Days 2 & 3 of DOCOMOMO-US National Symposium in Minneapolis, Minnesota

Stopping for photos on the landscapes tour-- the reflection was too perfect.

Stopping for photos on the landscapes tour– the reflection was too perfect.

Now that I’ve had time to process the conference, have returned from subsequent trips, and have (sort of) caught up at work, the following is my brief run-down of days 2 and 3 of the DOCOMOMO-US national symposium.  Minnesota has a great deal of Modern treasures and a seemingly solid group of advocates who love Modernism.  An interesting theme was the impact of the world wars on the prominence of Modernism – there were the expressionists and Bauhaus after WWI, and at Mt. Zion Temple, Christ Church Lutheran, and at St. John’s Abbey, we learned that it was the end of WWII that pushed those communities to be willing to break with tradition and create a new order for their built environment.

On the second day, some of my first-day concerns were met when we spent more time on the modern vernacular – how Modernism played out across the many scales of our built environment.  A speaker from the MN State Historic Preservation Office talked on Modern preservation in greater Minnesota (outside the Twin Cities) and the author of Mid-Century Mundane spoke about that site and a newer project he worked on for Queens Modern.  Both were successful as glimpses into other places, as preliminary documentation and advocacy, but fell short of a bigger context that could provide a foundation for identification and evaluation elsewhere.  More work to do for all of us!  Another presentation promoted the need to look at urban renewal history, and evaluate its strongest architectural legacy that is worth preserving.  There’s a strong potential for such study in Sioux Falls I think…

On to the tours and photos and lessons-learned at the end of it all!

The afternoon tour was a walking tour of Nicollet Avenue – from the River Towers on the Mississippi River past Minoru Yamasaki’s Northwestern National Life Building, to Nicollet Mall, Peavey Plaza, and Loring Greenway.  Like some of the churches on the tour on the first day (excepting Mt. Zion Temple and Christ Church Lutheran), the landscapes tour got us out to see these landmarks and identified some contemporary issues but didn’t provide much for historical context and design.  And that’s not intended to be a strong complaint–at the end of it, I’m glad I was exposed to those buildings and landscapes, I just felt I didn’t build a good understanding of the sites.  But I did love taking a ton of photos!

The transcendent Northwestern National Life Building by Minoru Yamasaki.

The transcendent Northwestern National Life Building by Minoru Yamasaki.

The transcendent Northwestern National Life Building by Minoru Yamasaki.

The transcendent Northwestern National Life Building by Minoru Yamasaki.

The transcendent Northwestern National Life Building by Minoru Yamasaki.

Delicate but monumental.  The transcendent Northwestern National Life Building by Minoru Yamasaki.

The transcendent Northwestern National Life Building by Minoru Yamasaki.

Minoru Yamasaki designed this and the building behind.  Also learned a new term — “book cut” marble to create symmetrical patterning.

River Towers, off Nicollet

River Towers, off Nicollet

View of courtyard landscape at River Towers.

View of courtyard landscape at River Towers.

View from the RIver Towers roof.

View from the RIver Towers roof.

View from the RIver Towers roof.

View from the RIver Towers roof.

Recently having received a stay of demolition, but still in need of rehabilitation, we stopped at Peavey Plaza, landscape architect: M. Paul Friedberg

Recently having received a stay of demolition, but still in need of rehabilitation, we stopped at Peavey Plaza, landscape architect: M. Paul Friedberg

Some of the tour crew at Peavey Plaza

Some of the tour crew at Peavey Plaza

Peavey Plaza, landscape architect: M. Paul Friedberg

Peavey Plaza, landscape architect: M. Paul Friedberg

Quality time at Peavey Plaza, landscape architect: M. Paul Friedberg

Quality time at Peavey Plaza, landscape architect: M. Paul Friedberg

Loring Greenway, landscape architect: M. Paul Friedberg

Loring Greenway, landscape architect: M. Paul Friedberg

Loring Greenway, landscape architect: M. Paul Friedberg

Loring Greenway, landscape architect: M. Paul Friedberg

Non-modernist historic were interspersed and still beautifully eye-catching.

