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Detroit Observatory Renovation, University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI
University of Michigan Detroit Observatory Renovation
Polishing a historic gem.
Preserving the original while engaging the campus and community.
Creating connections to the street and the sky
The Detroit Observatory is the second-oldest extant building on The University of Michigan’s campus and the University’s first dedicated scientific research laboratory. While the original 1854 structure was given much care and attention in a 1999 restoration, its dramatic top-of-the-hill siting, challenging accessibility, and lack of amenities continued to present issues for utilizing this historic gem to meet the University’s needs. With only about 350 visitors per year, the Observatory remained significantly underutilized.

Working with the university, HED shaped the addition to provide a memorable, easily accessed event experience where students, faculty, and the public engage with the history and heritage of the observatory and university in a meaningful way. Quiet, refined architecture integrated into the hillside brings new street presence and identity to the expanded facility while allowing the original structure to remain the focus. An animated series of south-facing windows bring slices of sun and sky to the interior that transforms into a dramatic play of light and pattern in the evening on viewing nights at the Observatory.
Results
The new multipurpose room is projected to be one of the most heavily utilized educational and outreach spaces on campus.
To support the classroom and outreach programs, the reception area was added, toilet facilities expanded, storage provided and a small catering kitchen is included. All new work included in the project is outside of the existing Observatory preserving its original structure.
A large portion of the addition is integrated under the hillside to soften the visual impact of the addition. Portions of the hill disturbed by the construction of the new addition are restored incorporating a naturalistic planting of grasses which is informed by the original historic landscape of the hill.
The previous sloping east-west student pathway south of the addition is transformed to be ADA accessible and is no longer routed through the adjacent receiving area.
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Project Data
Detroit Observatory Renovation 2016-01980-001
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, Michigan
PROJECT SCOPE
Renovation / Addition
HED ROLE
Full Service A/E
RSF/GSF
7,088
CONSTRUCTION COST
WND
SUSTAINABILITY LEVEL
HED Standard
YEAR COMPLETED
2020
Project Team
  • Jack Bullo
    AIA, LEED AP
    Principal
    Architecture + Design

  • Gerald (Jerry) Philo
    PE, LEED AP
    Associate
    Project Management

Preserving the original while engaging the campus and community.
Detroit Observatory Renovation, University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI
PROJECT DATA
PROJECT TEAM
Polishing a historic gem.