The Intuitionist: Architecture is no substitute for….

“Catastrophic accidents are a-million-in-one occurrences, not so much what happens very seldom but what happens when you subtract what happens all the time. They are, historically, good or bad omens, depending on the time and place, urging in reform, a quest for universal standards of elevator maintenance, or instructing the dull and plodding citizens of modernity that there is a power beyond rationality. That the devil still walks the earth and architecture is no substitute for prayer, for cracked knees and desperate barter with the gods.”

          —Colson Whitehead, The Intuitionist. New York: Anchor Books, 2000. p. 230

 

differentmethods

From: Diagram 14.5  

DIFFERENT METHODS OF ROPING TRACTION-ELEVATOR MACHINES

F. A. Annett, Elevators: Electric and Electrohydraulic Elevators, Escalators, Moving Sidewalks, and Ramps, Third Ed., McGraw-Hill, 1960

https://thediagram.com/14_5/differentmethods.html

 

thumbnail_The Intuitionist Covers_Colson Whitehead 1c

City Lighting for Character and Warmth

Finding the “Right Lighting” may be the best tool we have  to enliven the city nights

A-Mill_E_V_120

Pillsbury A-Mill Artist Lofts at night. Photo courtesy of Schuler Shook

By,  Frank Edgerton Martin

Minnesota’s temperature extremes are hard on sidewalk paving and street trees.

But our streetscapes don’t have to be so hard on us, especially during the occasional cold and rainy days of fall and spring. There are plenty of historic precedents for urban lighting that worth remembering today.

For example, light should originate from many levels, from on high (as in the neon sign atop the First National Bank building in St. Paul) down to pedestrian-level street lamps as well as store windows and building lobby doors. Think of looking into a store window on the street and then looking upward to people walking through the glowing skyways. Light from such varied heights brings a sense of human scale and intimacy to the urban environment.

Juster Bldg. 1929

Juster Bros. on Nicollet Avenue at night, c. 1920. Collection Minnesota Historical Society

If you look at older photos of night cities, you’ll find a rich array of light sources—vertical neon signs, globe street lamps, upper story offices—all of which harmonize with the flow of pedestrians. But it seems that we’ve forgotten such nuances of urban lighting and why it matters in a four-season climate like ours.

The latest update of the Nicollet Mall is one example. The mall now has long stretches of sidewalk that seem devoid of trees, color or even seasonal pots to make the walkways more welcoming. There’s also little in the way of lighting at ground level, such as uplit building facades or illuminated store signs.

Nic Mall Chrishtmas 1969

Christmas on Nicollet Mall. Clarence R. Chaney, 1968. This watercolor is perhaps a holiday card for the Northwestern National Bank—whose glowing red “Weatherball” at the top says warmer weather is ahead. Note the Mall’s original paired street lamps and tree lights.

One of Mall’s nicest features  used to be the strings of winter lights on the trees. They created scintillating pools of light, lending an almost magical feel during the darkest times of the year. However, the new design’s trees came with warrantees that prohibit tree lights at any time of year.

The original mall also boasted beautiful paired street lamps lit with glowing, incandescent bulbs. In the mornings and at dusk, they shone warmly on the steam rising up from the heated sidewalks.

Those street lamps and heated sidewalks used a lot of energy and proved challenging to maintain.

New Lighting Options

Forty years later, today’s more durable and sustainable lighting technologies open up new strategies for city light and atmosphere.

Schmidt_E_H_005

Photo courtesy of BKV Group and Schuler Shook

Take the recently renovated Schmidt Brewery in St. Paul. Now known as the Schmidt Artist Lofts, BKV Group and Pfister Associates used lighting to accentuate the brewery’s crenellated tower and cornice details. They uplit the smokestack so that the inset letters SCHMIDT’s are visible from blocks away. The landmark red neon Schmidt sign atop the brewery is once again a beacon on West 7th Street—as it has been for a century.

A-Mill_E_H_023

Above. Rear buttresses of the Pillsbury A-Mill Artist Lofts. Below. The full visual complexity and lighting Pillsbury A-Mill Artist Lofts at dusk. Photos courtesy of BKV Group and Schuler Shook.

Then there’s the Pillsbury A-Mill. Lighting consultants Schuler Shook joined forces with BKV Group and Pfister to install angled uplighting celebrating texture and depth of the 138 year-old rough limestone walls, a characteristic that’s generally lost at night. In the rear, they dramatically backlit the supporting buttresses to create a sense of layering and shadow.

