The Judy and Stanley Frankel 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.