MINNEAPOLIS, August 18, 2023—Sexton Commons at St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota, designed by Rafferty Rafferty Tollefson Lindeke (RRTL) Architects (now Architecture Advantage), is the 2023 recipient of the 25 Year Award.
Established by the American Institute of Architects Minnesota in 1981, the annual 25 Year Award celebrates a 25- to 50-year-old building or group of buildings whose architecture has stood the test of time. Projects competing for the award must be designed by firms with architects registered and practicing professionally in Minnesota.
The RRTL Architects project team for Sexton Commons included Lee Tollefson, FAIA, Craig Rafferty, FAIA, Albert (Chip) Lindeke III, FAIA, Eric Amel, AIA, and Tom Lillyman. Project consultants and contractors included BKBM Engineers (structural engineer), Gausman & Moore (mechanical and electrical engineer), and Knutson Construction.
Dedicated in fall 1993, with a grand opening celebration in spring 1994, the Sexton Commons student center was designed to anchor the intersection of two pedestrian malls on campus both visually and functionally. It takes the form of a main tower with a series of cascading roofs and a smaller north tower, all crisply articulated. The primary building materials speak to both the 19th- and early 20th-century section of campus (orange brick) and the brutalist buildings (concrete) designed by famed modern architect Marcel Breuer, including the landmark Abbey Church.
The building’s main level houses a dining hall, a campus living room with a fireplace, and student services spaces on either side of a wide, three-story hallway. The ground level is the commons with the campus bookstore and student support spaces, and the mezzanine contains several student club spaces. A large conference room in the top floor of the tower offers views in all directions.
Nearly 30 years after its completion, Sexton Commons remains fresh, adding its own timeless quality to the campus. The building’s staying power can be attributed in part to its achievements in the AIA Framework for Design Excellence, especially in the framework’s Design for Resources measure. In the programming and planning for this facility, St. John’s emphasized the need to build for 400 years, not 40. This Benedictine ethic can be seen in the high-quality construction using long-lasting, low-maintenance materials.
The award jury cited the building’s clarity, simplicity, and careful detailing. “This is a project that set out to promote human interaction and connection, and it’s clearly succeeded in doing so over the past three decades,” the jury noted. “The masonry and concrete bring together two different eras of architecture on campus into one building that’s of its own time, and the material quality and craftsmanship are so high that it will surely be a long-lived building, like the Abbey Church.”
The 2023 AIA Minnesota 25 Year Award jury included Scott Schlotthauer, AIA, Katie Blaisdell, AIA, Peter Hendee Brown, FAIA, David Wilson, AIA, and Dingliang Yang.
Sexton Commons and its architectural team will be honored at an awards event at the A’23 MN Conference on Architecture on Wednesday, November 15, 2023. Learn more about the 25 Year Award here.
The American Institute of Architects Minnesota, founded in 1892, is dedicated to advancing a vital profession, vibrant communities, and architecture that endures. For more information on the organization and Minnesota architectural firms, visit our website and subscribe to ENTER, our digital monthly newsletter that explores the people and ideas shaping a better built environment for Minnesota.