Architecture Minnesota
The Magazine of AIA Minnesota

May - June 2006
Vol. 32 No. 3
Editor's Note

A Spark.


It’s a question that every city grapples with: What to do with aging buildings and underutilized sites in lagging urban areas? City officials, developers, and active residents and business owners have formulated a variety of answers, but architects always play an indispensable role in the renewal effort, as demonstrated by the captivating urban residential projects featured in this issue. Architects, after all, are uniquely equipped to preserve old buildings for new uses and design new buildings that resonate with the history of their urban surroundings. In century-old neighborhoods where theaters, galleries, and residential buildings exist alongside shuttered warehouses and railway lines, a cookie-cutter building, or one that simply mimics its neighbors, is a missed opportunity. Good design, on the other hand, fuels revitalization. It draws people in.

Consider Minneapolis’ Warehouse District, which has seen an explosion of new housing units since 2000. In her cover story on the Bookmen Lofts and Stacks (page 30), Nancy A. Miller describes the evolving North Loop neighborhood as an “historical stew of buildings, property owners, architects, city plans, and landscape that have combined to transform a near-derelict warehouse district into a dynamic urban place, building by building, block by block.” And nowhere has this recipe been more successful than in the newly redeveloped Bookmen block, where an architect-developer partnership has yielded a loft conversion true to its industrial pedigree, a zinc-and-glass mid-rise condominium tower, and a soon-to-be-built restaurant, all with dramatic views of the downtown skyline. To this diverse trio of buildings the developer has added a pleasing central green space in the form of a green roof atop underground parking. Here’s hoping city officials are taking notice.

Mount Rainier Artist Lofts (page 40), an affordable housing development for artist families on the outskirts of Washington, D.C., appears, at first glance, to be a very different sort of endeavor, and yet it takes after the Bookmen block in two important ways. First, Artist Lofts celebrates its urban context. The building’s strikingly colorful façade evokes, all at once, the area’s longstanding quilting tradition, the old Baltimore & Ohio Railroad that runs only a few blocks away, and the Georgian row houses that populate nearby Washington and Baltimore. Second, its developer, Minneapolis-based Artspace Projects, is aiming for something more than full occupancy. “We choose sites and projects not simply to fulfill a need for artist housing,” says Artspace vice president Greg Handberg. “We select projects that we think can be catalysts for more economic development by the private sector.”

Bringing new life—and new residents—to neglected urban environments is a complex, long-term enterprise involving a host of players. Oddly, though, it’s often a flash of vitality that turns things around. Design can provide that spark.

Christopher Hudson
Architecture Minnesota