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Minneapolis Public Library.

Jim Gehrz, Star Tribune

Withering Glance: Downtown library a real town hall

  • Article by: RICK NELSON and CLAUDE PECK
  • August 17, 2011 - 10:44 AM

RN: Can I make a confession? I'm having a secret love affair. But I'm such a nerd about the actual object of my affection, that I'm not sure that I can talk about it.

CP: This is strictly between us. Now unload.

RN: I can't spend enough time at the Minneapolis Central Library. It's beginning to cut into my home life.

CP: I should have figured, Poindexter. We may have to fight for the love of that modern beacon of books.

RN: So it's not just me, then. Phew.

CP: The downtown library has so many essential qualities of a superior public building. Maybe its biggest virtue is that it's popular. I was passing by the other morning just before it opened and there was a crowd gathered, waiting for the doors to be unlocked.

RN: I know. Every morning is like Black Friday at Wal-Mart, and there are plasma TVs for $99.

CP: So many of its pleasures -- comfortable, well-lit places to read, superb views, pleasing color schemes, a well-organized plan -- are simple, but they arise from great design and careful planning. Thank you, Mr. Cesar Pelli.

RN: It totally represents public millions well spent. Remember the collective yawn when his name was announced for the commission? It was at a time when the nation's architectural mood was clearly favoring the avant-garde, thanks to Rem Koolhaas, and his gravity-defying library in Seattle. But I knew we'd get a beauty out of the urbane Mr. Pelli, and we did.

CP: The Seattle library is much bigger, and very cool, but it kind of puts me on edge, while the Minneapolis library is soothing and sophisticated, a Paul Smith to Seattle's Alexander McQueen.

RN: Could you imagine our library being converted into downtown's most fabulous loft apartments in its next life?

CP: I'd live there. The open stacks, where you can go and find your own dang periodical, thank you, make me feel like a mini-librarian. I love being able to push a button and see 20 tons of obscure back issues of the Journal of Radical Geology glide silently to the side. I still think someone should shoot a movie scene there, in which a killer crushes his victim between slowly closing stacks of bound copies of the Antioch Review.

RN: Now don't needlessly frighten the patrons. I get a tiny thrill just riding the glass elevators up to the fourth floor and soaking up that energetic atrium. When it came to the library's utilitarian midcentury predecessor, the only jolt I can recall involved the relief of extricating myself from the dreary premises.

CP: That elevator ride is among the best freebies in all of downtown.

RN: I also admire how the building explains itself. You get how it works the moment you walk in, yet it's not boring. And because it's such a knockout, everyone who uses the building treats it with respect.

CP: Form follows function, lover boy.

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