Pillsbury-A-Mill_U1A5737-PS_931a0a3f87ebb06978ae91800f639b88

On the A-Mill’s roof, Schuler Shook introduced bursts of color by lighting the old rooftop water tower. Visible from the Third Avenue Bridge, the water tower’s  LED warm white and blue night colors complement the historic neon Pillsbury sign nearby.

Creating Transparency

9nicollet09191313

Circa 1980 winter night on the original Nicollet Mall showing the glow of paired street lamps, white lit street trees, and the transparency of an overhead skyway.

While building walls make great surfaces for lighting, we sometimes need to see into a building — through windows and lobby doors. Being able to get a glimpse inside a building adds a sense of depth and movement as we walk along street at night.

“We try to design storefronts and buildings where the light from inside can leak out,” said Brady Halverson, a landscape architect with the BKV Group. “Transparent storefronts and pools of light at doorways help to create a sense of arrival.”

Variety and temperature

Good architectural lighting also takes color tones and directionality of light into consideration.

“When you install a lamp at the middle of your living room ceiling, you get a blanket of light without highlights or darker spots,” explained architect Peter Pfister of Pfister Associates. But “if you light the room with table lamps and focused spotlights, you get more varied and inviting spaces layers of light,” he said.

Beyond of light sources, Pfister argues that the “temperature” of light “affects the mood of a street.”

Measured in Kelvin degrees, lighting temperature doesn’t gauge how hot or bright a light source seems, but its place along the color spectrum.

Schmidt_I_H_117_edited

Photo courtesy of BKV Group and Schuler Shook.

For example, the wall lighting at the A-Mill and Schmidt Brewery ranges from 2,600 to 3, 000K degrees, creating warmer yellows.

Yet many parking lot and street lamps are calibrated at the higher temperatures of 4,000 to 5,000 K—casting much colder, stark light that reaches into the blue end of the color spectrum.

Many people assume safety concerns require such light intensity. But lighting designers show us how security and brightness can be achieved with warmer light tones, how strategically poised spotlights can highlight beautiful old walls—and how glowing colors create a rainy nighttime atmosphere meant to be experienced and not just endured.

Frank Edgerton Martin

(An earlier version of this article appeared in the Star Tribune, March 20, 2019)

#wintercities  #architecturallighting

 

Lessons from the late Great Metropolitan Building

489px-Metropolitan_Life_Building,_Minneapolis,_Minn

Historical Drama

A new volume from Larry Millett charts the history of an architectural landmark whose demolition sparked the preservation movement in Minnesota

Metropolitan Dreams:
The Scandalous Rise and Stunning Fall of a Minneapolis Masterpiece

By Larry Millett. University of Minnesota Press, 2018

Review by Frank Edgerton Martin.  Architecture Minnesota, March/April 2019

 

The year 1956 was a fateful one for downtown Minneapolis: The Minneapolis Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA) approved a plan to renew the Gateway District—the city’s entire 19th-century business and commercial core north of Fourth Street—and the Minnesota Highway Department announced plans to build massive freeways into the city and in a canyon ring around downtown. The HRA confirmed that most of the block that was home to the landmark Metropolitan Building would be included in the renewal district and be demolished.

51evOH2rTML._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_

Larry Millett’s excellent Metropolitan Dreams: The Scandalous Rise and Stunning Fall of a Minneapolis Masterpiece begins by immersing readers in the booming Minneapolis of the 1880s. A principal character in the story of the Metropolitan was Louis Menage, a real-estate broker who built a beguiling empire of paper investments and mortgage fraud. On his way to becoming the Bernie Madoff of the 1880s, Menage founded the Northwestern Guaranty Loan Company and hired architect E. Townsend Mix to design a grand headquarters for it.

Millett describes how the Northwestern Guaranty Loan Building (the original name of the Met) appeared both old and new when it opened in 1890. Its heavy, Richardsonian Romanesque stone exterior and corner turrets expressed the architectural past, while inside its 12-story light court, seven elevators, and soaring steel structure celebrated modern technology.

But glories can be fleeting, and in 1893 Menage’s crimes caught up with him. His fall began with charges of sweeping fraud and ended with financial collapse and his temporary escape to Guatemala—all of it national news. Thousands had been swindled.

