The 1980's era Memorial Student Union (MSU) suffered from a poor image and widespread underuse. The brick and concrete structure was in superb condition, but its dark and foreboding entries and confusing circulation were turning students away. Mackey Mitchell, with Architect of Record Frisbee Architects, was selected to renovate and energize the student center, making it a primary student destination. A limited budget required creative solutions for this 70,000SF, $20 million project, completed in 2012.
To address the internal functional challenges economically, renovations took place guided by the mantra: "small moves, big impact." For 50 years the building had turned its back to campus. Mackey Mitchell suggested peeling away selective parts of the building's skin, re-cladding them with glass, and re-envisioning them as welcoming front doors. By opening up the two main staircases inside and providing clear central circulation paths, the building was instantly transformed from confusing hallway mazes to an open, connected town square. Renovated dining spaces do "double duty" serving as dining and performance venues, late-night study spaces, and collaborative zones.
The dining ritual has been transformed from a solitary experience to a social one. The lounges have become so desirable that fashion students bring their sewing machines in over the weekend to set up shop as impromptu studios, and the nearby library has voiced concern over how many students now go to the MSU to study instead of the library. One student remarked, "We used to accommodate the building; now the building accommodates us."
Passion + Perspective
The architects created a beautiful and well-connected destination.
- Darrin Witucki
Student Center Director, University of Wisconsin-Stout