Back to all news stories

On campus: U-M public art and architecture lures visitors

Lilian Varner, Jamie Sherman Blinder

One of the busiest times of the year on campus, spring commencement is a landmark occasion when graduates, family members and friends gather to celebrate the past and future.

For the past two years, celebrations have looked a little different: the commencement was canceled in 2020 and was closed to guests in 2021 due to COVID-19 protocols.

This year, however, two commencement ceremonies were scheduled at the University of Michigan, one for the class of 2022 on April 30 and a special “Comeback Ceremony” for the class of 2020 on May 7.

Every day, visitors are invited to enjoy the public spaces, libraries and works of art at U-M. This list of public art that enriches daily life on campus was curated by Tina Olsen, director of The University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA), and Jonathan Massey, dean of Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning. They are co-chairs of the U-M Arts Initiative.



Permanently installed at UMMA in November 2020 during the pandemic, this 25-foot-tall sculpture by Spanish artist Jaume Plensa of an elongated human head with hands covering both eyes is a monumental work signifying deep reflection.

11/13/20 Juame Plensa sculpture outside UMMA

11/13/20 Juame Plensa sculpture outside UMMA

“Behind the Walls” debuted in May 2019 at the inaugural Frieze Sculpture festival in Manhattan, where it was on view in Rockefeller Center. The work garnered international press and praise, with the New York Times calling it “the most instagrammed and photographed” work of the festival. 

The sculpture was acquired through a gift from J. Ira and Nicki Harris, long-time university supporters. Ira is a 1959 U-M alumnus; he received an honorary doctor of laws degree in 2012.

Location: Central campus, In front of the U-M Museum of Art (525 S. State Street, Ann Arbor), next to the Frankel Family Wing entrance.



Also a permanent marker of UMMA, Mark di Suvero’s “Orion” (2006)—titled after the famed hunter from Greek mythology after whom the constellation is named—is “painted bright orange-red, creating a striking contrast with the sky and the work’s surroundings.”

"Orion" by Mark di Suvero

“Orion” by Mark di Suvero

Initially exhibited at Chicago’s Millennium Park, “Orion” first arrived at UMMA in 2008, helping to celebrate the Museum’s then-new Maxine and Stuart Frankel and the Frankel Family Wing. 

The sculpture, which has become an Ann Arbor landmark in recent years, is one of two of di Suvero’s massive steel works that welcome visitors to UMMA— the other, ”Shang” (1984-85) is a kinetic sculpture that invites passersby to “swing” on its suspended platform.

Location: Central Campus; West lawn of Alumni Memorial Hall / Frankel Family Wing of the Museum of Art



In her sculptural work, artist and U-M alumna Michele Oka Doner often creates monumental figural sculptures. These three figures, “Angry Neptune, Salacia and Strider,” placed between UMMA and Tappan Hall to the east are at once dense and fragmented, the thick undergrowth of texture revealing inner voids and complex strands of bronze of extraordinary technical complexity.

Majestic and haunting, the headless forms—hand burnished and patinated by the artist—evoke ancient, fossilized totems, their surface scarrings suggestive of the decay both of natural forces and of passing time. The artist has a long-standing interest in the natural world, and the three figures positioned here in a kind of timeless, abstracted conversation, ask us to consider the sacred qualities of nature.

Oka Doner is also the sculptor of Science Benches and Positron, both located on Central Campus.

Location: Central Campus; East side of Alumni Memorial Hall – Museum of Art



An artistic treasure on North Campus, Maya Lin’s Wave Field is a pure earth sculpture occupying a square space of 90′ x 90′ ft. and representing a naturally occurring wave pattern.

Maya Lin’s Wave Field

Maya Lin’s Wave Field

The work was designed and created by Maya Lin, an artist well known for creating the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC in addition to the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama. The Wave Field is also a memorial to Francois-Xavier Bagnoud (‘82 Aerospace Eng.), and gift of his mother, Countess Albina du Boisrouvray. 

Perhaps the most unique aspect of The Wave Field is the way the appearance changes depending on the time of day.  Different amounts of sunlight have the ability to alter the shadows the waves create and highlight new parts of this work of art.

