I spent my day today on a tour called "From Gateway to Greenway: Modernism in Downtown Minneapolis." The weather wasn't ideal for a day outdoors, so I'm soaked from the rain in addition to worn out from walking, but I can say honestly that I think I am a little in love with Minneapolis. I found it to be an incredibly cool city, with a nice mix of historic and modern buildings, lots to do and see, and more green space than any city I have ever visited. It's also very pedestrian-friendly, with paths and footbridges making it easy to get around. (As a person who doesn't own a car, I have a soft spot for cities that like those of us who travel by foot.) Tour leaders Liz Gales and Todd Grover, along with several guest guides, did a fantastic job of sharing both their knowledge of the city's history and architecture and their enthusiasm for the place they call home.
Local architect Phillip Kotki kicked off the downtown portion of our tour in the Gateway area, telling us about its history. The neighborhood has seen more than a few changes since the founding of Minneapolis, the most significant of which was the complete demolition of every building in it by 1960. While by today's preservation standards, this is not an ideal way to develop a city, it did leave a vast expanse of space open for modernist structures in the 1960s and 1970s, including several Yamasaki and Associates buildings designed for Northwestern National Life Insurance (which are now owned by ING) and what was at the time the second iteration of the US Federal Reserve building. I found the one-time Federal Reserve building (shown above) quite interesting. It is apparently built like a suspension bridge -- hence the curve -- which allows it to have a column-free interior.
The high point of the tour, literally, was a trip to the top of the Philip Johnson-designed IDS building, where we were able to take in panoramic views of the sites we had just seen. Well, until we were kicked out by the staff of the catering company that owns the 50th floor, from which we were taking in said views. It's apparently privately-owned and they prefer people to take in the sites while paying for brunch on the weekends. I learned that the IDS building is also the first place in Minneapolis where the skyways and sidewalks met, allowing people to move easily from street-level to the covered, indoor walkways.
(The skyways, incidentally, are a fantastic idea. They allow people to move from building to building without having to go outdoors, which -- given Minnesota winters -- is a huge plus. They are also full of shops and restaurants, functioning as a mall that stretches all through town.)
In addition to looking at and spending time in buildings, we also experienced the urban landscape of Minneapolis and the ways it is being preserved. Jean Carbarini, a landscape architect, walked us through the preservation of the courtyard of the River Towers Condominiums, which was designed in 1964 by Sasaki, Walker, and Associates. Her firm balanced updating the garden to meet new structural requirements and the desires of the tenants with the need to maintain historical integrity with truly beautiful results. The Greenway, for which the tour was named, was also a focal point of the tour. Frank Martin, a cultural landscape preservation expert, led us through that restoration, which is still in progress. We crossed through the Greenway to Loring Park, one of the parks that makes up the Grand Rounds Park System, a 50-mile ring of parks surrounding Minneapolis. (I wasn't kidding when I said the city had a lot of green space!)
From Loring Park we headed to the sculpture garden at the Walker Museum, as the skies clouded up once again. A few of us braved the rain and stayed outdoors while others decided to spend a little time looking at the dry art indoors. And then, a mere eight hours after leaving St. Paul, we headed back to the bus, damp and tired, but -- and I think I can safely speak for all of us on the tour -- well satisfied at the way we spent our day.
Updated to add: I will be writing another post about a side-trip we took on this tour, and posting a slide show of the entire tour later in the week, so please keep an eye on the blog for those.