Friday Photo: Buildings and Time

There’s been a healthy debate here recently on the merits of new construction and preservation, including issues of community representation, environmental impact, quality of design, etc. One facet of the issue that I would like to discuss more explicitly is the consequences of where development occurs in time. So I thought I’d give you you my take on a broad trend in the quality of development in my neighborhood.


This building in Phillips was built in 1889. The quality of the design is high – the building has multiple storefronts and apartments, and faces the street. A few more stories wouldn’t hurt, but if it were somehow built today, most of us would be stoked. Luckily, it still exists.


This is an Allina health laboratory built in 1979. Granted, it’s a different type of use. But still, this building is, quite frankly, offensive. It sends a message to the surrounding neighborhood that it has no value and no potential. It was merely a convenient place near the freeway to put a big box of lab equipment.


This is the Bii Di Gain Dash Anwebi Elder Housing development built last year. The impetus for this project is great, but unfortunately the quality of the design, while better than the Allina building, still falls short of late 19th century standards. The cornice has made a perfunctory, skeletal comeback, but particularly appalling are the faux shop windows that reveal only parking on a portion of the ground floor.

The quality of development in this area was initially high, then saw a nadir in 1979 with the construction of a regrettable metal box, and now seems to be on an upward trajectory, without having reached or exceeded initial levels.

In a binary, atemporal choice between a vacant lot and any sort of building, most would prefer the building. However, an upward trend in the overall quality of buildings complicates the decision. A building now may mean sacrificing a better building that would have come later.

4 thoughts on “Friday Photo: Buildings and Time

  1. Alex

    The problem is that we exist now, and have to suffer through the vacant lot alternative. One possible mitigation is the fact that buildings can be altered, such as replacing the parking level with retail or other human-oriented uses.

  2. Sam NewbergSam Newberg

    I’ll point out that the GDA (Gehl Door Average – doors per 100 meters of frontage) directly correlates with your conclusions as to quality of the three buildings you analyze. Generally, the higher the GDA, the better.

    Well done, Joe. We need to continually ask what we can improve upon.

  3. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

    I was so bummed out when Allina chose to reuse that old “DDS” warehouse rather than tear it down and start over. Shameful. And to think our city allowed that kind of garbage 35 years ago.

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