This is the headquarters of the Metropolitan Council, the Twin Cities regional planning agency. It’s located in downtown Saint Paul. Notice anything about how it’s laid out? If you ever walk past, it may take a moment, but you’ll soon realize that the building doesn’t have any entrances onto the street. There are doors along Robert Street and 6th Street, but they are all emergency exits without any door handles to let people get back inside. The story is the same on the east side of the building, where there’s a pedestrian walkway followed by a vehicle ramp which drops down one level to access parking underneath the block.
The only entrance to the building is along a pedestrian alley on the south side of the structure. That’s a unique feature, but not unique enough to make up for the bunker-like stance of the building everywhere else. It was either designed to fend off attacks from angry mobs or to keep the interior dry against floodwaters that will never reach that height. There are a few small trees and shrubs planted in the alley to soften the concrete and stone, but it still stands in stark contrast to Mears Park a mere block and a half to the east, as well as many other more traditionally-designed buildings in the city that have permeable first floors with windows and doors that can be opened from the outside.
Of course, I shouldn’t dump all the blame for the building onto the Met Council: It had originally been built in 1967 as an office building for the state government, acting as the base of operations for the Department of Economic Security for some time (that was merged into the Department of Employment and Economic Development—DEED—in 2003).
Downtown Saint Paul has a mixture of old and new buildings. Many of the ones built from the 1960s onward have major flaws like this: Either large expanses of blank walls, often where the only gaps are built for parking garage entrances or truck loading docks. But the Met Council building remains one of the most stark dismissals of the street. It’s not the way to induce exciting street life. Can buildings like this be rehabilitated?