while maintaining its historic fabric as a vibrant social hub and locus of community, innovation, involvement, and leadership.
Have you created your Michigan Union legacy yet?
Legacy gifts from generous alumni and friends provide the future support needed to achieve the University’s long-term commitment to excellence. A bequest is the easiest and most tangible way to accomplish this. If you have already included the Michigan Union in your estate plans, but have not previously notified us, please let us know. We would like to properly thank you for your support, ensure your wishes are met, and plan with you for the building’s future.
Ways to Fund Your Gift
Your gifts of cash, pledges, or appreciated securities will enhance the experience of all University of Michigan students. Wills, estates, and planned gifts allow you to create a lasting legacy that will allow our students to grow and thrive for generations to come.
Contact us with any questions as well as for more information on how you can include the University of Michigan in your estate plans or how to document your wishes and become a member of the John Monteith Legacy Society.
Student Life Development
Wolverine Tower, Suite 9000
3003 South State Street
Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109-1288
The Michigan Union Mission
The Michigan Union shall be a University center for the primary purpose of enhancing the quality of campus life and favorably affecting the complete educational experience at the University of Michigan. The Michigan Union shall serve as a unifying force in the lives of students, faculty, staff, and alumni by providing opportunities for interaction and for the cultivation of loyalty to the University of Michigan.
Nicholas Schmidt*, chair
Nina Pantoja*, vice chair
Want to know more about the renovation? Read our Fall/Winter 2018 Newsetter