Growing up, I’ve always been interested in design and architecture from past eras. I’m not entirely sure where this interest originated, but I am sure it has something to do with the fact I was raised on movies dating back from the 1930’s though the 1960’s. I love seeing the set design in these films and how it helps to create the entire mood of the film. From my experience, I’ve found that the same principles can apply to a city’s architectural landscape. The architectural styles of buildings can set the mood for an entire city, helping it establish its identity.
Having lived in Minnesota for my entire life, I’ve always appreciated the various architectural styles seen throughout the state. It is a hodgepodge of different designs and you can see the layers of history which influenced different districts and towns. I graduated with my degree in Art History, where I learned that we must look to past architecture and draw upon their elements in order to understand the context for designing for future buildings. Each city has a historical past and it is important to be thoughtful of which buildings to keep or reuse in order to maintain the city’s individuality.
I’ve always had an appreciation for design and architecture from the past decades, but I never officially considered myself a preservationist until the last couple of years. I began working as an interior decorator at local stores including Gabberts and Room and Board. Both stores offer an assortment that includes reproductions of classic furniture pieces from various past eras of design. Again, drawing upon my love of old movies and their set design, I fell in love with these furniture pieces. During my time at Room and Board, I began researching the history of the designers behind the Modern furniture pieces and discovered that most of these individuals worked primarily as architects. One thing I particularly found fascinating is that these architects designed the furniture pieces specifically for their own buildings. Aesthetically they wanted furniture pieces to look good and show off their buildings, so they designed the pieces themselves. After learning this, I became fascinated and wanted to learn more about the homes and buildings in Minnesota that these architects helped design.
It is around this time that I met the local Minnesota chapter of DOCOMOMO. This organization stands for the Documentation and Conservation – Modern Movement. Joining as a board member gave me the opportunity to learn more about the importance of these Modernist buildings and their increased risk of demolition. Many of these buildings are too young to put on the National Register of Historic Places. Additionally, there is a perception with select individuals who think that some of the aesthetic styles of Modernism are not attractive enough to merit preservation. Because of this, it can sometimes be difficult to convince government officials to preserve these buildings rather than tear them down. It is only decades later when a certain style of architecture becomes en vogue that we regret tearing down some of our architectural jewels. By joining DOCOMOMO, I realized how important it is to bring education and awareness to these Modern buildings, or we may risk possibly eliminating many architecturally significant structures from this time period.
I guess you could call me another accidental preservationist. Not long after I began volunteering with DOCOMOMO, I became involved with the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota’s Communications Committee. Since then, I have learned much about how good design and architectural preservation go hand in hand. I have learned there are ways to demonstrate the importance of standing up for these older buildings so we don’t risk losing significant parts of our city’s past to generic mass produced structures or parking lots. There are always going to be people who think the only way to keep a city progressing is to tear down existing properties, but the bigger challenge is to look at these spaces and try to figure out how we can keep these places, restore them and bring them up to date.
One great example of turning a building around is the W Hotel located in the 1929 Foshay Tower. At one time this building was an outdated office complex, but since its transformation, the building has been brought back to life. It is now a destination for many locals looking for a classy and fun way to spend a night out, as well as travelers who find refuge in one of the 229 luxury guest rooms. By revitalizing this building, it is once again an icon in the Minneapolis skyline.
There are also numerous examples of revived historical Main Street districts around Minnesota. I went to college in Northfield, so I got to see firsthand how the historic buildings played an important part in bringing tourists and visitors to the city to support the businesses and shops occupying these buildings on their Main Street, called Division Street. Northfield also has a supportive community and history center which encourages activities and events to bring people out to support these independently owned businesses.
Every year, there is a big turnout for the Defeat of Jesse James Days, which hosts re-enactments of their famous band raid. In addition to this event, there are numerous other events hosted on the historical street. By getting out to these Main Streets across Minnesota, not only are you showing love for your local businesses, but you are also helping to keep these historical buildings relevant in today’s ever-changing architectural landscape.
Whether you are a student, a designer, an architect, a historian, a landscape designer or one of the many other creative professions, there is a chance you may be a preservationist and not even know it! If you have a love of design, it is hard to turn your head away from these at-risk buildings that shaped Minnesota‘s identity as being rich in both history and culture. I encourage you to take part in becoming a member or volunteering your time to help our preservationist community. From my experiences, I have discovered that good design never goes out of style!
Jennie Eukel is the founder and editor of Twin Cities Design Scene. She is founding board member of DOCOMOMO US MN and volunteers with Preservation Alliance of Minnesota. She is also an arts and design enthusiast and loves to help the community with branding, marketing and PR.