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

41 thoughts on “Would the Minneapolis of Today Oppose the Construction of the IDS Center?

  1. I Am A Person

    “The Crystal Court offers a Town Square the city never formally had.”

    Errr… The Crystal Court is a privately-managed space, closed to the good citizenry of Minneapolis outside of work hours, and certainly not available for the quintessential purpose of any town square: public assembly and political protest. The Court also happens to be a hellish dystopian food-court of second-tier corporate chains, and a blemish on the Nicollet Mall streetscape.

    More generally, it’s truly depressing if we’re going to doom ourselves to another generation of development based on skyline-porn fantasizing. We should move past such shallow, aesthetically-motivated conceptions of what makes a city livable. What does the IDS Center *do* besides be, as Steve Buscemi dopily remarks in “Fargo”, the (then-)second-tallest-building-in-the-Midwest? At best, it’s just office space; at worst, it’s an embodiment of inequality and a wonderfully fitting symbol of the cold, grey logic of capitalism. (See also: Freud/phalluses.)

    Good cities aren’t good because they contain sparkling monuments to Class A office space; those exist primarily to attract outside capital–and with it, gentrification and worsened inequality. They’re good when they have peaceful, stable neighborhoods, wherein people can make an honest living at a reasonably anxiety-free pace of life–and featuring genuinely public space where the people can freely assemble.

    1. Adam MillerAdam

      Yes, poverty for all! Who needs businesses, offices and capital! We can all just raise chickens in our backyards.

      But, without the sarcasm, we definitely need genuine public spaces, and more of them.

  2. Nick SortlandNick Sortland Post author

    Interesting, but whats wrong with corporations building high rises?
    They are a more efficient use of space, better for the environment by taking up a smaller footprint on the land, keeps hundreds of rural acres from being developed into a corporate version of Versailles, and is in downtown, close to all forms of mass transit and can be next to more compact housing, lessening the need for people to commute at all. High rises In the end contribute to a more livable city by having more density.

    1. I Am A Person

      Paris is one of the highest-density cities in the world; it does so largely without high rises. Speaking of, Paris also had the wherewithal to build its district of shiny corporate phalluses at one condensed, transit-oriented location … outside of the city proper, at La Défense.

      In any case, I just don’t see the need to tear up, say, the already-dense Loring Park’s wonderful brick buildings — especially considering how the latest big project there, LPM Apartments, is for all intents and purposes a sexed-up parking ramp for its first 4-5 stories. I’d have much preferred those stories be residential, even if it meant there not being a sparkly spire of highly exclusive housing on top of it.

      If you really must build high-rises, do it in the empty lots of Downtown East and the North Loop, or in downtown St. Paul. Once you run out of space there, build them in some of those massive lots at the Snelling-University intersection in the Midway, or in the industrial space along the river north of the North Loop, or (especially if we’re just talking about office towers) near the light-rail in Bloomington. But I for one fantasize of a Twin Cities with transit corridors lined with 5-8 story boxes, so long as they aren’t too dominated by the latest all-too-fleeting aesthetic fads in architecture.

      1. Alex CecchiniAlex Cecchini

        The problem is that the locations that people may want to live are different than the locations you propose. This may be because of natural amenities like lakes, creeks, rivers, trails, views, etc. It may be because historic investments in public infrastructure co-located man-made amenities like shops, restaurants, transit, etc. It may be because man-made investments in other areas detract from a property’s value (looking at you, urban freeways).

        Paris is an absolutely wonderful place, no argument. But it’s also extremely expensive because the frozen-in-time height restricts supply. Yes, it’s very possible they could tear down buildings that have been sub-divided into many 300 sqft units, put up a high-rise, and not really increase housing supply or population (merely because some super-rich people are willing to pay far more per sqft than the total of the only-moderately wealthy existing residents). But in a city like Paris that has such excellent bike infrastructure, transit (both at and below-grade), they could use a healthy dose of housing supply increase while still not having the “LPM effect” – lots and lots of parking that has to go somewhere. Paris could easily build a tower like LPM with the pedestal having only residential as you note.

        If a Twin Cities lined with 5-8 story boxes is what you desire (which I won’t argue with – that would be fantastic), let’s do that! Let’s also not hold back towers that meet the street well in places like downtown M/SP where that type of construction actually pencils out financially.

