From the Archives: Optimizing wind and water in Beirut

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Designed by VJAA of Minneapolis, the student center at the American University of Beirut is a brilliant response to climate, topography, and precedents in urban form. 

 

FABRIC ARCHITECTURE  September 1st, 2012

The Charles Hostler Student Center at the American University of Beirut.

In arid climate cities, the way people use architecture and urban space changes with the time of day. Fabrics for shading, screening and evaporative cooling can be part of sustainable strategies to make these microclimates more comfortable. Throughout the Middle East, such commonsense tools have long been part of garden and architectural vernaculars.

Designed by VJAA, the Charles Hostler Student Center at the American University of Beirut is a masterful blend of historic Mediterranean urbanism and modern technologies. In its winning AIA design award submission, VJAA, Minneapolis, Minn., wrote that in Beirut, social activities “migrate” vertically and “condense” at various locations throughout the day. During the hot sunny hours, shop owners and families tend to use lower shaded spaces. At night they migrate to the rooftops.

Inspired by the city and the classic Beirut house that steps down hillside sites to catch sea breezes, VJAA designed the Hostler Student Center as a 3-D system of courtyards, passageways and roof gardens. Shading, breezes and the radiant cooling effects of water are all optimized in this 19,000m2 project.

An earlier campus master plan by Sasaki Associates Inc. had called for a large student building facility fronting a similarly large open space. But the VJAA team sensed that more fine-grained urbanism and local materials might offer lessons for energy conservation and comfort, both indoors and out.

At both the American University of Beirut (AUB) and Tulane University’s new Lavin-Bernick Center for University Life VJAA used metal mesh scrims to create cascading water walls offering both evaporative and radiant cooling benefits. Yet while Tulane’s water walls are set inside a large public gathering space, Beirut’s falling water is outside.Both projects merit comparison for the similarity of their student center building programs and theircontrasting climactic conditions.

 

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Whereas summers in New Orleans, La., are hot and humid, Beirut’s semi-arid summers are typically hot and dry. There are cooler temperatures with some rain in December and January, but, for the most part, outdoor campus spaces are quite habitable for most of the year if their form and orientation can make the most of breezes and allow for user “migration” with the sun.

Founded in 1866 to offer an American style liberal arts education, AUB is located on a dense 30-hectare (73 acres) urban campus sited above the ocean that cascades down to the Corniche, Beirut’s grand oceanfront boulevard. In response to this unique microclimate and Beirut’s urban traditions, VJAA broke up the center’s program of athletic facilities, café and auditorium, creating a cluster of five buildings along courts and passages that could optimize changing breezes and shade.

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Working with climate engineer Matthias Schuler of Transsolar, VJAA organized the buildings around a series of radial “streets” oriented toward the Corniche to catch the sea breezes. The campus’s steep topography promised many creative opportunities for responsive design. During the day, air cooled by the shaded portion of the tree-covered campus drops down toward the sea along the radial streets creating a flushing effect with cool air. At night, winds from the Mediterranean flow upward through the campus. Cisterns are located to capture winter rainwater for later summer use; gray water from building systems is recycled for irrigation.

Making use of the campus location, VJAA draws seawater from the nearby ocean (piped from 30m below the surface) into a central plant that provides chilled water for radiant cooling at the pool, gymnasium, squash courts and café. After desalinization, seawater offers radiant and evaporative cooling for the two cascading water walls similar to those used inside Tulane’s student center.

 

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VJAA designed two large 6m wide by 7.7m high waterwalls to employ metal mesh panels for cooling the outdoor terrace level. Like fountains in Persian gardens and courtyards, Beirut’s two outdoor waterwalls (made of stainless steel mesh scrims) guide smooth broad “sheets” of falling water. Their cool mist radiates outward into seating areas and, when the dew point is high, the walls’ lower temperature can reduce surrounding humidity by condensing water out of the air like an ice-filled glass on a summer day.

In its proposal for the AUB’s new student center, VJAA argued that the best architecture grows out of understanding local climate and its effects on human activity. “The project is as much about human behavior, collegiate life and even politics, as it is about questions of architectural form.”

 

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VJAA’s student center projects in New Orleans and Beirut teach us that fabric solutions in shading and water walls are only one part of a larger design strategy integrating site, seasons and daily weather. VJAA’s deep understanding of arid climates and architecture is almost certainly the reason it was awarded this student center project in an international competition. When time-tested local solutions are combined with new products and technologies for ventilation, cooling, heating and water capture, great gathering places can be built that draw people at different times of day simply because they are so inviting.