Non-modernist historic were interspersed and still beautifully eye-catching.

IDS Center, Nicollet Avenue

IDS Center, Nicollet Avenue

The 'egg carton' of the IDS Center on Nicollet

The ‘egg carton’ of the IDS Center on Nicollet

The incredible view from the IDS Center.

The incredible view from the IDS Center.

On the third day, we took a bus up to St. John’s University and Abbey in Collegeville outside of St. Cloud.  That place is incredibly special.  There’s the breathtaking abbey church designed by Marcel Breuer in the late 1950s, a wide mix of older brick architecture and elegant Modern concrete design, a fascinating pottery studio, and a beautiful trail along a Minnesota lake.  Sigh.  In addition, the tour of the abbey church by resident monks, sessions on landmarks of Le Corbusier and non-destructive investigation techniques, and a panel on the construction of the abbey church were all wonderful.  Here there was enough information and time to start to understand and create a strong connection to this important place.  It inspired me to look closer at South Dakota’s own Blue Cloud Abbey, which is now Abbey of the Hills Inn and Retreat Center, and the church at Blue Cloud was designed by Chicago architect Edo Belli.  I’m now booked for a weekend away and am so excited to spend time there!  Back to St. John’s Abbey…

The incredibly striking bell banner of St. John's Abbey Church designed by Marcel Breuer.

The incredibly striking bell banner of St. John’s Abbey Church designed by Marcel Breuer.

And up close, there's a fascinating blend of materials and textures.

And up close, there’s a fascinating blend of materials and textures.

Cavernous but uplifting space of St. John's Abbey Church from the balcony.

Cavernous but uplifting space of St. John’s Abbey Church from the balcony.

Amazing construction details - quality work.

Amazing construction details – quality work.

View of the supports under the free-standing concrete balcony.

View of the supports under the free-standing concrete balcony.

The strong geometries even for the pews.

The strong geometries even for the pews.

Monks took groups on tours of St. John's Abbey Church - amazing to hear their interpretations of the spiritual symbolism and use of the space as it enhanced worship.

Monks took groups on tours of St. John’s Abbey Church – amazing to hear their interpretations of the spiritual symbolism and use of the space as it enhanced worship.  Mesmerizing to be in the stained glass light on the balcony.

Dramatic lighting.  Apparently Marcel Breuer's plan was to paint the walls, but the board marks from pouring concrete were so great, he had them leave it.

Dramatic lighting. Apparently Marcel Breuer’s plan was to paint the walls, but the board marks from pouring concrete were so great, he had them leave it.

The baptismal font in the entry of the St. John's Abbey Church

The baptismal font in the entry of the St. John’s Abbey Church

Even gathering places arranged onto the plaza entry.

Even gathering places arranged onto the plaza entry.

St. John's Abbey Church - granite-clad side walls.

St. John’s Abbey Church – granite-clad side walls.

The church space in the basement level.  A low space but still a strong design.

The church space in the basement level. A low space but still a strong design.

Altar of St. John's Abbey Church

Altar of St. John’s Abbey Church

Under the balcony at dusk.

Under the balcony at dusk.

Alcuin Library designed by Marcel Breuer.

Alcuin Library designed by Marcel Breuer.

Beautiful, reaching, and sheltering colulmns in the Alcuin Library.

Beautiful, reaching, and sheltering columns in the Alcuin Library.

Then I stole away at lunch and took a mini-hike along the lake.

Then I stole away at lunch and took a mini-hike along the lake.

St. John's Pottery - great tour from their program manager.

St. John’s Pottery – great tour from their program manager.

Moral of today’s story: Visit St. John’s — totally worth it, visit Minneapolis too, learn more about Modernism, look for it in your own community, eventually catch up on the DOCOMOMO symposium when Minnesota’s chapter posts videos online here, and check out DOCOMOMO-US (become a member, sign up for e-news, follow on social media, etc.).

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