Rendering of NW Entry point of EMU from before renovation was completed.


The University of Oregon’s Erb Memorial Union (EMU) has a history of over 60 years at its current location at the corner of University Street and 13th Avenue, truly at the heart of campus. The EMU serves as the social and student activities hub of the UO, but the existing building no longer adequately meets the university’s expanding needs.


The EMU as it exists today was built in three phases in the years 1950, 1962, and 1973 . The existing Fishbowl, Taylor Lounge and McMillan Gallery stand as preeminent spaces of the original 1950 Ellis Lawrence design; they function well and continue to be acclaimed by students and staff that use the building. The 1970s addition was constructed in response to student request for more food service, dining, and study / lounge spaces. Reflecting the brutalist architecture of its time, this space is not suitable for renovation to meet the new programmatic needs of the UO. Additionally, the 1970s renovation altered the pedestrian patterns bringing students from the east side of campus to the academic core via an open breezeway under the EMU building. With windows attempting to expose the activity, students still often pass by the activity spaces, as opposed to entering the building and partaking in the vibrant opportunities.

New EMU Vision

The EMU expansion and renovation project, as currently envisioned, includes substantial renovation of the better functioning and repairable portions of the building, including preservation of sections most historically and architecturally compelling. The project also calls for the demolition, reconstruction, and seismic strategies for the remainder of the building. The vision is to create an expanded student union, providing programs, services, and spaces that are fully aligned with and supportive of the academic mission and values of the institution.

In supplement to other current building uses, special attention will be directed to the design of the following functional spaces / areas:

  • Student organizational space to include a variety of centers/suites, student union spaces, and a shared Resource Center for student organizations that increases the building’s capacity to support ASUO recognized student organizations
  • Expanded conference facilities to accommodate campus departmental or professional organization gatherings, as well as public conference use to generate income and help reduce reliance on student fees. This increases available meeting space for general student and campus department use.
  • Selected spaces that will serve as space for academic instruction (class meeting spaces) during lower demand programming times of the week
  • A Computing Center and extended smart building infrastructure
  • Expanded food and general retail space
  • A campus Pub with food and beverage service appropriately placed within the building to facilitate social gatherings and celebrations to commensurate with the building’s heart of campus location
  • EMU programs including Club Sports, Outdoor Program, a new Bike Center, and the Craft Center containing studios for Ceramics, Glass, Woodworking, and more
  • An expanded KWVA Radio Station
  • The university is developing a zoned parking approach that will accommodate 250 parking spaces on-site. This approach includes 150 smart meters to be installed at the surrounding existing parking and a new event parking area within the former 14th Street right of way near Straub Hall.
  • Public spaces commensurate with a major university building and campus university center adequate to support high volume daily use, large performances, conferences, exhibits, and display of art.

Design Concept

The design concept for the project was developed through a series of conversations with the user group. Collaboration focused on achieving the following user group priorities:

  • Uniquely UO branding
  • Heart of Campus
  • Transformative
  • Sustainability
  • Timeless
  • Innovating, cutting-edge student experience
  • Simple navigation
  • Inclusive
  • Studious
  • Multi-purpose use of spaces: conference, concert hall, food service, loading
  • Financially wise
  • Practical parking solution
  • Doing more with less

Early in the design process, the User Group challenged the design team to create an addition that related well to the original EMU, yet is clearly and distinctly a building of our time. Analysis of the original building’s character and architectural style informed by both campus context and site analysis provided the foundation of the design concept. The Project Team undertook a rigorous analysis of the existing EMU through a series of plan, section, and elevation diagrams as well as both physical and digital models.

The user group preferred schematic design organized around a new three story central hearth. The intent for this space is to create a new social center of campus. The space will be open and sunlit to give a sense of volume and connection from floor to floor, adding social energy and views between spaces and the outdoors. The hearth opens to the south onto a new student green space. This outdoor space will provide infrastructure for a wide range of formal and informal campus events.

A new three-story north student activity bar is located along 13th Avenue. These encompassing active uses will visually spill out into the adjacent hearth. The facade of the student bar is composed to closely connect to the surrounding historic elevations and repair a gap of the campus street style that currently exists.