Location: North Campus; Courtyard, Southeast side of the Francois-Xavier Bagnoud (FXB) Building (1320 Beal Ave, Ann Arbor)



Commissioned by the College of Engineering, “The Order of Spheres” was painted in October 2010 on the dome of the Aerospace Engineering Wind Tunnel. The artist Roberto Juarez designed a colorful mural that encompasses the entire domed portion of the structure that had been white since its construction in 1955.

Roberto Juarez's "The Order of Spheres"

Roberto Juarez’s “The Order of Spheres”

According to Juarez, the colors express three of the elements of the universe: earth, water and fire. He overlaid the variegated backdrop with clustered and single hand-drawn circles, some intersecting or bisected.

Location: North Campus; Dome of the Aerospace Engineering Wind Tunnel



This Corinthian column has informally been referred to as the Lorch Column, in honor of Emil Lorch, the first dean of the College of Architecture, and the person responsible for obtaining the object.

Lorch Column

Lorch Column

Originally installed in the courtyard of Lorch Hall, the original home of the College of Architecture, the column was moved to North Campus in 2007, mounted on a tall base, with a steel element inserted to raise the column to what would have been its original height had it been installed on a building. This was done as part of the centennial celebration of the founding of the department that became the Taubman College of Architecture + Urban Planning.

Location: North Campus; North side of Art & Architecture building



Designed in the English Gothic style, the Law Library is one of the most recognizable buildings on campus. It was built between 1924 and 1933 by the architectural firm York and Sawyer, with funds donated by attorney and alumnus William W. Cook.

U-M Law Library

U-M Law Library

The Law Library’s purpose is to build collections, provide effective access to legal information in diverse formats and provide facilities and services to support the teaching, research and educational needs of Law School faculty and students. 

The Library also welcomes others who need to conduct legal research, including University of Michigan faculty, staff, and students, as well as attorneys, researchers, and the public.

Location: 801 Monroe St, Ann Arbor.



Led by Arash Adel, assistant professor of architecture at U-M’s Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, this timber pavilion—known as Robotically Fabricated Structure, or RFS—explores new responsible and precise methods of construction. 

Robotically Fabricated Structure

Robotically Fabricated Structure

Demonstrating leading-edge methods in human-robotic collaboration in building construction, and also sustainability, the temporary installation shows how standard lumber components—including short off-cuts usually wasted—can create buildings, helping to reduce our carbon footprint.

The pavilion’s walls and ceiling feature layered, intricate patterns of timber that allow for air flow, as well as shadows and optical effects. The space, which includes seating within or alongside the structure, offers opportunities for exhibitions, small public events, and intimate conversations. 

Location: U-M Matthaei Botanical Gardens, 1800 North Dixboro Road in Ann Arbor.



The Jim Toy Library (JTL) supports LGBTQA student development by exposing students to, and engaging them in, the rich cultural, social, historical, psychological, political, and relational aspects of LGBTQ people, identities, experiences, and communities.

Jim Toy Library

Jim Toy Library

The JTL currently hosts a collection of over 1500 titles, including books, videos, and magazines. Many books have been donated by community members over the last 40 years, and the Spectrum Center also purchases the most interesting and relevant new-releases of LGBT fiction and non-fiction. Books are organized by genres such as “Coming out,” “LGBTQ History,” and “Transgender”.

Students and community members can check out items any time the office is open, M-F from 9-6.

Location: 530 State St, Ann Arbor.



Built in 1996 on the university’s North Campus, the Ann and Robert H. Lurie Carillon is one of two grand carillons on campus, and one of only 23 grand carillons in the world—a musical instrument consisting of octaves of bells arranged in a chromatic series and played from a keyboard that permits control of expression through variations of touch.

Ann and Robert H. Lurie Carillon

Ann and Robert H. Lurie Carillon

A gift to the School of Engineering from the Robert and Ann Lurie Family Foundation, it contains 60 bells, with the lowest bell (bourdon) weighing 6 tons. The Royal Eijsbouts Bell Foundry of Asten, The Netherlands, cast the bells, and the tower was built to the design of Charles Moore (AB 1947, Hon Arch Ph.D. 1992) and Arthur Anderson.

Location: North Campus


More Information:

U-M Commencement 2022 

U-M Public Art

U-M Museums and Cultural Attractions