design header

program name College of Design

Cdes Header

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Architecture and Ethics



MDC Director Thomas Fisher was quoted in an article in Architectural Digest on the ethics of the growing inequality in the U.S. and the dilemma this presents to designers, who may care about that issue, but who depend upon the wealthy for commissions. The author of the piece, Meaghan O'Neill, asked about the impact of Donald Trump on the design industry, and Fisher responded that: "We’re in an era—in part because of Trump—that has brought ethics to the forefront again.” Fisher has written two books about architecture and ethics and he will have a third book on the subject coming out in early 2019, published by Routledge.



Monday, June 25, 2018

All Things Design: MDC Director Tom Fisher

Tom Fisher in conversation with documentary film director Chad Friedrichs in Coffman’s Union Theater.
Grass does not grow under Tom Fisher’s feet.  As MDC director, his recent itinerary of lectures, presentations, keynote speeches and serving as a panel moderator, in addition to teaching in the College of Design, is daunting. Deep in cold and snow of March, Tom traveled to several cities to present his critical design ideas on a range of topics. In Denver his talk titled Donald Trump: Development and Ethics, which was delivered to a rapt audience at the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture annual conference, held particular resonance. The following week, Fisher attended the National Architectural Accreditation Board meeting in St. Petersburg, where he is serving a one-year appointment at the request of the American Institute of Architects


At the end of March and at the invitation of New York University’s Wagner School of Public Service, Tom presented a provocative talk titled Design, Climate Change and Equity. Here, he applied the research and reasoning he had explored in two of his books Designing to Avoid Disaster (2013) and Designing Our Way to a Better Future (2016) to contemporary events. Its relevance was obvious for those living in coastal and low-lying cities such as New York, Miami, Houston and New Orleans, or for those who have been affected by severe weather or geological events whether tornadoes, hurricanes, wildfires, or earthquakes.

Fisher’s April schedule only accelerated. Early in the month, he provided opening remarks for an evening lecture at the College of Design by the renowned Carl Steinitz. Steinitz, a Harvard emeritus professor, is known and revered as the ‘father’ of Geodesign. Hosted by MDC, more than 50 MDC Affiliates, students and members of the public attended. A forceful lecturer, Steinitz laid out his design strategy called “Collaborative Negotiation” a process used to solve thorny urban design problems. The next day Steinitz led an in-depth workshop that explored Saint Paul’s Creative Enterprise Zone whose participants included several MDC Affiliates, design professionals, and Fisher and his students.

The following week Fisher led a 4-hour workshop on leadership and design for AIA MN Leadership Conference in Minneapolis. This annual event aims to give mid-career architects the skills they will need to lead firms and to address the important issues facing their clients and the communities in which they work. Fisher helped the group envision what architectural practice in the future might look like and what expanded services it might offer in response to the disruptions ahead.

One April highlight, was the documentary film screening of The Experimental City, directed by Minnesota native Chad Friedrichs.  Hosted by the University Libraries at the Coffman Memorial Union Theater, the event attracted a large and engaged audience. The Experimental City, MXC, was an ambitious futuristic design project whose goal was to solve growing urban issues in the 1960s. Several former U of M School of Architecture students and faculty contributed to the project development, including architect and MDC Research Fellow, Dewey Thorbeck, a vision that was never realized. Fisher led a lively, post-screening conversation with Friedrichs. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ye2Uju5OUrI

Later that week, for the Society of Architectural Historians’ International Conference http://www.sah.org/conferences-and-programs/2018-conference---saint-paul, Fisher delivered a Keynote address on development along the Mississippi River in the Twin Cities and moderated a discussion for the seminar Confluences: Place, Change and Meaning on the Mississippi. The nearly 4-hour session was standing-room-only with more than 300 attendees.

Fisher is also featured in the April online issue of Architect, the Journal of the American Institute of Architects. In What is Research, Really?” written by William Richards, Fisher argues that academics and practitioners define research differently, a situation which critically impacts the success of the profession and industry.  http://www.architectmagazine.com/aia-architect/aiavoices/what-is-research-really_o

Mason Riddle, MDC Communications Consultant

Thursday, June 21, 2018

MDC Affiliate Tim Griffin Elevated to AIA College of Fellows

Carl Steinitz (left) and Tim Griffin at the April 2018 GeoDesign workshop, Minneapolis UM Campus


MDC Affiliate Tim Griffin Elevated to AIA College of Fellows

Congratulations to MDC Senior Research Fellow Timothy J. Griffin, AIA, LEED AP. In February Tim received the spectacular news that he had been elevated to the AIA College of Fellows, AIA’s highest membership honor. His induction into the College of Fellows will be held on June 22, during the 2018 AIA National Convention in New York City. Fittingly, the ceremony will take place at the historic St. Patrick’s Cathedral. According to the AIA website, the award is given to “architects who have made significant contributions to the profession and society and who exemplify architectural excellence…”.

