What does our skyline say about us?

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A recent article in The Atlantic Cities got me thinking about our two skylines.

Minneapolis [Image from Toledocatalyst.com]

What do they say about us?

The writer of the Atlantic piece would probably place us under the “oligopolis ” category, defined as;

Found primarily in North America, the Oligopolis is marked by the clear dominance of a handful of prominent towers headquartering firms in the region’s key industries. A key feature of these cities’ downtowns is parking lots, a clear indication that CBD land isn’t exactly in high demand. Examples include Pittsburgh and Houston, where CBDs turn into ghost towns after the districts’ workforces have headed back to the ‘burbs for the evening.

In both Minneapolis and St. Paul, aspects of this description are true – the parking lots for example – but I can’t help but think there is a lot more of a story to tell.

In Minneapolis, three buildings stand out. The IDS Tower, Capella Tower and Wells Fargo Center dominate the skyline. From a distance, these building cluster in the center and give the skyline a symmetrical look. Two towers, the Carlyle Tower and Target Plaza, form the outer edges. One of the best views of downtown is driving northbound on I-35W. There is a turn and all of a sudden the skyline just pops. It makes Minneapolis feel like its a bigger city than it actually is.

St. Paul [Imagine from www.flickriver.com]

St. Paul is slightly different. Wells Fargo Place is the tallest building, but it doesn’t really stand out against the backdrop of the skyline. Neither does the city’s second tallest tower, Galtier Plaza. These are tall, impressive pieces of architecture, but I don’t see them as unique. The most notable building the skyline is one of the oldest – the First National Bank Building. The flashing “1st” is something that eyes have been attracted towards since its construction. It’s impressive today, and I wonder how it must have had made someone feel during its construction at the start of the Great Depression (was it a source of civic pride or resentment?).

The 1960s saw the start of a tower building in both cities, and the 1970s and early 1980s sprouted with residential towers. A handful of tall buildings were built during the late 1980s and early 1990s, but besides a few projects most of the 2000s were quiet. This seems to hold true in both cities. Key industries certainly have their towers, but few today point at these towers and recognize them for their original tenant.

What do skylines say about us? Does it touch on our aspirations? Or, is it an act of hubris?