Fabric Architecture Contributing editor Frank Edgerton Martin’s report on Tulane University’s water wall appeared in the Jul/Aug 2012 issue.

Design for Winter Character in Cities

 

Photo 2. Bryn Mawr South facing

…an expanded version of a Streetscapes article for the Star Tribune written during the winter spectacle of the Super Bowl in Minneapolis

 

Design for the Cold

Winter Streetscapes don’t have to be Bleak—Five strategies for winter character

FRANK EDGERTON MARTIN  February 17, 2018

Minnesota promotes itself as the “Bold North”. But our designs for winter streets and public spaces are weak and timid.

We have some of the most dramatic seasonal weather in the country. Summers can be steam baths and wind chills can fall to fifty degrees below zero. But you’d never know it from visiting many grocery store parking lots, bus and transit stops, and even high-design arts and civic projects.

All too often, civic landscapes like the Minneapolis Central Library on Nicollet Mall are designed for perfect weather. They photograph beautifully in the warmer months but are planned with little regard for winter color, texture, and the force of wind. Stepped back from the Nicollet Mall, the Central Library’s main entry plaza bakes in the summer sun. In winter, with its bosque of stark and leafless locust trees in front of Dunn Brothers, the entry is devoid of shelter from the wind.

You can find such bleak winter spaces throughout newer suburbs—in open treeless parking lots with no shelter from the northwest wind, exposed entries to new high schools, big box stores with no windows and the ubiquitous beige earth tones of houses and commercial buildings.

Why do Minnesotans let this happen? The sheltered practicality of Nordic farmsteads, towns, and cities has been lost to American wealth and technological prowess. It’s all too easy to build large climate-controlled settings and car-based cities where few people have to go outside to walk to a store or wait for a bus or train.

But there are time-tested solutions to thrive in winter. Architect David Salmela is a third-generation Finnish-American based in Duluth who combines older ways of building with modern materials for northern climates. Salmela is one of Minnesota’s most celebrated architects—yet he never received a formal architecture degree. His training happened while growing up on the Range.

“My father was born in a sauna,” he says when talking about design for the North. “The biggest lesson from Nordic architecture is to break a building into parts.” Finnish farmsteads consist of many buildings because people build as time and money allow.

“My father was born in a sauna because that was the first and most essential structure the family put up on their land in Vermillion Lake Township. By making several small buildings over time, you can have more windows and sunlight.” Salmela says. Oriented to the arc of the winter sun, such incremental farmsteads also grow to shelter interior courts and work areas. They offer powerful lessons for cities today.

The Twin Cities don’t need to tear out skyway systems to bring more people to the streets. We need more reasons to walk along them such as shops and stores made possible by affordable rents. We also need to learn how to design winter streetscapes as a celebration of all of the senses.

Here are five strategies to consider…..

1. Understand the Movement of Sun and Wind

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The sunny steps at Senate Square. Photo by David Salmela.

Salmela describes how Finnish towns and cities are filled with buildings wrapped around interior courtyards and protected passageways, accessible from the street. In the Twin Cities, we can’t change the orientation of our downtown streets, but we can create sheltered outdoor rooms for a retreat from gusting winds.

Sometimes simple wind-blocking walls or glass panels can do the trick to optimize solar gain. Ideally, sheltered microclimates can be located on the north side of city streets where they catch the low winter sun. At the civic scale, Salmela cites Senate Square in Helsinki as an example where all of these elements come together. Set atop a hill, the Helsinki Cathedral looks south and into the harbor. University buildings shelter the plaza below. With their vistas, sun, and shelter, the Cathedral’s broad front steps are a nationally-known place for gathering.

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A national gathering-place. Senate Square in Helsinki. Photo by David Salmela.

 

2. Plant for Winter Character

Photo 1. Cedars and red twig dogwoods

Cedars and red twig dogwoods on the new Nicollet Mall

 

Forget the locusts, the re-design of Nicollet Mall shows a wealth of trees and shrubs that are beautiful and rich in winter character. Field Operations, the landscape architects from Philadelphia introduced several plantings, such as indigenous Eastern Red Cedars and Red Twig Dogwoods rarely seen downtown. Winter color and berries can often come from understory plantings such as tall native and ornamental grasses and a variety of berry-retaining viburnums.

