In 2017, Minneapolis was in the midst of a building boom that had two remarkable components:
• No one broke ground on a tall office tower that will remake the skyline.
• No one built anything that was big, pretentious and ugly.
Still, it’s been an interesting year in architecture, and if it seems a bit underwhelming, that’s not bad. There’s nothing wrong with substance over flash, more housing and fewer “starchitect” vanity projects.
Let’s take a look at some of the notable additions to the city.
A fine upgrade. The exterior renovation made you realize that the original design looked like an enormous sullen mushroom. Opening up the corner with a glass-walled cutaway connects the building to the street, and vice versa.
The Nicollet Mall
Some people were underwhelmed with the remake of the mall, and wondered why it took so much time and money. The standard answer: Most of the work was utility work, done under the street.
As for the aboveground design, perhaps it shouldn’t be judged until spring. Unveiling a stark gray makeover in November was unfortunate timing, to say the least. It’ll look better when it’s greener. Then people may appreciate the elegant restraint of the overall design.
Another plus? It will wear well, at least until times change and people start to miss puce, purple and gray.
The 30-story residential tower is a welcome addition to Nicollet Mall, bringing density to a moribund block. The west-facing side has an irregular facade, avoiding the usual wall-of-identical-balconies favored by some developers. This gives it a certain cosmopolitan panache that almost makes up for the parking ramp on the lower floors.
(In some people’s ideal world, there would be no parking ramp. In a developer’s ideal world, people actually move into the buildings they construct. Hence the ramp.)
Hennepin County Medical Center
The new addition, which houses the specialty center, is orange. It’s orange and brown. It may bring back bad memories for anyone who got a shag rug burn in 1973, but the curved glass wall that wraps around the burnt-umber side of the structure gives it lift and sparkle.
The old HCMC is an awful beast; hospitals should not look like indifferent pain machines. The new addition doesn’t just provide relief, it’s a rebuke.
It’s not finished, but you get the gist: There’s the 17-story HQ Apartment tower, a silver-white slab that rests on a brick base intended to echo the smaller, older residential structures in the neighborhood.
When a project takes up an entire block, it can suffer from a sameness that makes it look like a bunker dropped on a parking lot. Some developers stick different facades on the building to make it look as if one building is several individual buildings. (No one believes this.)
Kraus-Anderson didn’t do that. Instead, the project breaks up the 5th Avenue side into three unconnected buildings of different height and styles, with a barnlike brewpub in the middle. It’s not a blindingly brilliant success and it’s not a regrettable failure. It needs something across the street (now the Normandy Inn parking lot) to give the site some visual compression. Right now, it looks like one of those new developments on the edge of town.
The brewpub is the most interesting structure. It’s different, and we don’t mean that in disapproving Minnesota-auntie kind of way. Come summer, the area behind the pub — an outdoor patio in the cool shadow of the HQ — might be one of the best spots downtown.
That said, the Kraus-Anderson five-story headquarters could have been built in the suburbs in 1986.
It’s an apartment complex on the Superior Plating site in northeast Minneapolis, formerly a blighted industrial plot. But now there’s a housing project with two distinct elements. There’s the low, stark featureless block of flats that lives up to the “Scandinavian Themed” description. You suspect it was not built by ordinary means, but assembled from an enormous box that said Ikea on the side. This is not a criticism: It’s clean, rational and cool.
The development, at 315 1st Av. NE., wouldn’t make any year-end lists, if not for the 20-story tower next to it. It’s unlike most other recently built towers in that it’s not entirely square. One corner has a big wide curve that makes it look more Floridian than Scandinavian. It makes anyone on the street wonder what the view must be like at sunset.
The build goes on
According to the Big Build website (mplsbuild.com), four consecutive years of $1 billion in construction permits are transforming the city of Minneapolis.
The site, which is sponsored by the Minneapolis Downtown Council, the Minneapolis Downtown Improvement District and Meet Minneapolis, ensures us that ours will become “an elite 21st Century City.”
When it’s done, the IDS will still be the tallest building in town. A gorgeous, timeless, skyline-redefining tower isn’t on the drawing board yet. For all the new additions, Minneapolis is still the city you know.