Minnesota's top awards for architectural excellence, which were announced last week, aren't just about architectural excellence.
"The awards are about lifting the standard of excellence in architecture, but the standard is changing," said Anna Pravinata, president of the American Institute of Architects Minnesota (AIA Minnesota) and a principal with Alliiance in Minneapolis. "It's more than aesthetics and core functions. It's about the health of the planet, and the sense of how people feel welcome in a space."
In a virtual ceremony, five Honor Awards and six Framework for Design Excellence Commendations were chosen from 58 projects. Many of the winning projects are in the Twin Cities area. The rest can be found from northeastern Minnesota to Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood to suburban Washington, D.C.
City of Minneapolis Public Service Building, Minneapolis
Firms: MSR Design, Minneapolis, and Henning Larsen, New York City.
Description: "The sustainably designed, 11-story municipal building brings seven city departments and 1,100 employees under one roof and completes a civic square on Government Plaza in downtown Minneapolis. The sleek design and openness at street level heralds a new era of transparency, accessibility and welcome in local government services."
Jurors' comments: "This project bowled us over."
Lilydale Regional Park Pickerel Lake Pavilion, St. Paul
Firm: VJAA, Minneapolis.
Description: "This picnic shelter and gathering place on a remediated brownfield on the Mississippi River serves as a focal point for a 384-acre park known for its hiking, birdwatching, canoeing and cross-country skiing opportunities. The expressive, folded-plate canopy, composed of weathered steel and thermally modified wood, is tilted slightly upward toward the lake."
Jurors' comments: "As a public pavilion, it's a gift — a memorable setting for family gatherings, weddings, remembrances and solitary reflection."
Arthur J. Altmeyer Federal Building, Woodlawn, Md.
Description: "This project transformed a 10-story, concrete-framed, 1959 office building on a Social Security Administration campus," writes AIA Minnesota. "The recladding of the building, new mechanical systems, new stairs and elevator cores and a complete overhaul of the interiors resulted in dramatic increases in daylighting, occupant comfort and space efficiency, as well as beauty."
Jurors' comments: "A complete transformation of an aging office building — you would never guess this was a renovation."
Chicago Infill House, Chicago
Firm: VJAA. Minneapolis.
Description: "The architects of this new long and narrow home in the Lincoln Park neighborhood refer to it as a variation on the row house. Floor-to-ceiling bay windows face the street, while a courtyard and terraces offer integrated outdoor living in back."
Jurors' comments: "It takes a bold client to have this much transparency on the street."
Manitowish Waters Fire Hall, Manitowish Waters, Wis.
Firm: HGA, Minneapolis.
Description: "This economical project — a simple structure with steel framing, custom precast walls patterned to echo the local landscape and geology, and judicious bursts of brand color — provides its rural community with a full range of fire, rescue and EMS services."
Jurors' comments: "This simple yet inspired architecture speaks to the importance of the voluntary fire service and of the building's use as a community space."
Framework for Design Excellence Commendations
Brookview Community Center, Golden Valley
Firm: HGA, Minneapolis.
Description: "This new civic social hub weaves together recreational activities with welcoming community gathering spaces for all. The design, scaled to the neighborhood, takes cues from the city's midcentury residential character with clean lines, indoor/outdoor connections and informally scaled public spaces."
Jurors' comments: "Don't we wish more cities had this — a beautiful indoor/outdoor recreational space for all ages."
Palace Theatre, St. Paul
Firm: Oertel Architects, St. Paul.
Description: "A conversion of a 1916 vaudeville theater turned movie house turned long-vacant cavern into one of the Twin Cities' most popular music venues. The architects describe the design strategy as 'preservation through stabilization.' "
Jurors' comments: "The renovation was done very roughly but quite poetically; it conveys a sense of urgency that befits the new use as a music venue."
Avivo Village, Minneapolis
Firm: AWH Architects, Minneapolis.
Description: "This trauma-informed, low-barrier housing shelter — a village of freestanding enclosures in an underutilized commercial building — explores a new kind of housing in the gap between low-income housing and traditional temporary shelters. In addition to private rooms, clients can access an array of housing, mental health and chemical dependency services onsite."
Jurors' comments: "Even with a restricted budget and a short timeline, the client and architect were able to create a sense of neighborhood and belonging with a village layout and amenities and social spaces around the periphery."
Jewel Box Cabin, Lutsen, Minn.
Firm: Imprint Architecture + Design, Stillwater.
Description: "The design of this efficiently arranged, 900-square-foot getaway combines simple, durable materials with immersive views of the natural surroundings. Its construction, within the footprint of a tiny cabin that formerly occupied the site, caused minimal disturbance to the wooded property."
Jurors' comments: "What a perfect place to commune with nature — or to work remotely."
Louisville Free Public Library Northeast Regional, Louisville, Ky.
Firm: MSR Design, Minneapolis, and JRA Architects, Louisville.
Category: Equitable Communities.
Description: "This branch library takes the form of a daylit pavilion in a park, extending its learning and gathering spaces to covered outdoor patios. The new facility was sited to preserve most of the mature trees on the site and designed to integrate connective campus paths, all while communicating the activities and technology of a 21st-century library."
Jurors' comments: "The transparency of this library-in-a-park is amazing."
Norman Public Library Central, Norman, Okla.
Firm: MSR Design, Minneapolis.
Description: "This new three-story library wedges between a large city park, a freight corridor and a residential area. The architects took special inspiration from the iron-rich soil, resilient habitat, dramatic weather patterns and intense sunlight in this central Oklahoma college town."
Jurors' comments: "The architects artfully fit the building into an incredibly tight site, and they used the ceilings — in many places composed of large, perforated panels — to great creative effect."