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Belgian landscape architect, Petra Blaise, planted red pines—the state tree—at Walker Art Center

 

3. Create Beacons of Light for Long Nights

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Postcard detail of ore boat entering Duluth Harbor, circa 1915

In cold climates when it gets dark by mid-afternoon, fire and light are an ancient lure. Salmela describes the welcoming quality of glowing storefront windows and displays along Nordic streets. Warm glowing colors in signs, spotlighting, and illuminated public art can also highlight architectural detail and create variety block to block.

 

4. Winter Fragrances and Atmosphere

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Central Park in the 1930s. Print by Minnesotan, Adolf Dehn

 

Think of the moments when you discover the smells of wood smoke while on a neighborhood walk or visiting a city park. They wake us up and change our mood. Chestnuts roasting on an open fire have such a memorable effect that they merited a song. From food trucks to street vendors, we can bring these winter scents to cities.

5. Color is our Winter Friend

Phoro 4. mural and colored dentelles in Uptown

Mural and colored dentelles at the Rainbow Building in Uptown

Why are we so afraid of color? In the Powderhorn neighborhood, several Mexican-American businesses are painted in bold yellows and reds. In Finland, David Salmela notes the presence of architectural color too, “but with more subtle ochers and orange tones.” On the southern edge of to Gold Medal Park, Salmela designed the headquarters for Izzy’s Ice Cream as a counterpoint to the Guthrie Theatre. Izzy’s is a mostly white low-slung building punctuated with bold patches of color that not only help to meet city code for façade variation but also visually sparkle—especially in winter when we need it most of all.

 

 

  

 

Rethinking what “Downtown” really means

 

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—Drawing by Gilbert Osmond, c. 1956

 

My recent article for the Star Tribune challenges the idea that “downtowns” must be a compact core of commerce surrounded by freeways.

To become a livable downtown, Minneapolis needs to return to its roots as a collection of neighborhoods

By Frank Edgerton Martin Special to the Star Tribune. November 10, 2017

The words we use to describe cities — such as, “downtown”, “central business district” or even “city center” — contain assumptions about what should happen there, who should live there, and how the area should look and feel. We rarely question what we mean when we talk about downtown, especially when it comes to Minneapolis.

It’s time to do so.

Our definition of “Downtown” is preventing us from creating a truly urbane, equitable and 24-hour city — a civic landscape where people live, work and play in the central city and surrounding neighborhoods

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Loring Park’s downtown vista.  The Loring neighborhood was filled with pedestrian scale buildings, stores, residential hotels, and churches that flowed into the business and retail core. Linen postcard from the mid-1930s.

In the early 20th century, Minneapolis had a more connected, cohesive feel. You could live in a neighborhood like Stevens Square, which is close to the center of the city, and walk to work downtown.

Along the way, you’d pass from single-family homes to apartment hotels to clusters of small businesses and offices, with the buildings growing larger and more densely spaced the closer to downtown you got.

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Historic apartment architecture in Loring Park

Now Stevens Square — like many other nearby neighborhoods — is cut off from downtown by a tangle of freeways. And while the city’s skyscrapers are visible for miles, the downtown area is disconnected from the rest of the city.

Cities across the country have been facing a similar problem and trying different tactics to keep their downtowns vital.

Portland, Oregon, for example, is celebrated for reintroducing streetcars downtown. Some planners, looking to invigorate Minneapolis, say Portland should be our model. But it’s not the streetcars that have made Portland so successful: It’s that city’s transit systems, which weave together the nearby neighborhoods and make car-free living possible.

There are no Downtowns in Europe

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Downtown is an American term, coined in early 19th century Manhattan. The city started on the island’s southern tip. The only direction it could grow was northward (or “up” on maps). “Uptown” (or Upper Manhattan) became a primarily residential area, while downtown was all about commerce, an association that has stuck.

Some cities, including Philadelphia, never adopted the downtown moniker, retaining the more European Center City name for its core. But as newer cities emerged in the west, most embraced the commercial downtown idea, including Minneapolis and St. Paul.

After World War II, this concept of downtown shaped freeway planning across the country as well as in the Twin Cities. As a result, Interstate 94 cut off the State Capitol and surrounding neighborhoods from downtown St. Paul. And I-94 and Interstate 35W also severed several neighborhoods from downtown Minneapolis — and from each other. For both cities, the legacy of interwoven, walkable neighborhoods began to vanish.

