Architecture MN turned 80 this year, having launched in 1936 as Northwest Architect. We mark this milestone with a look back at five distinct eras in the magazine’s evolution, each with its own focus and flavor.
By William Beyer, FAIA
A selection of article excerpts—many penned by notable contributors—yields a colorful anthology of architectural history in Minnesota.
1936–54: A “PIONEERING VENTURE”
How do you start an architecture magazine in the middle of the Great Depression? Take an ambitious young man, Hal Fridlund, AIA, who covered the design beat for the Minnesota Daily. Add a dozen members of the Minnesota Architectural Association (Minnesota’s first statewide organization of architects, formed in 1934). Season with William Gray Purcell, legend of the Prairie School. Finally, blend with an eager publishing house and stir energetically. Voilà! A “pioneering venture,” as Fridlund called the publication, is born.
The first issue of Northwest Architect, as the magazine was originally titled, was published in 1936, when registration of architects was fairly new. Legislative challenges to licensed practice were frequent. Northwest Architect became a vehicle to support the young profession.
Fridlund directed the editorial content, and Purcell—gadfly, social critic, and big-picture thinker—wrote many of the articles. William Coulter, the advertising manager of Bruce Publishing, which owned a string of trade magazines, managed the business side, bearing the full economic brunt of keeping the magazine solvent during the Depression and World War II.
ON THE DEBUT COVER
“The cover design is symbolic and the publication embarks, hopefully, on a career which is as full of promise and prospects for good as it is filled with difficulties and obstacles to overcome. From a modest beginning this publication hopes to grow into a very useful one with a prospect as wide and as bright as that of architecture itself.” —Editorial comment September 1936
A MORE PERFECT UNION
“Another effort which calls for our attention is the movement to make the public architect conscious. Here is an instance where, working alone, the average architect can do very little but, working collectively, the association can do much.” September 1936
THE VALUE OF HANDS-ON EXPERIENCE
“Another thought along these same lines suggests that there is no architect who cannot learn something from the men on the job. The cumulative knowledge of the years of practical experience of good craftsmen is something seldom found in books.” September 1938
WILLIAM GRAY PURCELL ON SCHEMATICS
“Drawings and specifications, instead of being a sort of graphic mold into which the workmen pour solid facts, can never be more than a temporary mental scaffolding to hold a building’s partially-disclosed character.” September 1940
FRIDLUND’S FAILED FORECAST
“If the United States is to perform its function to the highest degree it would seem of prime importance that we adopt universally the metric system.” November 1941
1955–68: THE REIGN OF RAPSON
In 1955, Ralph Rapson, a force of nature, roared into town to head up the architecture program at the University of Minnesota. He also took an interest in the magazine. Fridlund soon disappeared from the masthead, Purcell wrote fewer articles, and in May 1955 the magazine unveiled a new cover design. Editorial content focused on firm monographs, presenting one or two firms’ projects in crisp black-and-white photos with minimal text and ample white space.
Rapson was appointed to the Minneapolis Planning Commission in 1956, served on countless national design juries, and helped organize the Committee on Urban Environment (CUE) in 1970. He hired practicing architects to teach at the university, including James Stageberg, Bruce Abrahamson, John Rauma, Leonard Parker, and Thomas Hodne. “Architectural education must be guided by able practitioners . . . with strong architectural convictions founded on building experience,” he said in an address published in the magazine in 1955.
Rapson retired from teaching in 1984, but he continued to make his opinions about the magazine known, advocating for the improvement of AIA Minnesota’s primary public outreach tool until his last breath in 2008.
THE TYRANNY OF FREEWAYS
After the magazine ran charts showing the routes of a proposed freeway between Minneapolis and St. Paul but making no comment, William Gray Purcell responded from his home in Pasadena, California: “It is now plain, here, that so-called ‘Freeways’ do not solve traffic congestions—they increase it. . . . Better have a look (and a smell of the resulting smog), out here, before you spend all that money to create a multiple city disaster.” July/August 1956
A VISIT FROM FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT
On a visit to Minneapolis in the fall of 1956, Frank Lloyd Wright, the dean of American architects, dismissed most of the city’s architecture and design efforts with a ‘meh.’ In response, Minneapolis acting planning engineer Roy C. Peterson observed: “What Wright would want us to do would be to wipe Minneapolis clean. . . . Take his idea to conclusion and Minneapolis would wind up with one cloud-piercing structure in the center of its 58-square-mile area. . . . I suppose we’ll just have to wait till the Russian jets come over with their atomic bombs and wipe out the city. Then we can start all new.” November/December 1956
ON 100 YEARS OF ARCHITECTURE IN MINNESOTA
“The controversial Southdale development, in which Victor Gruen Associates attempted to unify some seventy retail outlets, is famous whether the viewer likes it or dislikes it.” March/April 1958
PRESERVATION? WHAT’S THAT?
“The Metropolitan Building is slated to be demolished for lower loop improvements. . . . What do our readers think?” (Three years later the building was gone.) July/April 1958
1969–80: FULL SPEED AHEAD
Bernard Jacob, armed with an architecture degree from Cooper Union, arrived in Minnesota in the mid-1960s, drawn by family connections and Rapson-induced excitement. He worked for the Ellerbe and Grover Dimond firms in St. Paul; both encouraged him to get involved with Northwest Architect.