This describes Tim to a tee.  As his 35-page application clarifies, Tim has been a tireless design professional for more than three decades plying his skills as an architect, urban planner, gifted teacher and community activist. Tim’s practice embodies the creed ‘good design can solve bad problems.’  An AIA member since 1991, he has served chapters in the Chicago, Minneapolis, and Saint Paul. “I am simply pleased and honored to be elevated to the AIA College of Fellows,” Tim stated.  “It’s nice to be recognized and credentialed at this phase of one’s career.” About being elevated to the status of Fellow, the AIA website also notes “the judging is rigorous” and that only “3 percent of AIA members” receive this distinction.

“Tim Griffin has been a leader in the urban design community in the Twin Cities for a long time,” says MDC Director Tom Fisher. “His elevation to the AIA’s College of Fellows recognizes that contribution and the impact he has had here in engaging communities in participatory and effective urban design efforts.”

As an Affiliate, Tim has led or contributed to several MDC projects including the Destination Medical Center in Rochester, MN; Minneapolis’ Towerside Innovation District near the U of M; the Minneapolis Post Office reuse design, which was the focus of Tim’s Cdes Urban Design Studio, and unveiled to the public in April; the Glenwood Corridor Convening, the Rondo Land Bridge; and, the early design phase development of Saint Paul’s Creative Enterprise Zone.

Tim holds degrees in Architecture and Urban Planning from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and his urban design work began in Chicago in 1983 where he was a founding member of the Friends of the Chicago River. He also contributed to the Chicago River Urban Design Guidelines that began the incremental development of the Chicago Riverwalk and the Chicago Architecture Foundation Chicago River Tours. In 1991 he moved to the Twin Cities.

Since arriving here, Tim never looked back and his impact on Twin Cities urban design is noteworthy and his accomplishments are many. His vision, finely-honed urban design skills, and keen ability to listen to the ideas and opinions of others were demonstrated again and again as director of the Saint Paul on the Mississippi Design Center, at the Saint Paul Riverfront Corporation, from 2001-2016. Guiding the thoughtful reconnection of downtown Saint Paul to the Mississippi Riverfront, which was laid out in an updated version of the Mississippi Development Framework, Tim, SPRC staff, and his team of stakeholders (full disclosure, I was a member of the DC Adjunct Team from 2001-2013) spearheaded more than $100 million of public realm improvements. This included 4 new city parks, the restoration and repurposing of the historic Union Depot, housing for the homeless, the award-winning ballpark CHS Field, and the innovative River Balcony, to mention a few.  Tim also led the Central Corridor Design Center that created the framework for the 12-mile light rail line corridor between downtown Saint Paul and downtown Minneapolis, which opened in 2014 . Among other elements, the CCDC framework comprised 11 transit stations, a Public Art Plan, and new housing and economic initiatives. A key component was Tim’s design concept of a ‘stacked green infrastructure.’ His adherence to a framework process was also applied to the development and reuse of 26 miles of Mississippi Riverfront, a 20-yr. project that began in 2012 and is formally called The Great River Passage.

Tim also contributed to the Saint Paul Street Design Manual (2013), Walk Bike Roll (2013), a deck of pedestrian, bicycle and disability access best management practices, that is used in Saint Paul’s Complete Street Design process, and the Water Quality Manual (2007).

If “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” Tim’s work ethic and Design Center model of adhering to a community-based vision and a framework process to solve design problems has been imitated. It is now the practice of other cities such as Charleston, Kansas City, Rochester, Seattle and Pittsburg, among others.  MDC is proud to have Tim on our team.

Mason Riddle

Experimental City in Minnesota 1966-72

Courtesy Northwest Architectural Archives, University of Minnesota Libraries


Dewey Thorbeck, FAIA, FAAR, Senior Research Fellow

Watching the excellent Chad Freidrichs documentary about the Minnesota Experimental City (MXC) reminded me of my early involvement with the project. When I returned to Minnesota after two years at the American Academy in Rome, I was asked to join the part-time teaching faculty in the School of Architecture that was then part of the Institute of Technology. It was a period of rapid technological change and in 1964 the Museum of Modern Art in New York City had an exhibit on Twentieth Century Engineering that included a wide range of projects including the geodesic dome over the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis designed by R. Buckminster Fuller, who had often lectured at the School of Architecture about light weight structures.

