Architecture Minnesota
The Magazine of AIA Minnesota

March - April 2008
Vol. 34 No. 2
Editor's Note

Making a Name


Editors of magazines and online media love these features: The Best Bands (or Restaurants or Vacation Destinations) You’ve Never Heard Of. Readers on the lookout for something new, or hoping to see their favorite musical artists on the list, will stop to see which relative unknowns made the cut.

Well, if I were to compile a list of the Best Minnesota Architects You’ve Never Heard Of, Tim Carl, AIA, of Hammel, Green and Abrahamson (HGA) might get the top spot. The 2007 AIA Minnesota Honor Awards (page 26) mark the sixth year in a row that a project or projects for which Carl played a leading design role has received Minnesota’s most coveted architecture award. It’s an improbable streak that may never be matched, and yet few people outside the Minnesota architectural community know Carl by name. Talented architects of his generation such as Joan Soranno, AIA, and James Dayton, AIA, have achieved name recognition among design enthusiasts in Minnesota; Carl deserves the same.

In our May/June 2006 profile of Carl’s Honor Award–winning Mount Rainier Artist Lofts just outside of Washington, DC, writer Phillip Koski described the architect as “a monochrome dresser in his early 40s with coordinating salt-and-pepper hair.” Carl later jokingly protested that he was more of a duotone dresser. He’s quick with a wry smile, unassuming, and approachable, three traits that no doubt endear him to clients. And, of course, he’s an immensely gifted architect who, though his design sensibilities are decidedly modern, has never relied on a signature style or material palette. The current run of Honor Award–winning buildings designed by Carl and his HGA colleagues ranges from the classic glass-and-steel modernism of two elegant additions to the General Mills corporate campus in Golden Valley (2003); to the industrial flavor of the aforementioned artist lofts (2005), with its colorful patchwork of brick and corrugated metal panels; and the warmer modernism of the Ramsey County Library’s Maplewood branch (2007; page 38).

I single out Tim Carl not only for his string of awards but also because he is, in some ways, the quintessential Minnesota architect. Consider that each year the celebrated designers from around the country who jury the AIA Minnesota Honor Awards come away with the same impressions: Our architects, they say, find beauty in simplicity and restraint, take great care fitting their buildings into urban and natural environments, and generally seem more concerned with quality and craftsmanship—with design that won’t fall out of fashion—than with making breathtaking architectural statements. That’s also a fitting characterization of Tim Carl.

Perhaps these leading qualities explain why cultural institutions like the Guthrie Theater and the Walker Art Center looked to European starchitects, not local talent, for iconic new facilities. No one blames these institutions for wanting avant-garde architecture. But I would have loved to see what Meyer, Scherer & Rockcastle, for example, would have done with the Minneapolis Central Library commission. Or what a number of other local architecture firms would have produced for the recent Minneapolis Institute of Arts expansion. Behind that Minnesota modesty touted by visiting jurors lies a wealth of breathtaking design talent, as our Honor Awards coverage bears out.

Christopher Hudson
Architecture Minnesota