John Seppanen

Senior project architect, UrbanWorks Architecture

Minneapolis architect John Seppanen, a specialist in sustainable design innovation, has joined Minneapolis-based UrbanWorks Architecture as senior project architect. The firm's primary focus is designing urban, infill, mixed-use projects with a significant multifamily housing component. The firm is working on $106 million worth of multifamily developments that will open between now and Dec. 1. Seppanen, 44, comes to the firm from the Seppanen Group, an architectural/development consulting firm that he and his wife co-founded, and she continues to run. Before that, he was with Minneapolis-based ESG Architects.

Before moving to the Twin Cities, Seppanen worked in New York designing projects on the East Coast, Brazil, Russia and Ukraine. His portfolio includes multifamily, student housing, education and institutional projects, and historic building renovations. Seppanen is an expert in building information modeling (BIM), a new way of approaching the design and documentation of building projects. He's also a member of the Minnesota Electric Auto Association.

Q: Tell me more about that organization, and does it relate to your sustainable design work?

A: The members are engineers, mechanics and gearhead-minded people, but with an environmental slant to their motivation. So when we get together for meetings, we're not only talking about cars, but we could be talking about windmills or solar panels, and there are a lot of innovations going on at the grass-roots level. That's been fun to tap into … and sometimes I can apply it to my architectural work.

Q: So you've been focusing on sustainable design and products for years.

A: Yes. Maybe it's from growing up in Los Angeles. … Conservation and energy efficiency and making it solar and sort of techie products that save energy or generate energy have always been an interest.

Q: Why did you start focusing on building information modeling?

A: The recession really forced a lot of people to rethink things, and for me, I've been able to leverage some of my technical skills. … I've sort of become an expert in BIM, and I'm a Revit-certified specialist. Revit is the software and BIM is the generic term for this new paradigm for architects to document their work. .

Q: Why is UrbanWorks a good fit for you?

A: It's a growing firm. They're coming out of the recession … with a strong client base and a lot of work in the pipeline, and they're committed to innovative design.

Q: What's your main role at UrbanWorks?

A: I think it's one of leadership and bringing my experience to whatever project it is, whether it's housing, industrial or commercial.

Q: What are you currently working on?

A: I've been helping out with [developer] Schafer Richardson's Cameron Building here in the North Loop. It's a turn-of-the-century building that's being converted from a warehouse into 44 housing units.

Liz Wolf is a freelance writer in Eagan. She can be reached at