When the last beam was bolted into place atop the 36-story LPM Apartments tower on a gray day last December, it became the tallest apartment building on the downtown Minneapolis skyline.
It also became one of the most distinct.
The tower resembles a pair of opposing curves clad with a fretwork of glass panels and metal frames, anchored to a chunky rectangular base, striking a modern pose in its leafy Loring Park neighborhood.
The building's lack of right angles provides welcome relief from much of what's being built today. Originality isn't the building's only achievement. The tower stands just outside the Central Business District in the heart of a low-rise neighborhood with something of an aversion to height. Even as its Chicago-based developer, Magellan, was planning the tower, a proposal to build a 21-story tower nearby was shot down. Magellan spent two years winning approval for this apartment building, which originally was proposed at 39 stories.
Just weeks after its first residents have moved in, from afar, the LEED-certified tower has become a glittering expansion of the downtown skyline. Those who figured that the building would change the character of the neighborhood at street level — for good or bad — might have had a point by way of the tower's monolithic five-story pedestal.
Magellan is no stranger to cutting-edge design. Several years ago the company hired architect Jeanne Gang to design Aqua, an 82-story condominium/hotel tower in Chicago. With its undulating, wavelike balconies, Aqua has become an icon on the eastern edge of the Loop.
Patrick Borzenski, an architect with a Magellan affiliate, Loewenberg Architects, said that LPM's unusual shape is more than just a novelty. On each floor a single corridor bisects the building from point to point, giving apartments on either side panoramic views through curved windows that subtly project you toward either green treetops to the south and west, or to office buildings to the north and east. People living in the apartments at each tip get dramatic views in two directions.
Such floor plans are a rarity at a time when thousands of apartments are being built in the Twin Cities metro area, mostly in five- and six-story wood-framed buildings designed to mimic the shape and scale of nearby buildings.
Designers of those buildings note that budgets, zoning rules, lot constraints and ultimately the developer's bottom line often prevail in the design process. At the same time, some say, new buildings that seek a novel or iconic form may interrupt a beloved streetscape.
That's why fans of modern design will love LPM, and preservationists likely will cringe. At street level, LPM's five-story monolithic podium is a complete visual contrast to its neighbors, mostly classic brick buildings.
The podium, which takes up a third of the block, is a functional multitasker. It houses the building's lobby, a 41,000-square-foot "amenity deck," more than 10,000 square feet of unoccupied retail space (no tenants have yet been announced) and several hundred above-ground parking spaces to serve the 354 apartments. Incorporating all of those elements into one visual element was a major challenge.
"We wanted to design a base that first serves as the front door to someone's home, yet is visible and lively," Borzenski said.
While the scale of the tower's base is indeed complementary to the neighboring buildings, the massing elements that conceal the parking garage and other infrastructure aren't as friendly as the windows and balconies in the tower that rises above. Time will tell, however, whether such harsh elements will soften as now-empty storefronts come alive with shops and restaurants, and as landscaping takes hold.