During this time Dr. Athelstan Spilhaus was Dean of the Institute of Technology and every Sunday in the Minneapolis paper I read his cartoon strip Our New Age where he outlined his thinking about the future of urban living on the planet. He was a brilliant scientist and in the mid-1960s he proposed that the Federal Government should plan and construct an experimental city to explore new technologies for future urban living. In 1966, when Hubert Humphrey was Vice President, the Federal Government did provide funding to explore the idea in Minnesota, with Spilhaus in charge of the Advisory Committee, and Walter K. Vivrett of the School of Architecture as the Project Director.

Soon after Vivrett asked me to serve on the planning committee and my involvement consisted of participating in four or five workshops with experts in city living from around the world who represented a wide range of social, engineering, planning, and architectural disciplines, to try and clarify what should be done. The workshops were very technology oriented, and summarized in many reports; but, no consensus emerged. I remember that one of my suggestions was to think of it as an integrated landscape community, like an Italian hill town with a geodesic dome over it.

In 1969, after Hubert Humphrey was defeated and Nixon became president, the Federal support for the project was eliminated. A short time later the State of Minnesota took over the project and someone from the state became the project director and the School of Architecture was no longer directly involved in the leadership. Without the vision of it being a Federally sponsored experimental project for the future, it lost its national focus and faded away after a site in northern Minnesota was selected.

I had never seen the illustrations of MXC in the documentary before and they all look like they were done by the cartoonists who drew images for the Spilhaus comic strip. It was a grand idea that Spilhaus had envisioned with strong national and local support and if Hubert Humphrey had been elected President in 1968, who knows what might have happened.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

The Post Office Student Work Goes Public




After more than a year of research into the reuse potential of the downtown Minneapolis Post Office, which included a research report by a graduate student funded by Target Corporation and RSP Architects, and an urban-design studio of 12 graduate students, taught by MDC research fellow Tim Griffin and RSP partner, Rich Varda, the project was unveiled on April 2nd to the public and the press at a lunchtime event in Minneapolis’ IDS Crystal Court. The event included displays of the students’ drawings and models, and a large 3D printed model of the section of the downtown surrounding the post office site, and was attended by sizable crowd, that included print, online and broadcast media, and City, Hennepin County, and Minnesota State leaders. The attentive crowd listened to remarks by Jay Cowles from the Downtown Council, David Wilson from Accenture, Jono Cowgill, Minneapolis Parks & Recreation Board District 4 Commissioner and, MDC Director Tom Fisher, who all conveyed the significance of the project.  Tim Griffin and Rich Varda fielded questions during the event, underscoring how the project could change the face of the downtown Minneapolis riverfront. The memorable moment happened when Mayor Jacob Frey didn’t just welcome the audience, but approached the model, removed the post office pieces, and arranged them on the Crystal Court stone floor to explain how he could see parts of the building being reused and other parts being demolished. Brandishing the models like giant Legos, Frey lived up to his reputation, as David Wilson said, of being a hands-on mayor. Tom Fisher

The MDC Goes to the Big Apple




MDC Director, Tom Fisher, was invited to give a talk as part of the Design, Climate Change, and Equity lecture series at New York University’s Wager School of Public Service. Summarizing the contents of his 2013 book Designing to Avoid Disaster and his 2016 book Designing our Way to a Better World, Fisher looked at a set of strategies that cities like New York City, lying in vulnerable locations along coastlines and over fault lines, might explore to avoid the fate of other coastal communities hard hit by extreme weather events, like Houston and New Orleans. Fisher looked at strategies of protection around cities, such as the wetlands proposed around Manhattan; strategies of accommodation, such as plans to create water channels to accept future flood waters in New Orleans; strategies of mobilization, such as making cities more mobile as Fisher advocated in his recent piece in the Huffington Post on “Cities as Sitting Ducks;” and strategies of appropriation, such as those used by the homeless in seeking shelter wherever they can find it.  Tom Fisher

Monday, April 2, 2018

Mpls. Post Office Building, Reuse Design Studio



With funding from Target and RSP Architects, the MDC studied the Minneapolis Post Office and its site as the basis for future reuse. Based on that initial research, MDC research fellow, Tim Griffin and RSP partner, Rich Varda, led a studio of 12 graduate students, who looked at a range of ideas for reusing the building, reimagining the site, and reconnecting downtown Minneapolis to the Mississippi River. Their work, along with a 3D printed model of the area, went on display in the IDS Crystal Court on April 2, 2018, and conversations about the reuse of the building continue.  Tom Fisher


Site design above by UM Architecture studio student team, J. Mills, S. Powers & A. Voch.
For additional site designs and reports, link to the project page at http://www.designcenter.umn.edu/projects/post-office.html.