Seventy years later, the destruction of Menage’s landmark was also marked by dishonesty. From 1957 to 1962, the HRA distorted building-condition assessments, exaggerated concerns that potential Gateway District investors had about the old building, and ultimately forced out the owner—who tried to save it—before the HRA purchase was complete.

Though out of style in the 1950s, the Met was one of the finest surviving light-court skyscrapers in the country, and noted architects including Ralph Rapson and Philip Johnson came to its defense. For the HRA, the problem all along was how the building looked in a city that was insecure about its image. In the HRA’s view, it was easier to build a new image with modern architecture. Metropolitan Dreams is a relatively short yet rich civic history that brings this cast of fallible human characters to life with relevance for today.

 

 

New England on the Praire

My new article for the Star Tribune—introduces a book that I’m writing on the settlement of the Great Plains and the overlay of Euro-American landscape aesthetics on land  quite recently inhabited by Native Americans

Beauty spots were likely born out of a desire to mimic East Coast village greens and wooded glens here on the prairie. Postcards of the parks, though often retouched with color and perhaps even edited to remove flaws, document an early and earnest civic pride.

Towns like Litchfield, Le Sueur, Owatonna and Mankato were eager to let the world know about the civilized public parks they had to offer.

Many town parks grew up along rivers and lakes, including Mankato’s Sibley Park, which boasted a racetrack and deer park. Located on the banks of the Minnesota River, it became a popular destination. But it wasn’t the only one in the area.

 

Blessed with blufflands, Mankato had beauty spots with sweeping river views, but also more urbane locales, such as Lincoln Park in downtown, and a Lovers Lane.

In Bemidji, the beauty spot was a lakeshore parkway that linked its downtown Carnegie Library to the state teachers college, which would later become Bemidji State University.

Shelter on the plains

In much of western and central Minnesota, geographic features tend to be subtle. Without dramatic river bluffs, dense woods or lakes, townspeople constructed local landmarks, many of which were reminiscent of their pasts.

In railroad towns on the prairie, such as Litchfield, residents carved out a sense of local character by creating formal town parks. They installed formal, linear walks and planted a canopy of trees, then used the surrounding buildings to create an urbane sense of enclosure.

Across the Upper Midwest, even the smallest towns built parks, with formal iron fountains imported from the East Coast and bandstands for summer concerts. Like Litchfield’s beauty spot, they served as sheltering public spaces that contrasted with the open prairie.

 

Olivia copyAuthor’s collection

In Renville County, the small town of Olivia planted a grove of trees as its early town park. Less costly than an ornamental park with formal fountains, the canopy of trees offered a rare place of enclosure and shade. The linear layout of the trees and central path to a wooden bandstand established a sense of order on the open land.

Higher aspirations, growing towns

A generation later, in the City Beautiful and Beaux Arts eras (1900-30), Midwestern towns began to build even grander, neoclassically inspired parks with pergolas, performance halls and amphitheaters.

Owatonna’s Central Park boasted a Craftsman-style bandstand and linear walks converging on an ornate, two-tier iron fountain.

In Red Wing, Broadway Park was nestled between churches and the neoclassical Sheldon Auditorium (one of the state’s most beautiful theaters). The triangular space was furnished with stone benches, planting beds and a fountain pool sheltered by a curving pergola. Now named John Rich Park, it remains one of the most beautiful small civic spaces in the country.

Borrowing from Europe

Many of the state’s oldest small town parks were, and continue to be, beautiful expressions of public space. But these beauty spots — many of which offered the reassurance of familiar landscapes — forced a European aesthetic on a “frontier” that had been inhabited for millennia.

Far away from larger cities, Minnesota’s small towns staked out a claim to settlement with remarkable works of landscape architecture and design. The towns’ founders were creating public parks for what they hoped would be a growing number of citizens, but they never understood the native cultures that came before them — people with a different sense of beauty and promise in the land.

Frank Edgerton Martin is a consulting writer for architecture and design firms and a historic landscape preservation planner.

 

 

 

Streetscapes: Celebrating Minnesota architecture

Streetscapes: Celebrating Minnesota architecture

 

 

 

Small town parks—Rusticity

davenport iowa park

Many 19th century midwestern towns created their own “beauty spots”—interpreting and highlighting the landscape according to the aesthetic ideals that they brought from the east coast and from Europe. This Rustic Bridge in Davenport, Iowa brings the 18th century English ideal of the “picturesque” to the American prairie. 

