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Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Environment and Comprehensive Plans

MDC senior research fellow, John Carmody, and I have presented at a series of workshops for the planning staff of the Alliance for Sustainability, who are responsible for delivering comprehensive plans to the Metropolitan Council by the end of the year. The Metropolitan Council is the regional policy-making body, planning agency, and provider of essential services for the Twin Cities metropolitan region. The Council's mission is to foster efficient and economic growth for a prosperous region. The 17-member Metropolitan Council has guided the strategic growth of the metro area for nearly 50 years. John talked about sustainable buildings and district energy systems, and I spoke about the impact of electric-powered, shared autonomous vehicles in reducing air pollution, fossil fuel use, and impervious surfaces – all of which will be very good for the environment. Thomas Fisher



Towerside and a World's Fair

Our own “innovation district” is emerging east of the University of Minnesota’s Minneapolis campus.  Buoyed by 4 light rail stations, and - at last count - 4 craft beer breweries, new housing and a grocery store, Towerside is a laboratory for lifelong learning, research and innovation, and sustainability and resilience. MDC prepared a district framework plan and developed design guidelines for the district in 2016.   We are assisting private and public projects advance within this framework, including EXPO 2023, for which Minneapolis is one of 3 finalist cities to host the event. If chosen in November 2017, much of the World’s Fair’s complex - buildings, activities and events - would take place on a 60-acre site in the Towerside district, east of TCF Bank stadium.  Over 3 months, EXPO 2023 would offer a collection of local and international exhibits and activities addressing the theme of “Wellness and Well-Being for All.” It is predicted to draw 150,000 visitors per day. Outcomes could include the new Granary Parkway and the completion of the Grand Rounds missing link, which is part of the Towerside vision.
Tim Griffin


Frank Lloyd Wright's Urbanism

The Museum of Modern Art’s exhibition of Frank Lloyd Wright at 150: Unpacking the Archive shows how much the most famous American architect thought about cities. While MOMA presents two of his most famous urban proposals, Broadacre City, and the Mile-High Skyscraper, some lesser-known projects seemed more revelatory. In 1926, Wright imagine a nine-block area in Chicago’s Loop with skyways, traffic-dominated streets, and towers looming above lower buildings – recalling downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul. Six years later, during the Depression, Wright designed a farm unit that would enable farmers to live, work, and sell their produce in a single mixed-use development that today’s struggling farmers might want to consider. A third urban proposal, designed in 1946 for Galesburg Country Homes in Michigan, has single family homes occupying circular lawns with shared spaces between pairs of them, bringing to mind the rethinking of suburbia that Shane Coen and David Salmela proposed in Mayo Woodlands in Rochester, and realized with Jackson Meadow in Marine on St. Croix, MN. Wright may be famous for his architecture, but his urban ideas may be more significant over the long term. 

Tom Fisher


Research and Practice

At the request of the editors of a new journal, TAD (Technology / Architecture + Design), published by the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture, I have written an essay about how the architectural profession might repair the broken knowledge loop between practitioners and researchers. Referring to some of the efforts going on in Minnesota to repair this loop, such as the MS degree in Research Practices and the Affiliate structure of the MDC, I offer a number of ideas in how architects and academics might interact and communicate more effectively. The MDC Affiliates, numbering approximately 20, include Senior Research Fellows and design professionals who have a range of expertise. The MDC remains an on-going experiment in how to reconcile the two cultures of research and practice, and I think we have begun to make real progress. Tom Fisher

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Design for Refugees

The Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam has an exhibit up over the summer entitled “Solution or Utopia? Design for Refugees” that features 50 proposals by architects and designers addressing the needs of the 60 million refugees around the world displaced from their homes. While most of the proposals involve industrial design and graphic design (including a proposal for “Refugees Welcome” cards and window stickers by Minneapolis designer Mike Davis of Burlesque Design), I found the one urban design proposal the most intriguing: a new city-state called Europe in Africa (EIA) built on an artificial island on a shallow part of the Mediterranean between Tunisia and Italy, designed by the Amsterdam architectural firm TD, with a model by Studio KU+. This city at sea would provide a secure place for refugees to land and stay as they awaited assimilation into another country, showing how urban design can help save lives as well as offer practical, buildable solutions to some of our most pressing global problems. Tom Fisher


Post Office and Falls District

The recent closure of Minneapolis’ Upper St. Anthony Lock and Dam has changed the character of the Mississippi River in this central location, from an active barge shipping facility to a closed "pool" above St. Anthony Falls, which has prompted us to consider new uses.  The reuse of the adjacent downtown Post Office offers an opportunity to support this new public life along Minneapolis’ Central Mississippi Riverfront, which will be a delightful destination that reconnects the city to the Mississippi River.  MDC is supporting this vision in two ways.  First, we prepared the Downtown Minneapolis Post Office Revitalization Preliminary Research report in 2016 that looked at post office reuse precedents across the country, the Central Riverfront Framework, and specific site characteristics.  Second, through the College of Design, I will teach a graduate Urban Design Studio fall semester 2017 that will explore possibilities for the river district’s new public life, and the various ways the historic Post Office can support that program.  The work generated by the Studio will be displayed publicly and used to promote and inform the broader community about one of Minneapolis’ great places.  Tim Griffin


Destination Medical Center

MDC is supporting Rochester, Minnesota’s dramatic Destination Medical Center initiative through design thinking and urban design assistance.  Under the banner of becoming the healthiest city in America, we are helping to define the needs of the Rochester “Community,” its residents, employees, medical patients and their companions. As the home of the internationally recognized Mayo Clinic and a growing population, it is critical that the city provide public amenities and facilities that support new development and preserve existing special places.  We are generating process and design ideas that will directly translate their unique population needs into a healthier community in which to live.  We are also testing these ideas through community conversations and public realm prototyping. Based on this growing understanding of the community's needs and aspirations, we have developed guidelines to advance projects and tools, like the model of downtown Rochester, to help residents visualize the magnitude of change underway.  Tim Griffin