St. Paul has big hopes for the massive blank slate of land next to the Mississippi River that once housed a Ford assembly plant. But ski slopes, a protective dome filled with farmland, subterranean research centers and buildings designed to look like cracking sheets of ice have not been among them.
Those are a few of the off-the-wall ideas generated by architects, interior and urban designers, landscape architects and planners from across the world.
Every year, architecture and design firm Perkins+Will holds a competition among young staff members. They pick a location — this year it’s the Ford plant site — and teams located around the globe from Minneapolis to Shanghai to London submit visions for the property. On Wednesday, a panel of local jurors will select the winner.
“We’re trying to stimulate conversation,” said Dave Dimond, principal and director of design for the firm’s Minneapolis office. They aren’t trying to shape what ends up on the land, he said, but “if any of the thinking proves interesting to the city and community, we’d be thrilled.”
Ford is currently remediating the contaminated soil where its assembly plant used to operate in the Highland Park neighborhood. A company official told community members this summer that Ford plans to have the site cleaned up and sold to a developer by 2019.
Meanwhile, city officials have been asking people what they want to see at the site and coming up with plans that will guide redevelopment. The city has a list of key elements for future development, including a variety of types of housing and employment, natural spaces, sustainable design and the use of locally generated renewable power.
Merritt Clapp-Smith, St. Paul’s principal city planner, said she expects a draft master plan for the site will be completed by the end of the year and then the city will spend months gathering feedback on it. The Perkins+Will contest is not related to the city’s ongoing work, but it helps staff who are involved in the project think differently, she said.
Perkins+Will stressed that they want to see sustainable, forward-looking plans in their contest. The Ford property was chosen, in part, because it exemplifies a common situation: a manufacturer shut down, leaving behind a contaminated industrial site, Dimond said. The location along the Mississippi River, surrounded by a commercial and residential development rather than other industrial sites, also made it a “fascinating challenge,” he said.
Local leaders in planning, design and architecture, like Clapp-Smith and Richard Graves, director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Sustainable Building Research, will judge the entries.
The firm included experts with local government experience on judging panel to provide a “reality check,” Dimond said.
Many of the designs include exciting architecture, Clapp-Smith said, but as a judge she will prioritize those that are most viable and will focus on how the plans relate to people living and working in the area.
At this point, no single idea stands out from the 75 entries in the contest as something the city should look into further, she said, but added that she needs time to reflect on the proposals.
The contest is valuable for St. Paul, Graves said, because it brings together experts from around the Twin Cities to talk about how to “restitch this part of the city back into the city fabric.”
“What do the buildings look like? What scale? Where do the streets go? All of the kind of stuff that seems pretty easy, when you see like 80 different design proposals — some fit, some don’t — it makes you think and talk about it a lot more,” he said.