      2. Jon

        I have to agree with your comments about Paris. You obviously can’t compare Paris to MPLS in most instances, but Paris did build an “IDS” in its heart called Montparnasse. Parisians HATE it and would probably implode it if they could! They have their high rise corporate section of the city for work, but the vibrant, livable heart of Paris is no higher than 6 stories in all directions, and in turn is the greatest city on the face of the earth.

        1. Adam MillerAdam

          If only we had had a dictator to order that the entire city be torn down and rebuilt in a giant… wait.. a giant modernization plan! Oh no!

  3. Brendan

    Two self-contradictory points. On the one hand, Minneapolis’ population peaked around 1950 (and was actually as high as today’s population in the 1920s). Since the ’50s, we’ve seen continuous decline. Arguably Minneapolis’s high achieving days of urbanism preceded any of the highrisification of downtown.

    It the commercial and/or population density of downtown any higher than it was in 1950? Individual blocks are more dense, but there are now many vacant blocks, and lots of space devoted to parking.

    But the world is different today, so I accept your premise. Cars are not going away.

    We probably do need more high rises in downtown if we plan to achieve Mayor Hodges’ (admittedly “stretch”) goal increasing city population by 100,000. I assert that business location is a big driver of housing location, and that the trend of building suburban corporate campuses drove a lot of the suburban residential migration. Here’s a thought experiment. What would the skyline of Minneapolis look like if you tried to cram the headquarters of Minnesota’s 5 largest companies into downtown? Or even both downtowns? United Health Group, Target, Best Buy, Supervalu, 3M. Or top 10 companies?

    That’s not to say we should try to get those specific companies to move. Lots of investment in their existing locations over time. But if we do want the population of the city to grow, we will need a lot more commercial space in the downtowns.

    As for the premise of the article – I don’t recall a lot of nimby objection to downtown projects based on height. Just neighborhood projects. Not sure its an issue.

    1. Adam MillerAdam

      Honestly, I would think it was suburban housing that drove suburban corporate campuses instead of the other way around.

      Also, one of those is already downtown. But adding the rest, along with General Milles, Medtronic and St. Jude Medical, would be outstanding.

      1. Morgan Zehner

        I disagree. I think that the suburban office park is the preferred office setting for non-professional service firms. It keeps intellectual property in a private space, avoids worker distractions, and is cheaper. The corporation can control a lot more. Corporations LOVE control. A lot of corporate human resources programs are about making one’s job their life, its the only way to make money on people. If there is no life around you, like in a city, then the life = work conversion is easier.

        Target is a little different because they explicitly want a young, hip workforce. More and more companies want young workforces because they are technology savvy, hip, and cheaper. But it hasn’t changed the employer location share yet, at least not in the Twin Cities.

        1. Al Davison

          Yes, but at the same time it can draw the life out of the workers. If you are in a suburban office park, you usually have to drive to get something to eat, and most of the time it’s going to be a chain. Even if it’s across the street, you are not going to want to walk across the 4-lane psuedo-expressway with few crosswalk options.

          At least Target’s workforce has the option to walk around for lunch and go deal with food trucks especially during the summer. In a way I think the distractions would be better overall for the workers. The thing is though, is that it just doesn’t need to be like that in Downtown. More offices in NE and Uptown could do the same, as well as some suburban areas that could be prime for more density and improved transit (such as Bloomington and Roseville).

        2. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

          Worker distractions is an interesting conversation. Are real-life (urban) worker distractions better than online (suburban) worker distractions?

          For example, studies show that the majority of streets.mn readership occurs while people are “at work” on their computers, wasting time. What if, instead of going online and reading about cities, people were actually in them instead? The traffic on this site would go down, but the upside would be tremendous.

          1. Morgan Zehner

            People are just in front of the computer while they are at work. You are saying that summer causes shark attacks.

            If I worked downtown I would be out of the office a lot more. Since I work in an auto dependent office park I am here more during the day. I might not be working while I am here but I am almost certainly not working when I am not (eating, taking walks, shopping, etc).

      2. Al Davison

        I live near St. Jude Medical, and they have expanded and want a bridge over Highway 36 to connect their campuses. Even without the bridge, I am sure they will stay put there for at least 15-20 years unless they merge with someone else.

        Same with Medtronic, they are gonna be in Fridley for awhile. Golden Valley is gonna want to keep General Mills as well, so I think all of these suburbs are going to cave in and offer anything regardless of cost if their local Fortune 500 company has demands.

