Architects fill a blank canvas in Minneapolis' North Loop

  • Article by: DON JACOBSON , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 7, 2013 - 3:12 PM

­An open layout inside a historic North Loop building reflects what the firm advocates for its commercial clients.

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Instead of being hidden away, glassed-in conference rooms are in the middle of the office space.

 

For architecture firm LHB, the second floor of the Loose-Wiles Building in the North Loop was truly a blank canvas.

The Duluth-based company aimed to ­create a great environment for its 50 Minneapolis workers, but it also wanted to use it as a laboratory to show its growing list of Twin Cities commercial clients what’s at the cutting edge of modern office design.

“We wanted to make sure our clients could see the creative process happening,” Michael Fischer, LHB’s Minneapolis office leader, said of the open layout. “No matter where you stand in this space you can see people working and ‘doing their thing.’ ”

The 16,000-square-foot space at 701 Washington Av. N. became the firm’s new home in August. The area combines smaller individual workstations with plenty of open, collaborative spaces, as well as the latest in green, energy-saving features.

Because of the 103-year-old former industrial bakery’s historic status, the firm had to be careful not to disturb its brick-and-concrete interiors, thus conference rooms and even back-of-office elements such as its data center are “dropped into” the space.

“Our server room, our work room … these are things you normally try to hide,” Fischer said. “We said, why not make them transparent and visible? You can see through them to the exterior.”

Meanwhile, the firm’s architects tout the benefits of doing “more with less space” for corporate clients who are looking to save on real estate costs, and so they decided to turn their headquarters into a showcase to illustrate that ethos.

“We have smaller workstations than we did before, but the key is, you don’t need as much individual space anymore because in the digital age, we’re doing away with paper, essentially. You don’t need to keep loads of it by your desk.”

The space saved on workstations has instead been devoted to common areas, where employees are spending more time working together in collaborative ways — a trend that has been hailed by futurists as the way new-age professionals prefer to work.

The design features of the space, such as overhead fabric ductwork and LED lighting, are part of an effort to gain Leadership in Energy and Environment Design (LEED) Platinum designation for commercial interiors from the U.S. Green Building Council.

United Properties, which bought the seven-story building last year, has been busy with upgrades, including improvements for the new Loose-Wiles Freehouse brewpub, which is expected to open in early December.

Executive Vice President Bill Katter said those efforts are paying off with brisk tenant interest in the building, which is about 60 percent leased.

“We have prospects for about half of the remaining space, so we’re making good progress,” he said. “The renovations won’t be done until the end of the year, so it’s a little harder to lease space in a building until those are completed.”

Other tenants include RJM Construction on the upper two floors and the Fields Law Firm, which signed a lease for 10,000 square feet just this week.

Katter said the strong interest is a testament to the growing popularity of the North Loop as an office market.

“This is really continuing to become a hot area,” he said. “I attribute it to the dynamics that are going on there.”

The 108,000-square foot building for most of its history was operated by the Loose-Wiles Biscuit Co., which later became the Sunshine Biscuit Co., maker of Hydrox cookies and Cheez-It crackers.

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  • Michael Fischer, Minneapolis office leader of the LHB architectural firm, talked about the features of its new office in the North Loop neighborhood.

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