The circa 1910 postcard is from a book project that I am working on concerning the imposition of Euro-American landscape aesthetics on midwestern landscapes as Native American cultures and their understanding of the land were systematically displaced. 

Also picturesque, Chester Park preserves the northern Minnesota boreal forest in Duluth.

Chester Park Duluth

Humble Buildings Shape the City

Fewer than 5% of American Buildings are designed by architects. Here is a 2018 story I wrote on why these vernacular buildings are so important.

 

In praise of the humble midsize buildings that make the Twin Cities special

Ordinary, midsize buildings don’t often draw praise, but they make
our cities lively, livable and adaptable. 

Urban skylines are defined by soaring skyscrapers and landmark buildings visible from afar, but it’s really the smaller, humbler buildings around them that shape a city.

The IDS Center in Minneapolis and the State Capitol in St. Paul are civic signatures, designed by celebrated architects. But far more important in our daily lives are the commercial buildings — the stores, apartments, warehouses and offices — that originally filled out our downtowns and lined our main corridors like Lake Street and University Avenue.

IMG_1851

University Avenue NE in Minneapolis 

Urban planners call these structures “fabric buildings,” a term largely unknown to the general public. It’s time we learned what they are and just what they offer.

Virtually all of St. Paul’s Lowertown and the North Loop in Minneapolis are filled with two- to six-story buildings. Some are nondescript, but many were designed by architects and exquisitely detailed. Their real beauty is apparent when you see them together on the streets they frame. Although these commercial buildings were originally designed for manufacturing and warehouses, they have proved highly adaptable.

Lake Street in Minneapolis is a multigenerational case study in fabric buildings and their lasting importance.

Starting around 1890, Lake Street’s stores, offices and, eventually, car dealerships grew to create a rich architectural ensemble, which made the stretch from Uptown to the Mississippi River a great place for car “cruising.”

By the 1950s, young people found an evening of magic in Lake Street’s continuity of neon, bright storefronts and sidewalk vitality — all stemming from the perfectly ordinary buildings, theaters and small businesses that thrived there. Taken alone, these buildings were nothing special, but together these fabric buildings became a destination.

(The same could be said for Grand Avenue in St. Paul, which remains a shopping, business and restaurant hub today.)

But in the 1960s, places like Lake Street and University Avenue began to lose buildings to parking lots that fronted gas stations, muffler repair shops and banks — all of which were set back from the street, creating eerily exposed environments for pedestrians. On Lake Street, some blocks had so many parking lots that the street lost its unique draw and urban feel.

In the 1980s, cities encouraged economic revival through drive-up, one-story office and business parks, also with front-door parking. St. Paul transformed the Midway area with big-box stores such as Target, which was set even farther back from the street. This new chapter in commercial architecture ignored the lure, the continuity, the sense of community created by fabric buildings.

Catching up with the past

Fortunately, during the past 20 years, planners in the Twin Cities have grown to appreciate fabric buildings as affordable locations for small businesses, and their collective density draws visitors and enriches the pedestrian experience.

Both Minneapolis and St. Paul now encourage developers to learn to re-use fabric buildings and build new structures up to the sidewalk, just as they were a century ago.

There’s also a wave of new multiunit residential projects in the cities and older suburbs that function like fabric buildings. Because building codes allow less expensive wood construction up to five stories, many new apartments and condos are four to five stories tall, creating areas with buildings that are consistent in height and form.

And because of the need for housing, parking lots are being filled with new buildings that complement the older surviving buildings. The North Loop, Central Avenue NE., the 29th Midtown Greenway and Lake Street are filled with new examples.

American cities are starting to grow in population for the first time in 50 years. Thousands of old fabric buildings can be repurposed for the digital era, offering millennials an alternative to the postwar suburbs where many of them grew up.

But even more important, these buildings offer variety — in architectural period and style and in adaptability.

Great cities will continue to preserve and build architectural landmarks. But we also need to preserve and build a humble kind of architecture. We can never try to save all, or even most, of the fabric buildings in our cities. We are, however, finally learning how much they matter as cities evolve with every generation.

Frank Edgerton Martin is a consulting writer for architecture and design firms and a historic landscape preservation planner.