Would the Minneapolis of Today Oppose the Construction of the IDS Center?


Lets dream of the future like we used to.

Can We Still Dream as We Once Did?

When built, the IDS Center didn’t match any of the character of the city, any of the colors or materials of the surrounding buildings, their heights or setbacks, and it stuck out on the horizon for tens of miles. Yet it became embraced by the city and represented how we can change. It also declared to the rest America that Minneapolis was worth paying attention to.

The building achieved new heights, becoming the tallest in North America outside of New York, Chicago and Toronto.

More importantly, beneath this new towering height, was an elaborately designed base blending the land and sky. The Crystal Court offers a Town Square the city never formally had. Wondrous and naturally lit, its expansive space provides the ultimate experience for traversing from sidewalks to skyways. It has physically manifested the identity of Minneapolis into a crystallized, experimental form that aspires to be world-class.

However, the residents of Minneapolis now are often found objecting to buildings that stand out, are taller, different, and that are trying for something unique. This has led one to wonder, with this attitude of opposing change: would we still allow the construction of the IDS Center today?

How Did We Go from Pioneering and Experimental to Objecting to Buildings of Five and Six Stories?

The soaring Cedar Riverside development is often regarded as something of a failure: It destroyed much of an existing neighborhood, incorporated new architecture that did not age gracefully, and it ignored most of the local context. Still, Cedar Riverside today is near full occupancy, recently underwent a renovation, and is still standing unlike many other experimental housing projects of the era. Is this then still a complete failure?

The knee jerk reaction we’ve gone through is to avoid making the same mistakes again: don’t change the neighborhood, don’t build tall, and don’t experiment with the architecture.

Recently, this resistance to change has manifested itself in building moratoriums, contentious city meetings, and neighborhood groups requesting the legal power to halt developments that they deem would change the neighborhood.

Everything we do changes a neighborhood: from the color we paint the mailboxes, the kind of landscaping we plant in the front yard, down to the clothes we wear walking down the sidewalk. The character of a neighborhood constantly changes.

The last thing Minneapolis needs is a gated community approach to allowing new buildings and people into its neighborhoods.

Smaller Cities are Outdoing Us

Minneapolis today is preventing itself from reaching its full potential. Many smaller cities have better urban developments than we do, and are shooting for something greater.

This can be found in Portland, Oregon, south of its downtown, along the river in the ‘South Waterfront’ development. The buildings consist of glass and steel, towers 25-35 stories high, atop a 5-6 story base. This base acts as an ‘in-between’ from the tower to the pedestrian experience on the sidewalk, with a mix of shops and ground level apartments, adding increased activity and eyes along the street. This area is projected to be a popular and beautifully dense new section of the city.

Minneapolis has already lost out on such potential by omitting similar towers around Gold Medal Park, missing the possibility of more people living there, enjoying the park and adding life to its surroundings.

Can Minneapolis still dream of the fantastic and outlandish?  

Above I have photoshopped together a glimpse of a possible future Minneapolis; intended to stir a few imaginations and to send some self-imposed dogma out the window.

What’s depicted:

Center: Two buildings taller than the IDS Center, and perhaps one of them being once again the tallest west of the Mississippi?

On the left and right: New high-rise residential buildings filling in the south end of Nicollet, around Loring Park, and all over Downtown East with the introduction and success of the ‘Yard’. For a more encouraging pedestrian atmosphere, most of these residential developments would ideally be following something similar to the tower on top of a lively base motif; allowing for more people downtown and invigorating street life.

Could Minneapolis have More Development of this Typology All Around the City?

Wouldn’t it be great if more people could enjoy living along the north end of Lake Calhoun, in Uptown, Dinkytown, the Warehouse district, and on the riverfront?  With these places changing, they can have new identities, new experiences, and hopefully bring a fresh spirit to the city: to try something new and different.

With the Future in our Control: What kind of Minneapolis do we want to emerge?

Nick Sortland

About Nick Sortland

Nick Sortland is a recent graduate of North Dakota State University's Master of Architecture program. He became Interested in urban design and planning while living through Downtown Fargo's urban revival. Nick grew up in the Twin Cities, now lives in Brooklyn and works in Midtown Manhattan. He enjoys discussing the urban realm and is interested in how societal ideals influence the built environment. Follow him on instagram at: nicksorts