A MESSAGE FOR YOU ABOUT FREEWAYS
Propaganda for Freeways. This circa 1958 flier promotes Jet Age transport wrapping downtown Minneapolis with monorails and freeways. Of note: All vehicles had fins. Minneapolis History Collection

Ironically, one of the fastest growing residential areas in Minneapolis today, the North Loop, would have been cut off from the core had the ring of freeways around downtown been completed.

Citizen protests stopped that final link, but as late as the 1970s, the city’s Metro Center ’85 plan assumed that the North Loop and much of today’s East Town would remain industrial.

According to that plan, downtown Minneapolis should become a “compact core” with skyways tied to surrounding parking ramps. However, seeing cities as fortresses and freeways as a way to bring workers and shoppers into the city from far-flung suburbs is outdated.

Rethinking the future

Rather than assuming that the car-based design of the city is here to stay, we should consider how we live — and how we want to live. Public subsidies for parking, roads, and expanding freeways should be a choice, not a mandate.

We don’t necessarily need to import a costly streetcar system like Portland’s or replace all cars and roadways. Instead, we need to ask: What kind of transportation system can restore the web of neighborhoods that once defined the core of Minneapolis and St. Paul?

In Baltimore, transportation subsidies now fund free circulating buses that are revitalizing a vast network of commercial, cultural and residential areas from the Johns Hopkins Medical Center to the Inner Harbor and Fort McHenry. A simple bus system has woven a larger area of the city together for residents and tourists alike.

We can make a choice to reintegrate relatively diverse and affordable neighborhoods like Phillips and Marcy-Holmes into downtown Minneapolis. The rich fabric of the city’s older neighborhoods — from Dinkytown to Sumner — creates an urban environment of greater choices and varied experiences available for downtown’s residents.

It’s time to determine what we want downtown to mean.

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

 

 

Parkways that Unite Us

Minneapolis city parks evolved from a master plan to link people, places

Our city parks were designed to be connected — to each other and to us.
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Farview, Powderhorn, and Loring parks are keystones in a remarkable vision for the Minneapolis park system.

In 1883, landscape architect H.W.S Cleveland designed these three Minneapolis parks in his master plan. He also he designed parkways to connect the parks, which were then on the outskirts of the city. The names of those parkways will undoubtedly surprise you: Lake Street, Lyndale Avenue, Hennepin Avenue, and 26th Avenue N.

 

horace-clevelands-map copy1883 parks plan following the existing city grid. Farview Park is shown located on the northwest corner of the proposed parkways. From the collection of the Hennepin History Museum.

 

Farview, which Cleveland located on one of the city’s highest points, formed the northwest corner of his park system, at the junction of 26th and Lyndale Avenues N. The park was worthy of its moniker: Farview’s vistas of downtown and the riverfront are still spectacular today.

Because it was then a remote location, and had hilly terrain, the Minneapolis Park Board was able buy the 21 acres for Farview at one-third of the cost per acre of the land for Central Park (later called Loring Park), which Cleveland also designed.

Finding lower-cost land was a smart strategy for building a citywide park system. As park historian David C. Smith noted, “ … Cleveland often said that some of the most desirable land for parks — hills, ravines and riverbanks — were often those parcels that were ill suited to other uses.”

Powderhorn Park 1892 original plan

From the collection of the Hennepin History Museum.

Cleveland’s elegant watercolor plans of his designs for Loring and Farview parks, as well as a rendering of Powderhorn Park, represent some of the finest American park designs of the 19th century. But it’s Cleveland’s concept for the parkways connecting them that created a model for tying together people and green spaces across the entire region.

In the late 1880s, Cleveland’s vision expanded to St. Paul, combining the Twin Cities in a region he called “the United Cities.” He planned for parkways on both sides of the Mississippi River and stronger connections from West River Parkway to Summit Avenue.

Cleveland’s plans set the foundation for one of the world’s finest city park systems. Over the decades, the parks have changed and adapted, but they continue to unite what has become a sprawling metro region of more than 3 million people.

Parks and Recreation

Originally, Cleveland had intended that Lyndale and Hennepin avenues be park connections. But by the early 1900s, commercial growth along those thoroughfares eroded their parkway character. By 1905, the Park Board shifted to new connecting parkways — along Minnehaha Creek, the Mississippi River, Cedar Lake and Lake of the Isles.

