T oday most visitors to the Michigan State Capitol enter the building on the ground floor level. Never intended to be seen by the public, the ground floor was originally home to store rooms and an armory. As the years passed and state government expanded, the rooms were remodeled into staff offices. In 1990 the Capitol’s main entrance was relocated to the ground floor in order to enhance public safety and improve accessibility.

Aware that the ground floor now plays an increasingly public role, the Michigan Capitol Commission voted to undertake a series of projects to renew this heavily used space. Check in regularly to learn more about the latest projects underway.

decorative flourish used to seperate sections

“The floors of basement corridors to be of slate . . .”

Elijah E. Myers, Architect

A new terrazzo floor will be installed on the ground floor of the Michigan State Capitol during the summer of 2016. Terrazzo is a traditional flooring material consisting of chips of marble or granite set in an epoxy resin and polished to form a smooth surface.

Capitol architect Elijah E. Myers originally specified a slate floor for the Capitol’s basement, or ground floor, level. Building commissioners deemed the material impractical and expensive, and substituted oiled Norway pine flooring instead. As the years passed, the pine floors, declared a fire hazard, were covered with “battleship linoleum,” a heavy linoleum originally used on warships, then green and white terrazzo, and most recently gray ceramic tile.

The Michigan State Capitol Commission, concerned about the difficulty in maintaining the tile floors, voted to replace it with terrazzo. Projected to last 100 years, terrazzo is durable, easy to maintain, and handsome. Great effort is being made, however, to ensure that the terrazzo pays homage to Myers’s original specification for a slate floor. The predominantly gray terrazzo will be poured into a coursed ashlar block pattern, reminiscent of how slate tiles were traditionally laid. Assorted portions of the terrazzo will contain blue, green, and copper colored chips that suggest the hues commonly seen in late 19th century slate flooring.

gray tile with blue chipsgray tile with blue chips
Men working on a ceilingMen working on a ceiling
This decision is in keeping with the Secretary of the Interior’s standards for historic preservation, key to maintaining our National Historic Landmark Capitol. The guidelines state that changes to historic buildings are allowable when it is not possible or practical to return to the original material or element. All changes must honor the original intent as closely as possible. That is being achieved here: the floors will have the look of slate but the durability and ease of maintenance of terrazzo.

Terrazzo Project Schedule

The project will be broken down into four phases to allow for convenient movement through the Capitol. The overall project, including demolition and installation, will begin on Tuesday, June 14, 2016 and end on Friday, September 2, 2016.

Ground Floor, West Wing (Including the Vestibule and the Western Half of the Rotunda)
Demolition will begin on Tuesday night, June 14, and finish by Friday night, June 17.
Installation will begin on Monday, June 20, and finish by Friday, July 1.
The western half of the rotunda will remain closed until July 8.
Please note that the concession stand will be closed throughout the duration of this phase of the project.

Ground Floor, East Wing (Including the Vestibule and the Eastern Half of the Rotunda)
Demolition will begin on Monday, June 20, and finish by Friday, June 24.
Installation will begin on Monday, July 11, and finish by Friday, July 29.
Please note that the Capitol Tour Service will operate in the west wing on the ground floor, and in the east wing on the first floor. House and Senate meeting notices will be posted in the east wing, first floor, from Monday, July 11 until Friday, July 29.

Please note that:
-All sections of flooring being worked on will NOT be accessible unless emergency situation(s) arise.
-All offices in section under construction will NOT be accessible unless absolutely necessary.
-All demo will be completed during non-business hours including nights and weekends.
-All installation times will be during normal business hours and selected weekend days.
-There will be a light odor while floor is being installed. The odor is non-toxic.

Any questions regarding the terrazzo flooring installation project should be directed to the Michigan Capitol Facilities Office at 517-373-0184.

Flooring Layout
This drawing of the rotunda and north ground floor corridor shows the ashlar block pattern developed for the new terrazzo flooring. Each ashlar block of the predominantly gray terrazzo will contain a percentage of additional gray, blue, green, or copper chips.
Image Courtesy of the Michigan State Capitol Archive
decorative flourish used to seperate sections

Throughout the spring and early summer of 2016 the Capitol’s ground floor ceilings will be renewed with new plaster and limewash (a solution of lime, water, and pigments used as a paint substitute).

The ground floor ceilings are constructed of bricks, laid to form vaults, and iron beams. Both the beams and the bricks are original to the Capitol, which was constructed from 1872-1878. In addition to serving as the ground floor ceiling, they also form the support structure for the first floor.

Elijah E. Myers, the Capitol’s architect, specified that the Capitol’s brick walls and ceilings be finished using three coats of plaster. As was common at the time, the original lime plaster contained horse hair!

Unfortunately, a layer of gypsum underneath the modern paint applied during the Capitol’s restoration (1989-1992) has proven to be incompatible with the lime plaster, resulting in cracking and flaking. Repeated attempts to address the problem have failed. The Michigan State Capitol Commission, the body tasked with the Capitol’s maintenance and preservation, made the decision to replaster the ground floor corridors. A compatible limewash finish will complete the new ceilings.
Men working on a ceiling
Plasterers from the John Canning company apply the final coat of plaster to a brick vault in the Capitol’s south ground floor corridor.
Photo Courtesy of David Marvin