John Dwyer and Colin Oglesbay aren’t always fond of how new housing in the Twin Cities looks these days, and they think others feel the same.

“People are sick of the repetitive cookie-cutter stuff,” said Oglesbay, a partner in D/O Architects in Minneapolis.

So the Twin Cities-based architects designed a pair of break-the-mold condominium buildings using a roster of innovative building materials they hope will help interrupt the visual monotony of the Minneapolis streetscape.

They are calling TMBR, a 10-story building proposed for 100 Third Av. N. in the North Loop neighborhood, the tallest all-timber residential building in the Midwest, maybe in the country. For a site at 800 Washington Av. S. in the Mill District, they have designed a 14-story condo building that will be built with high-tech, self-cleaning concrete that will help the building achieve international wellness standards.

Although the projects are being launched by different development teams, each embraces several out-of-the-box design elements they hope will attract buyers who value unique design and innovative construction techniques.

“Everyone is doing the same thing,” said Todd Simning, president/owner of Kroiss Development, the lead developer of TMBR. “I wanted to do something unique.”

Focused mostly on building commercial space and high-end custom houses for three decades, Simning has been contemplating something different after developing an upscale, four-unit condo project in a leafy Minneapolis neighborhood. For two months he listened to feedback from prospective buyers, and he noticed a recurring theme: Buyers consistently talked about a desire to live in smaller, boutique buildings built with sustainable practices.

Simning shared that desire, but wanted to execute those ideas on a much larger scale than he did on his four-unit project.

He just needed the proper building site, which he thinks he has found along an old rail line in the Minneapolis Warehouse District where dozens of low-rise timber-framed buildings have been repurposed into housing, boutique shops and trendy restaurants. After touring T3, an all-timber office building that had recently been built nearby, he hired D/O to design a timber tower with about 80 for-sale condominiums and first-floor retail.

The building exceeded height limits for wood buildings set by current building codes. The team has had to persuade local building officials and city planning staff to OK the project using a new set of standards proposed by the International Code Council for a 2021 update for wood structures taller than eight stories.

Several construction techniques can be used to achieve those standards. D/O said it will use sustainably grown laminated wood beams that will be fabricated in a factory and assembled on site with a crane using metal joinery that will enable the building to be quickly assembled like an Erector Set. The building will include other materials, including terra cotta cladding and poured concrete floors.

‘As natural as possible’

The overarching goal was to “try to do good by reducing the carbon footprint of the building and improve public health in what’s become a concrete jungle,” Dwyer said, with a building that’s “as natural as possible.”

Though it’s too soon to tell how the market will respond to the buildings, it’s already been embraced by the council representative and planning staff.

Oglesbay and Dwyer said they were initially concerned about how the community and planning staff might respond to the proposal. “We braced ourselves for a lot of negative response.”

Instead, they received positive feedback from those involved in the approval process, and from the market. Since recently launching a website, more than 100 would-be buyers have expressed interest.

Simning said he won’t start construction until he has signed purchase agreements for at least half the units.

D/O’s interest in the Mill District project started several years ago when the city issued a request for proposals for a narrow, half-acre building site known as the “liner parcel.” They teamed up with a real estate agent who had an interest in bringing a wellness-based condo project to market.

Los Angeles-based AECOM, an international engineering and construction firm with a low-key presence in the Twin Cities, was on the hunt for a signature project to mark its entree into the residential-development scene in the Twin Cities. It signed on as the developer. Since the initial proposal, which was favored by the city and many neighbors, they have been encouraged to increase the density and height of the project from 12 to 14 stories with more than 100 for-sale condos.

Self-cleaning concrete

The building will be built with a locally precast “bio-concrete” product that has an additive to help break down environmental pollutants that accumulate on the exterior of the building and maintain the bright white facade. The building will have recessed “pocket gardens” and a rooftop garden with trees and vegetables that can be used by residents, and a street-level restaurant and a retailer that would offer healthy options. The building is expected to be LEED Gold certified and to meet the International Well Building Institute’s construction standards.

Units are expected to be priced about $700 per square foot, according to Brian Dusek, AECOM’s managing principal, and about 10% of them would be offered to those earning below the area median income through a partnership with a local land trust. The units would average 600 to 800 square feet.

The projects come at a time of limited options for condo buyers. Across the metro during February, there were only 65 new condos listed through the Regional Multiple Listing Service.

Though options appear limited for new condo buyers, the competition is about to heat up. In addition to the TMBR and 800 Washington projects, developers are expected to soon break ground on two high-rise luxury condo towers that will give buyers hundreds of additional options.

At the Legacy, a 374-unit condo building a few blocks from the AECOM project in the Mill District, 85% of the units have sold since completion of the building last year.