The parks themselves also changed.

In 1906, Theodore Wirth was named superintendent of Minneapolis parks. Wirth, who was born in Switzerland, grew up playing winter sports and hiking in the Alps. He thought the parks needed to welcome more physical activities all year long.

He created recreation centers, which lured city residents, many of whom were first- and second-generation immigrants who spoke a range of languages. Then and now, the parks are places where cultures blend.

Take Farview Park as an example. The neighborhood around the park was once largely Jewish, later African-American. Over the past 30 years, new immigrant groups have continued to move into the neighborhood, including Mexicans and Ecuadorians, Hmong families, and most recently East Africans.

Despite its hills, Farview’s northern edge is flat enough for a large sports field. Once upon a time, kids played baseball and football there and skated on the ice rinks in winter.

These days, you’ll still find kids playing flag football, soccer and basketball.

“You see a lot of different groups playing sports,” said Farview’s recreation director, Huy Nguyen.

What gives Nguyen the greatest satisfaction is when kids from different cultures start to play together, to share their varied games.

Too many of us, however, have never been to Farview Park, even though it’s arguably Cleveland’s best designed park in the city. We rarely travel beyond our own neighborhood parks and the popular Chain of Lakes. In a relatively segregated city, we too infrequently interact with communities of other cultures. Farview lies in the middle of the North Side, which has been a minority community for more than 50 years.

Cleveland had a vision of a park system that tied people, as well as green spaces, together. Well planned, well maintained and well programmed parks set the stage for cross-cultural experiences — no matter what the cultural makeup of the city’s residents might be.

We need to support the park system that Cleveland envisioned, so that it continues to provide a connection to nature and a vibrant connection to one another.

Frank Edgerton Martin is a Minneapolis-based writer and landscape historian.

Frank Lloyd Wright at 150

Here is my new June 2017 article for the Star Tribune on how Minnesota made a lasting impact on Frank Lloyd Wright—even though he couldn’t stand our architecture.  #Wrightego  #unbridledego   #Southdale

Frank Lloyd Wright’s surviving Minnesota structures are a tribute to his foresight and his legacy

 

Frank Lloyd Wright designed few buildings in Minnesota, but they proved to be essential to his career and his legacy. 

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STAR TRIBUNE FILE Frank Lloyd Wright designed several iconic structures in the state, including the Elam house in Austin.

In November 1956, Frank Lloyd Wright visited Minneapolis to give a talk on his optimistic design philosophy and the “Mile High” skyscraper he planned to build in Chicago.

Local boosters took the internationally celebrated Wright, then 87, on a tour of the city’s newest architectural landmarks.

Things did not go well.

Wright complained about the harsh climate, called the new Prudential building near Cedar Lake a “desecration of a park area,” and said that most of downtown Minneapolis should “be blown up, and only a few tall buildings left standing with room enough to cast a shadow.”

We know this because Minneapolis Star reporter Frank Murray interviewed Wright along the way and covered his speech to the Citizens League.

What may have shocked Minnesotans most was Wright’s outright rejection of Southdale, the first enclosed shopping mall in the country, which had recently opened.

“Who wants to sit in that desolate-looking spot?” Wright is quoted as saying. “You’ve got a garden court that has all the evils of the village street and none of its charm.” (To read the original story, go to https://tinyurl.com/ya7yfzby.)

During that visit, Minneapolis Tribune photographer Paul Siegel took an iconic portrait of the master: Wright draped in tweeds, with soaring Space Age birdcages of architect Victor Gruen’s Southdale behind him.

Wright may not have taken to the Twin Cities, but he nevertheless made his mark here — building structures that expressed his vision for the future of American cities.

Wright’s Fall and Rise

Genius has its privileges. And Wright, who would be 150 years old this year, was clearly a genius of design with a healthy ego.

Starting with his apprenticeship with the brilliant architect Louis Sullivan in the late 19th century, Wright invented several original American design styles over the next 60 years, including the geometric beauty of the 1905 Unity Temple in Oak Park, Ill., the sweeping horizontality of the Robie House in Chicago in 1910, and, ultimately, the all-white Guggenheim Museum in New York City, which opened in 1959.

His first decades were promising and by 1920, Wright was known worldwide for his public projects, such as the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo. But with the rise of Modernism and the Bauhaus School of design in Europe, he fell from the architectural leading edge.

