Before Mike Ryan became the president of Twin Cities-based Ryan A+E architecture and engineering firm, he was an architect in the Park Avenue offices of Robert A.M. Stern Architects in New York City. So when Ryan Cos. and local developer Luigi Bernardi decided to partner on the 39-story Eleven, an upscale downtown riverfront condo tower, they hired Paul Whalen, who as a partner at Stern has designed dozens of residential projects including the swanky 15 Central Park West condo tower, which at the time fetched the highest sales prices in New York City.

Q: Why is your work on the Eleven something of a homecoming?

A: My father’s family homesteaded in northern Minnesota in the 1870s, so I feel a connection to Minnesota. My father grew up on a farm near the town of Stephen and went to the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis — it was too urban for him so he left and went to Montana. I on the other hand have always loved cities. So on the one hand, I’m getting to know a city that I don’t know well but is in my blood, and I find it exciting and invigorating to come home to a state where I have deep family connections.


Q: Before you started sketching designs for this building, you studied buildings in the Mill District, North Loop and other neighborhoods. Did you take any design cues from those buildings?

A: We’re inspired by the bold simplicity of the historic warehouse buildings along the Mississippi. Like those warehouses, our building will be masonry, not glass. Our massing will combine a lower element that reflects the scale of the neighborhood with a tower whose vertical punctuation will take that statement skyward. The impact of a well-detailed masonry residential tower on the Minneapolis riverfront is going to be powerful.


Q: How do you balance those seemingly disparate elements of the lower and upper elements?

A: The biggest gesture we’re making is creating a building with two masses: a bold tower atop a broad lower element that connects to its neighbors while also providing a landscaped rooftop garden with a swimming pool. Our tower is free-standing, with every side a front, so all four facades will be designed with equal care. We are also paying close attention to the design of the base of the building, particularly where it faces West River Parkway, to ensure that pedestrians and cyclists will see active facades with windows expressive of the variety of activity within. Passersby will enjoy a level of detail on our building similar to what they would experience walking along a street of fine houses.


Q: 15 Central Park as been described as having a “new classical style.” What style is the Eleven?

A: This building will be more reflective of fundamental design principles than representative of any one particular architectural style. It will not be a Regency building, or a Colonial Revival building, or an Art Deco building; we will give it a style all its own, but one firmly rooted in classical principles. All those styles, simplified, have many things in common, and we’re distilling them to relate to the riverfront industrial buildings in the Mill District.


Q: Are there any recurring design themes or motifs?

A: Among other elements we will incorporate stacked bay windows; they not only open rooms to views but help to emphasize the verticality of the building. At the top of the building a series of purposeful and symmetrical setbacks will sculpt a landscape-like crown for the building, so that people can imagine the wonderful private gardens we’re creating for the penthouses.


Q: What will that experience be like inside the building?

A: We haven’t started designing the interiors yet, but we’ll be giving special attention to the entry sequence. It’s often quite cold in Minneapolis so we’re planning a generous vestibule that will act as an airlock and lead into a lobby that will be at once grand and intimate with a distinctly residential scale, more like a great house than a grand hotel.


Q: Is there another Stern tower that’s similar to Eleven?

A: This is a point tower, and we have done other point towers such as 30 Park Place in downtown New York and One St. Thomas Street in Toronto, both of which have multiple setback terraces that form distinctive crowns. Our Minneapolis tower will be different, with a more complex massing consisting of a tower that grows out of a broad and asymmetric base. While there will surely be a family resemblance to other point towers of our design, the detailing on this building will be bolder and more gestural to pick up on the character of the neighboring riverfront warehouses.


Q: Other developers are building “luxury” residential towers. How do you set this one apart?

A: In a time when everything is mass produced, we believe luxury is not simply a matter of fine materials such as leather and marble. We believe luxury is really about variety and individuality, and so when we design a tall residential tower, we like to express on the exterior the full range of room types and apartment types inside. A great horizontal community like a small town offers a hierarchy of streets and building types; we work to express that same sort of hierarchy, but vertically, in our residential buildings.