  4. Walker AngellWalker Angell

    As I read this I kept thinking about to Al Davison’s comment about hamsters in Tom Nehil’s post yesterday about skyways. I often wonder if we don’t need to revisit the massively centralized core. It’s come about organically and has been around for a few centuries, but is it the best option?

    1. Al Davison

      I’m for a strong central core (Central Minneapolis), along with a strong secondary hub (DT St.Paul/Capitol region) with a smaller hubs (both urban and suburban) with transit options with headways of at least 5 (urban/busy suburban hubs) and 10-15 (other suburban hubs) minutes during rush hours,

      Some ideas for urban hubs:
      U of M, Hennepin/Central area (NE), Uptown/Lyn-Lake, Midtown, Broadway/Penn in Minneapolis

      Midway. Grand Ave, Arcade St, Rice St for Saint Paul (probably some others too)

      West End, Hopkins, WBL, Rosedale, Southdale, Bloomington-Central, American Blvd, Maplewood Mall, and a few others for 1st or 2nd ring suburban hubs.

      Outer suburbs/Exurbs we should focus on the older towns and focus development in their original Main Street corridors. Basically keeping small towns looking like actual small towns.

      1. Al Davison

        Woops, I forgot to mention the headways would be for routes heading to the central core, plus the secondary ones or any local nearby suburban hubs. Like Rosedale would have a main bus to U of M/ DT Minneapolis, Saint Paul (65).

        Urban hub to secondary/core: 5-7 min headways during rush hour, 10-15 min afternoon/daytime, 10-30 min late evening, 1 hr late night (available for all 24 hours if there is demand)

        Busy suburban hub (West End) to core or secondary (if needed): 10-15 min headways rush hour, 30 min afternoon/daytime (along with to other hubs), 1 hour late evening, no late night (unless area with heavy concentration of bars, late night spots, etc.)

        Other suburban hub to core/secondary: 15-30 minutes during rush hour, 30-60 min afternoon/daytime (along with to other hubs), 40-75 min evening, probably no late night

        It’s not a flawless plan, but at least it’s an area for better connectivity between busy areas in the metro.

  5. Michael RodenMichael Roden

    First things first, I need to stick up for the Crystal Court. It may be corporately-owned private space, but it has held up fantastically over its 40+ years, it’s beautiful in a Modern architecture sort of way, and it is vastly superior to any of the other skyway dungeons that you chance upon while running around in the hamster tubes. If it must be privately owned space, I’d say Philip Johnson did us a solid. Secondly, I am always critical of demolishing anything, but if we are filling in empty space we should demand high-rises in our downtown region. Downtown East, for example, will fail spectacularly if it is surrounded by <10-story buildings. Central Park is successful because it is surrounded by skyscrapers. Mid-rise buildings to the north of The Yard and basically nothing new to the south is not enough. We need much more downtown and 5-story buildings are not going to cut it.

    1. I Am A Person

      Can we stop comparing The Yard to Central Park? It’s a sad joke: Central Park is 840 acres. The Yard will be about 4 acres. If it is surrounded by skyscrapers, it will be a shady, claustrophobic space. Meanwhile, Loring Park is surrounded mostly by 4 story buildings, and is a success. The same goes for many similarly-sized parks in continental European cities.

      Also, why should anyone care if the Crystal Court’s architecture maybe has aged kinda sorta relatively well, when the only reason anyone uses it is to go to the Wells Fargo branch or eat at Potbelly’s?

      It feels to me like far too many people dream of a city that no one lives in.

      1. Adam MillerAdam

        A bigger Yard would only be a much bigger challenge and much more likely to fail.

        And I’m not sure why Loring Park is such a success. Most of the time, it’s substantially under utilized (see the great posts about the Yard that have run on this blog).

        But Loring Park has definitely improved over the last decade as the surrounding neighborhood has added housing. Loring Park Apartments, The Eitel conversion, the Vue (which should have been taller and thus made the area denser) are all improvements to the neighborhood, and there are more surface parking lots and low-quality housing (i.e., 214 15th St) that can be reused before we get into the difficult questions of whether to replace the classic brick apartment houses of the area.

        LPM has too much parking. That blows. But adding a whole bunch more residents to the neighborhood is exciting.