Beginning with the Depression in 1929, his practice and income slowed to a standstill. Wright relied on the tuition and labor of his students at Taliesin in Spring Green, Wis., to survive. They cut wood, grew crops and lived as a nearly self-contained community.

Then, in June 1932, University of Minnesota professor Malcolm Willey and his wife, Nancy, invited Wright to design a home in Minneapolis’ Prospect Park neighborhood that could be a “creation of art.” Wright responded with a long, narrow, 1,200-square-foot design that he called Gardenwall. It came in over its $8,000 budget, but not by much. (Groups can tour the red brick and cypress home, at 255 SE. Bedford St., by making an advance request at thewilleyhouse.com.)

Though small, the Willey house was a turning point in Wright’s career because it became a prototype for the Usonian House, a vision for the American home that Wright would promote for the rest of his life.

Wright also designed the Elam house in Austin, Minn., a direct descendant of the Willey House. Completed in 1952, it boasts five bedrooms, three soaring fireplaces and massive limestone walls.

Larry Millett, author of “Minnesota Modern: Architecture and Life at Midcentury,” described the 4,000-square-foot Elam house as “by far the largest of Wright’s 10 Minnesota houses” and a “superb example of his work.” The home is one of a handful of Wright’s roughly 400 surviving houses where you can stay overnight, in this case by booking its 820-square-foot guest house (theelamhouse.com).

Gas Station as Social Hub 

The Park Inn Hotel in Mason City, Iowa, is the only Wright hotel that survives today, and you can stay there, too.

Completed in 1910, the project combined stores on the street level with a bank and a 42-room hotel. It became a prototype for Wright’s renowned Midway Gardens in Chicago and Tokyo’s Imperial Hotel.

After a long decline, the hotel closed in the 1970s. Through heroic efforts by the community, it reopened in 2011 with a restaurant, overnight and tours. (Along with the Park Inn, Mason City has a rich architectural heritage worth visiting, with homes as well as entire neighborhoods designed by leading Prairie School architects.

Wright never built any hotels in Minnesota, but the year before he died in 1959, he designed the R.W. Lindholm Service Station in Cloquet. The unique building features a cantilevered copper canopy over the gas pumps and upstairs glassy lounge.

Although this is the only gas station that Wright completed, he intended to build hundreds of them for his Broadacre City idea. Wright disliked the density of cities, so he came up with his own version of suburbia, low-density communities where Americans would live in simple Usonian houses and drive. In this new world, Wright saw service stations as landmarks and social centers — hence the lounge at the Cloquet service station.

The dozen or so Minnesota buildings that Wright designed represent a tiny fraction of his output over 60 years. But some of them were new experiments or marked a turning point in his career. We’re fortunate that 150 years after Wright was born, we have examples of his groundbreaking design that we can still visit through a tour, an overnight stay or just to fill up your car with gas.

Frank Edgerton Martin is a Minneapolis-based writer and landscape historian.

Link to original article: http://www.startribune.com/frank-lloyd-wright-s-surviving-minnesota-structures-are-a-tribute-to-his-foresight-and-his-legacy/425956833/

Streetscapes: The Value of Small Shops

Small shops help make the Twin Cities vibrant, affordable and dynamic

Storefronts, which change with the times, help make our cities vibrant, affordable and dynamic.
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Photo: Frank Edgerton Martin.   A row of modular shops on Lyndale Avenue in Minneapolis.

Home to the nation’s first indoor shopping mall (Southdale) and the first megamall (Mall of America), the Twin Cities has a history of thinking big when it comes to retail.

Maybe we should be thinking small.

Styles for retail buildings — indoor malls, outdoor malls, “festive retail” (think St. Anthony Main and Galtier Plaza) stand-alone big box stores — come and go. Small storefronts, on the other hand, have thrived for generations.

Modest in size and usually simple in design, these centrally located structures have proved flexible enough to change with the times and the demands of consumers. That’s why they’ve been able to serve as home to many different kinds of businesses over the years.

Consider the storefronts at Lyn-Lake in Minneapolis or along W. 7th Street in St. Paul. Although they were built in the 19th century, they remain actively used today. Even at major intersections, such as 48th Street and Chicago Avenue S. in Minneapolis or Fairview and Cleveland avenues in St. Paul, small stores have been able to change with the times. Instead of hardware stores and insurance offices, these storefronts now host bakeries, fix-it shops, salons, clothing stores and restaurants.

