We’ve spent a lot of time in this space praising the buildings and urban details that make the streets livable and interesting. Positive and uplifting — very Minnesotan. But perhaps it’s time to take a look at the things that don’t work. Buildings that make you avert your eyes, or sigh over missed opportunities. Let’s start with the most obvious one in town.
Worst Building, Skyscraper Bracket: Multifoods (City Center)
Known as the Multifoods Tower, but now branded with the romantic name of 33 South Sixth Street, this building has ruined every day since it opened in 1983. It rises forever without a setback, like the successful career of a boring politician. The architectural style is best described as “We Just Give Up. Whatever.” At 52 stories, it makes an impression, just as being tied to a chair for 12 hours with a skunk in your lap makes an impression.
But wait, there’s more. The architects surrounded it with City Center, a bunker that has a message for people on the sidewalk, and that message is “Look up! Here comes the boiling oil.” Ever since it was built, there have been attempts to lipstick the porker, but the exterior is makeover-proof. At least the interior now has a bright urban appeal that should make the original architects snap their drafting tools in shame.
Worst Building by a Major Architect: 100 Washington Square
Now imagine that the chef who created a delicate soufflé followed it with six pounds of meatloaf whose main spice is parsley. That’s 100 Washington Square — also by Yamasaki, completed in 1981. Rows of thin windows make for a monotonous facade; it’s like looking at a player piano roll that mashes the same 14 notes over and over again. Apparently, there’s a reason the windows are so close together: the walls are load-bearing steel, which means the interior floors don’t have all those support columns.
No one will get a crick in their neck from staring up at this building with love and awe; you’re usually struck by the ungainly lower floor, where the building lifts up its skirts to show the lack of support columns. Just the core and four corners. Wow! you might think. No columns! That’s a fine compensation for the building’s utter lack of personality from any possible angle. But the spaciousness of the open area is destroyed by the city’s worst skyway, a long, reflective thing that juts through like a javelin hurled through the legs of a white elephant.
Worst Missed Opportunity: Best Buy HQ
The Best Buy complex wasn’t built on the cheap, and it’s not all glass, so there’s that. It’s made of angled boxes with sail-like protrusions. The 2003 design of the complex already looks dated; recent construction along the Bloomington/Penn corridor adheres to New Urbanist ideas, coming right up to the street to provide the all-holy Density. If the Best Buy complex had anticipated that style it would have provided a solid anchor to the corner, bookending the expanse of the freeway overpass and ramps.
It’s disappointing for what it is; it’s disappointing for what it’s not. You can’t slight the company for building in the burbs instead of downtown — they wanted a campus, and that takes room. But 20 stories in downtown Minneapolis would’ve been a better way to herald the brand — think of how people look to Target’s tower to see what the lights on top are doing tonight. You want to sell TVs? Put an enormous one on the roof.
Worst Utopian Scheme: Cedar Square West
The idea was pure ’60s — plop down an immense project, set the rents to attract all income groups, stand back and watch the magic happen. Or not.
What’s remarkable was they wanted to build more. The original scheme had the towers marching south for blocks. On the other hand, we missed the opportunity to be the go-to city for films set in a cruel, dystopian future.
Worst Throwback That Actually Works: 4Marq, new apartment tower on Marquette and 4th
But I can’t help liking it. Like a fellow who walks into a class reunion in a leisure suit, it has confidence. It’s not wearing a grid of wood that makes it look like a rotten crossword puzzle. It’s not another glass-clad building. It’s big and square and broad, basic, simple.
You have to admire something that chooses 1975 as its inspiration. Perhaps those styles weren’t as bad as we think.
Actually, no. They were. But tastes change, and different generations find new things to curse and praise. It’s possible that 20 years from now, the Multifoods Tower will be praised for its uncompromising purity by someone who just wants to start an argument about what’s really the worst.
You know, like we just did here.
James Lileks • 612-673-7858