        As for Crystal Court, you sure sound like someone who doesn’t use it. It’s a pleasant place to sit and have lunch (especially if you got it from a food truck ’cause there isn’t much anywhere to sit near them).

        1. I Am A Person

          I wasn’t advocating they make the Yard any bigger; just pointing out that comparing it to Central Park–and suggesting it be treated in the same way–is farcical. But you make a good point re: the uses of the Crystal Court.

  6. Jim

    It’s worth remembering that there were a few skyscraper proposals in the late 80’s that were to be taller than the IDS and they were fought. It was feared that taller buildings would block the antenna/broadcasting signals from the IDS’s. Fortunatly most of the broadcasting uses moved to the suburbs and IDS’s are now mostly used for backup purposes.

  7. Anton

    In some ways, the IDS was a product of the times: the WTC and Sears Tower set the tone. Abstract modernism was in–build big, build shocking, and let the city gape in awe. Contextuality has since made a comeback but I think Mpls has gotten too modest. No significant tower has gone up since 1992, and the skyline has started to grow stale.

  8. Morgan Zehner

    What push back against tall buildings has there been recently? What about tall buildings downtown? I do not know an example of either?

    1. Jim

      There really hasn’t been too much in the way of tall commercial buildings proposed in downtown in recent years.

      But there was some opposition to the height of the Nicollet and Carlyle towers. The Vue in Loring Park was originally proposed as a 20 story tower that was shot down. The MoZaic and Flux buildings in uptown were also originally proposed as taller buildings as well.

      1. Adam MillerAdam

        I had another comment that seems to have been eaten, but there are other recent tall(ish) towers. 50 South Sixth, US Bankcorp Center, Target, Ameriprise and The Carlisle are all new since 2000 and all in the 25 tallest buildings in town.

        As will be LPM when it opens.

  9. Morgan Zehner

    I meant tall commercial buildings, sorry. I know about Linden Hills and the Trammel Crow Building near the Greenway.

  10. Doug TrummDoug Trumm

    I like skyline porn as much as the next guy, but I have to agree with the “not person” that over-aggrandizing them or treating them as the soul of the city is misguided. They are a nice byproduct of a healthy economy and solid urban design, but they cannot take the place of a dynamic urban vision that allows vibrant unique neighborhoods throughout the city.

    That said, I see your point that we have to continue to be a city willing to try ambitious designs. We can veto every mid to high rise because it blocks someone’s light. That said I’d be happy with a bunch of 20 story buildings if it gives up the density to offer great public transit and walkable and bikable streets. Height for bragging rights doesn’t seem integral to Minneapolis future to me.

    And if we are talking aesthetics, I have to say I find IDS Tower to be the ugliest of the 4 50+ story skyscrapers in Minneapolis. To me, it just a giant mirror with jagged corners and a ugly black crown. It’s not inviting and the physical shape is not graceful. I think Well Fargo Tower is much more pleasing to the eye and the Capella is also much better and less blah. Even the boxy 33 South Sixth at least achieves a modernist sort of beauty in its minimalist but pleasing form with honest 2-way glass. It’s pretty telling that the prettiest photographs of IDS tower are ones that its reflecting the Wells Fargo, because, on its own, IDS is a uninteresting from most angles. I’d actually prefer the Cedar Riverside design to the IDS.

    Oh I think the Crystal Court is alright. It’s the nicest prettiest food court I’ve even been to.

  11. Nick MagrinoNick Magrino

    This article mixes up two very different things. The people who are opposed to five story buildings in the Wedge and Linden Hills are not the reason we haven’t had a new gigantic building built. No one would (credibly/seriously) oppose building a 1,200 foot skyscraper at Marquette and 10th.

    I like looking at a pretty skyline as much as the next person, but seeing this magical sentiment bizarrely expressed over and over and over again at UrbanMSP is just…bizarre. Who is going to take up these millions of square feet of office space and tens of thousands of skyscraper condos? We’ve had one condo building, twelve stories tall, built in the current boom. It’s about 70 percent leased. Who is going to fill all the skyscrapers? Boundless enthusiasm and curiously aspirational vocabulary?

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  13. Archiapolis

    Citing Paris as the city that Minneapolis should be aspiring to is more farcical and more in the realm of outlandish fantasy than Photoshopping a few skyscrapers into the Minneapolis skyline to create a possible idealistic vision for the city.

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