By adding feet on the street, storefront shops help build community. They also nurture small businesses by providing start-up spaces and offer jobs close to home. Most important, they provide a greater economic return to neighborhoods than larger chain stores, according to several studies.

Unlike national chains and big boxes, small stores make more of a personal connection, too.

Alain Lenne is a daily presence at his shop, La Belle Crepe, in the Medical Arts Building in downtown Minneapolis. In fact, with his French accent and trademark hats, it’s hard to miss him.

Lenne creates a remarkable fusion of French and Vietnamese cuisine, ranging from crab Benedict crêpes to pho. What’s really remarkable is that all this happens in a space that is roughly 12 by 22 feet.

Of course, this wasn’t always a crêpe shop. In the 1960s it was home to a Fanny Farmer store. And before that? Well, just check out the transom window over the front door. There’s an etched glass panel that says: “Medical Arts Circulating Library and Card Shop.”

A few miles south is another example of the flexibility of small storefronts.

Located at 704 and 708 W. 22nd St. in Minneapolis, Fox Den Salon and the Caffetto coffee shop are next-door neighbors. The two very different businesses are run out of nearly identical storefront bays. Caffetto’s display windows are covered with posters for upcoming events. The Fox Den’s windows are filled with handmade seasonal displays. Such stores have a personality you won’t find in the controlled environments of skyways and shopping centers.

Striving for balance

Successful small shops face one dilemma: Sometimes they’re too successful.

They can lure more people to an area, and the homes, apartments and condominiums built to house those people chip away at the existing inventory of small buildings with modest rents.

And then the small-scale, personal shops that attracted many newcomers in the first place — the bookstores, co-ops, dry cleaning and shoe repair shops — get priced out of the neighborhood. We already see that happening in Uptown, the North Loop, East Hennepin and Dinkytown.

So how can we balance such new development with affordable rents for the small businesses that neighborhoods — and downtowns — need?

Cities have the power to require affordable housing in new residential and mixed-use projects. Why not do the same to ensure affordable small business in new developments in high-growth areas?

Critics will argue that this would deter new investment. But given the resiliency of small shops, doesn’t supporting them make as much sense as investing millions in public financing for massive downtown projects and sports venues?

American cities have always been in flux, responding to changes in technology, new immigrants and emerging economic opportunities. When parts of a city become nothing more than purveyors of luxury goods and expensive bars and restaurants, our streetscapes lose their rich, diverse character.

It’s time for public leaders and investors to see small shops and the active street life they foster as a basic tool in building a prosperous and creative city — more useful than glamorous boutiques, often more interesting than tall buildings, and more enduring than the latest tastes in public art and landscape architecture soon to reappear on Nicollet Mall.

Frank Edgerton Martin is a Minneapolis-based writer and landscape historian.

For link to original article, go to: http://www.startribune.com/small-shops-help-make-the-twin-cities-vibrant-affordable-and-dynamic/416439153/

Streetscapes: The “Bottleneck”

Is it possible to fix the bottleneck at Hennepin and Lyndale?

A reconstruction project has improved the Hennepin/Lyndale intersection, but stops short of redressing decades of bad decisions.
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RICHARD SENNOTT, STAR TRIBUNE

caption: New York has Times Square. Washington, D.C. has Dupont Circle. Minneapolis has the Hennepin-Lyndale bottleneck

For decades, the hourglass-shaped intersection of Lyndale and Hennepin avenues has been known as the Bottleneck, a crowded junction where cars, bicycles, pedestrians and, once upon a time, streetcars all merged in seemingly endless traffic jams.

A recently completed reconstruction project on the northern end of the Bottleneck (between Vineland Place and Douglas Avenue) has resulted in improved turn lanes, additional green space, new pedestrian-scale lighting and attractive bands of pavers. When the landscaping is completed in the spring, the additional green space and better bicycle and pedestrian crossings will be even more evident.

The $9 million, two-year project clearly made the revamped intersection more attractive and functional. And pedestrians no longer need to run to make the lights anymore. But the project didn’t include the biggest challenge for the Bottleneck: rethinking the massive and pedestrian-unfriendly “spaghetti junction” to the south (between Douglas and Franklin) and restoring what was once a landmark setting.

The city has yet to address how future planning for the entire Bottleneck can help to reintegrate the city after a generation of evisceration by freeways.

