October 27, 2023

Son of original State Hall architect believes renovations honor father’s legacy

Christopher Pilafian (right) and Ashley Flintoff pose for a photo in the stairwell of M. Roy Wilson State Hall.
Wayne State’s Director of Planning and Space Management Ashley Flintoff (right) gave Christopher Pilafian (son of State Hall’s original architect Suren Pilafian) a tour of the renovations of M. Roy Wilson State Hall.

M. Roy Wilson State Hall recently reopened following a lengthy closure, during which it received $80 million in renovations. Prior to its reopening, Christopher Pilafian, son of State Hall’s original architect Suren Pilafian, toured the building along with Wayne State faculty and staff.

Pilafian said he appreciated the renovation team’s efforts to preserve key elements of his father’s design.

“I'm struck by the team’s clear intention to respect the original design while introducing more flexibility in preparation for inevitable changes in the university’s educational methods,” Pilafian said.

“They're emphasizing adaptability to new educational models going forward. I like the idea of planning spaces for what might change in the future. I also admire the team’s discernment in maintaining certain original features like the terrazzo floor, the open staircases and the building’s exterior. I’m impressed by the care and attention that's being paid. I feel touched by the amount of respect for my father's work and life.”

The renovation of State Hall is part of Wayne State’s commitment to align its facilities with the evolving needs of students.

Wayne State’s Director of Planning and Space Management Ashley Flintoff was instrumental in planning these renovations and led the tour that included Pilafian. Flintoff said she’s a huge fan of Suren Pilafian’s work, so she wanted to maintain original elements like the staircases, which have historical design significance, where possible.

“It was honestly a bit surreal to take Christopher around State Hall,” Flintoff said. "I was initially very nervous about how he might view the changes we made to his father's work; however, I had nothing to be nervous about. Christopher was so lovely and complimentary of the work we have done on the building. And he seemed to really appreciate our efforts to maintain his father’s original design intent.

“Suren Pilafian is the most prolific architect on WSU's campus, and for good reason,” Flintoff added. “His work celebrates light, open space and community, while providing functional buildings that are able — as shown with M. Roy Wilson State Hall — to adapt to changing pedagogical needs within higher education. Over the 10 years that I've worked at WSU, Pilafian has become one of my favorite architects, and I absolutely love that we were able to keep State Hall as a central part of our academic space and celebrate his work in ways that will continue to serve our students and faculty in the future.”

The fully renovated State Hall features new classrooms, lecture halls, meeting and lounge spaces, a reflection room, lactation room, and all-gender restrooms. Christopher Pilafian enjoyed seeing the updates as well as the original aspects that were preserved while transforming the building.

“This is very moving,” Pilafian said. “It feels good seeing that members of the team respect and care for someone I love. They saw value in protecting the beauty and thoughtfulness of my father’s conception of State Hall, which I believe was his first building for WSU. I feel deep appreciation for the team and renewed appreciation for my father’s work. He died in 1988, so as I’m walking through the building, the past and the future are sort of merging. I see my father’s personality reflected in certain shapes and spatial elements. They have more significance for me now than I could appreciate as a child.”

After 31 years on faculty in the Department of Theater and Dance at the University of California, Santa Barbara, Christopher Pilafian retired recently. He’s the first of his siblings to visit the renovated building.

Flintoff was pleased that he got to see it and was thrilled he was pleased with the renovations.

“I honestly would have been crushed if he didn't like the renovation,” Flintoff said. "Historic preservation is always difficult because you're trying to balance maintaining original design intent with modern needs. Our hope throughout this project has been that we were able to successfully honor Suren Pilafian's beautiful designs with a functionality and flexibility that will allow his work to live on for the next 50-plus years of Wayne State.”

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