The University of Wisconsin-Madison has many iconic landmarks but none quite like the Memorial Union Terrace. It has become an iconic symbol of the tradition, community and spirit of the university. Let's take a few minutes to reflect on this history and let you know more about some of my experience photographing "The Terrace".
Where did the Memorial Union get its name?
"The Terrace", as the UW Memorial Union Terrace is otherwise known, is nestled on the campus on the shore of Lake Mendota. Arthur Peabody was the UW architect who designed the Memorial Union and planned for an outdoor place for people to gather. His daughter, Charlotte, created the final design for The Terrace. The Memorial Union and the iconic Terrace was aimed to honor the Wisconsin alumni who had sacrificed their lives during World War I, and so it was named the "Memorial Union" and construction began in 1928.
When were the Union Chairs first created?
The Memorial Union Terrace had its first event called Venetian Night in the spring of 1929. The original chairs showed up shortly after that event. These chairs have been one of my favorite subjects to photograph during my time spent on the UW Campus and around Madison. There's nothing that says "Madison" quite like the Memorial Union Terrace Chairs.
As with any building that's nearly 100 years old, construction and repair have occurred at the Union due to concerns about crowds and wear and tear of the building, property, and even the chairs. The original chairs were made of hickory but the Wisconsin climate was too harsh and they needed replacement. The chair replacement began in the 1930s with different designs of metal chairs. While different designs and manufacturers were trialed over the next few decades, the current design of the metal sunburst chair was settled on in the early 1980s and in 1988 an expansion project required 300 new chairs and the Sunburst chair design was patented for use only by the Wisconsin Union.
Memorial Terrace Events and Live Music
The Memorial Union Terrace is at the heart of life on UW-Madison's campus. It's a beautiful place to watch the sunset over Lake Mendota, have a picnic, jump in for a swim, and make incredible summertime memories while enjoying some Babcock ice cream, a brat, and a beer. There's also a mash up of music over the summer months including local bands, national acts, and even open mic nights...always something for everyone.
As I've returned to the UW-Madison campus many times over my photography career, I'm always drawn back to the Union Terrace. Whether it's for sunrise, sunset, or just as the seasons change to get one last glimpse before fall. There's almost an art and a science to finding the right place and the right time given the number of events and people that are drawn to the location.
The Memorial Union Terrace is more than just a physical space. It's a place where the spirit of UW Madison comes alive and is preserved through the celebrations, community, and relaxation that happen as it continues to welcome students, graduates, and visitors. Traditions continue and the Memorial Union Terrace stands as a timeless symbol of unity and the Wisconsin idea.