The Bottleneck, now more than a century old, is a living example of the evolution of urban planning, or lack thereof. In 1883, landscape architect H.W.S. Cleveland developed a visionary plan for Minneapolis’ parks that designated Hennepin and Lyndale as parkways — verdant, wide avenues suitable for strolling or carriage rides. But with a growing population and an increase in streetcars, Hennepin and Lyndale soon became commercial thoroughfares south to Lake Street.

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caption: The Hennepin-Lyndale intersection looking north to the Basilica, circa 1930. From the collection of the Minnesota Historical Society

Around 1900, the junction of these two avenues and nearby Loring Park became the cultural heart of the city. Here, at the foot of Lowry Hill, the archdiocese built the Basilica of St. Mary, Episcopalians constructed St. Mark’s on Loring Park and just to the south, the majestic Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church rose.

In 1927, the Walker Art Gallery opened on Vineland Place. These institutions, along with 510 Groveland and the Armory Gardens (now the site of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden), created a cultural district that evoked the civility of European cities.

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caption: The Bottleneck looking to the southeast. Circa 1945. From the collection of the Minnesota Historical Society.

But by the late 1940s, the Bottleneck had turned into a cacophony of streetcars, pedestrians, trucks and a rising tide of cars. Traffic and honored cultural institutions grew up as neighbors side by side.

And then came the freeway.

Looking back, many wonder why city leaders, planners and traffic engineers in the 1960s routed Interstate 94 through this crowded junction, which had already acquired its Bottleneck moniker. Through a tangle of underpasses, elevated flyovers and a daunting merge point, they bluntly layered freeway speeds and scale onto old city streets. Several blocks of commercial and residential buildings were demolished to create what urbanist Jane Jacobs called a “border vacuum.”

Ever since then, this pivotal city space has looked less like a cultural hub and more like a freeway on-ramp.

Room for New Thinking

In 1956, the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act funded freeways to connect cities, but not to slice through them. Yet soon, nearly every U.S. city began to build freeways straight into their downtowns, and often in a tight loop around them.

That’s how downtown Minneapolis came to be surrounded by a sunken trench of freeways and the Mississippi River. The old graceful transitions between neighborhoods, like Whittier and Phillips, and downtown vanished. And downtown itself became an island.

It’s time to build a new kind of bridge — a civic bridge. Given its great architecture and central location, the Bottleneck is one the best locations to start.

Today, planners and transportation advocates nationwide are reconsidering historic precedents long dismissed as impractical, such a return to two-way streets, traffic circles and smaller blocks. They are challenging the conventional wisdom and creating data-driven alternatives for how to update freeways, reconnect historic districts and provide a range of transportation options.

For areas like the Bottleneck and other “border vacuums” across the Twin Cities, here are four urban design strategies we should consider:

Re-create the grid: One of the best ways to mitigate the impact of urban freeways is to rebuild the city grid around them. At the Bottleneck, rather than long exit ramps and merge lanes onto city streets, traffic exiting the freeway should be slowed as quickly as possible, preferably coming up to traffic lights. There, drivers can opt to turn left or right or go forward as in traditional grid intersections. Returning to the grid creates clearly defined crosswalks for pedestrians and slows traffic entering local streets.

Frame the streets: As the grid is rebuilt, the footprints of old freeway ramps and right-of-ways can be filled in with new taxpaying development. Streets such as Hennepin and Lyndale can become distinct public spaces again, linear outdoor rooms framed by building facades that come up to the sidewalk, with trees to blunt the sun and noise from the traffic.

Develop a seamless pedestrian experience: Unobstructed vistas down the streets framed by buildings can help to create a sense of connection for several blocks. Currently, in many locations, freeways create a visual gap or obstruction that severs neighborhoods.

Create mixed uses along the way: Once it’s easier to walk along Hennepin and Lyndale avenues, and from Loring Park to the Walker Art Center, small-scale businesses and attractions such as coffee shops and pocket dog parks can spring up. They help create a sense of variety and engagement.

These strategies are now being tested as cities such as Boston and San Francisco try to redress their freeway-centric pasts. Can Minneapolis embrace such new thinking?

Frank Edgerton Martin is a Minneapolis-based writer and landscape historian.

LINK TO ORIGINAL ARTICLE     http://www.startribune.com/is-it-possible-to-fix-the-bottleneck-at-hennepin-and-lyndale/411984346/