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U of M graduate students emphasize public spaces in new vision of Nicollet Mall

To improve downtown Minneapolis, Nicollet Mall needs more public gathering spaces.

That was the premise of a March 7-11 workshop involving graduate students from the University of Minnesota's College of Design.

Their plans, which will be presented to city officials next month, will help inform new ways of thinking about the walkable avenue.  

Lance LaVine, an architecture professor in the school who was on hand at the workshop all week, says that modern-day architecture hasn't been good about designing public open space. "It has been what's left over after a building is built," he says.

He says the same is true of Nicollet Mall, which he describes as a "residual street," with all of the Metro Transit buses running through as an afterthought.

The point of this workshop was to change that, he explains.

To do so, students broke into four groups, using the IDS Center's Crystal Court, on Nicollet Mall and 8th Street, as their workspace. They examined four different segments of Nicollet Mall stretching from 12th Street to the Mississippi River.  

Instead of looking at the street lengthwise like typical urban planners would, students studied both sides of Nicollet. Additionally, they took advantage of existing developments, such as Orchestra Hall and Crystal Court. As a result, "Instead of the redesign being one thing, it became four different things," he says.    

For example, one group imagined a series of new buildings to enliven the voids from 5th Street to the river. It's an area that needs buildings and they "should go in, in a way that creates public open spaces," says LaVine.

They also brought the skyway to the edge of the street.

Another group inserted a new public space that crossed the mall, between 8th and 10th streets, with both indoor and outdoor features, while the segment stretching from 10th to 12th streets became an extension of the greenway and Loring Park.  

Although Minneapolis is rich in cultural amenities, says LaVine, it's a third-tier architecture city. To make it a first-tier architecture city, "Nicollet is the key."  

Source: Lance LaVine, architecture professor, College of Design's School of Architecture, University of Minnesota
Writer: Anna Pratt

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