Jacob joined the magazine’s advisory committee in 1967 and became its editor in 1972 while running his own small architectural practice. He shaped Northwest Architect’s editorial viewpoints, wrote eloquently on many topics, solicited the work of many guest writers, and learned everything “from picas and pasteups to signatures and silverprints” from the able staff at Bruce Publishing.
In 1975, Jacob managed Northwest Architect’s transition to a new publisher, Dorn Communications, which included a name change to Architecture Minnesota and a total graphic makeover. The name stuck, but the business relationship foundered. Beginning in 1979, all production, advertising, and subscription work for Architecture Minnesota was brought in-house to the Minnesota Society of the American Institute of Architects (MSAIA, now AIA Minnesota).
PREVIEWING THE WALKER
Excerpt from “Notes from an Underground Museum,” by Walker Art Center director Martin Friedman: “Harmony has not always characterized the architect-director relationship and too often it has been necessary for trustees to create a D.M.Z. between them before the building has become a memorial to one or both contestants. Happily, this has not been our experience in the design of the new Walker Art Center. Edward Larrabee Barnes likes art! He collects it. . . . While Barnes’ minimalist design for the Art Center is unmistakably assertive, he maintains that the paramount function of a museum is to exhibit, not overwhelm, works of art.” January/February 1969
WHY EDWIN LUNDIE KEPT HIS OFFICE SMALL
“I wouldn’t want to sit there and try to delegate it to someone else. I don’t think I could. . . . Can a painter or portraitist paint the ears and then have an assistant paint the eyes and some other feature?” May/June 1969
“DOWNTOWN MUST OUT-SHOPPING-CENTER THE SHOPPING CENTERS”
Guest column by Kenneth Dayton, president of the Dayton-Hudson Corporation March/April 1972
PRESERVATION? NOW WE GET IT!
From an article advocating the preservation of St. Paul’s old Federal Courts Building (now called Landmark Center): “Everyone now regrets the stupidity which permitted the destruction of the old Metropolitan Building in Minneapolis’ Gateway area. However, since then the Louis Sullivan Bank in Owatonna, the Purcell and Elmslie Bank in Winona, the Duluth Central High School, the Duluth railroad station, and the Winona County Courthouse have been saved after long and exasperating struggles.” March/April 1973
NEW NAME, NEW FACE “Architecture Minnesota is meant as an identity and in no way indicates a geographical limitation of interest or coverage. The architect’s responsibility, task and influence extend far beyond the state borders and therefore the magazine’s coverage will, by necessity, be regional.” Bernard Jacob May/June 1975
1981–2005: A PUBLICATION FOR PROFESSIONALS
The transition from architect-volunteers running the show to professional editing began when noted Northfield architect Edward Sovik contacted a former writer and editor who had worked for such prestigious publications as Look, Life, and House & Garden. Recently retired, Bill Houseman had bought a small farm just across the river in Wisconsin.
Houseman answered to MSAIA executive director James Cramer, who recollects: “We would start meetings early in the morning . . . the whole AIA staff pitched in beyond what was called for in their job descriptions. The enthusiasm for the magazine was contagious, and a great team jelled. Advertising was hard to get, photography was often subpar, circulation and data management was never easy. We had some very strong writers, however. In baby steps, the magazine kept getting better.”
In 1981, the magazine was redesigned by graphic designer Bruce Rubin, and a year later it received the Gold Circle Award for magazines from the American Society of Association Executives. In 1984, Linda Mack, who had been hired as managing editor by Houseman, succeeded him as editor. Subsequent editors Heidi Fischer, Eric Kudalis, and Camille LeFevre continued the successful enterprise, tweaking graphics, nudging editorial tone, and piling up awards.
A NOT (YET) SO BIG AUTHOR
“In this country we have made material disposal easy and in so doing have encouraged far greater energy consumption through the replacement of raw materials that could otherwise have been recycled. As a consequence, we have the highest level of energy consumption per capita of any nation in the world.” Sarah Susanka, who would later author the Not So Big House books February 1981
“Cedar-Riverside is the internationally scrutinized ‘new town–in town’ that few in Minneapolis dare to love. It is half Old Testament in the frequency and severity of its adversities, and half Greek tragedy in its inability to triumph over any of them. It is also one urban renewal project that has deserved a better break.” Judith A. Martin April/May 1981
THE ENCROACHMENT OF SUBURBIA
“Traveling the nation’s interstates, one cannot escape the palpable evidence that in order to house our citizenry on the theoretical equivalent of one-third of Minnesota’s acreage, we have chewed up and otherwise insulted millions of acres of land. Should this inordinate scatteration be of professional concern of architects? I think so, and I think most architects think so. . . . But they alone cannot be expected to influence the forces that conspire to produce Greater Slobburbia.” William Houseman October/November 1981
A SIGN OF THINGS TO COME
“If anyone needs convincing that there must be some authority to monitor changes made to the built environment, consider the fact that the screen on Ralph Rapson’s Guthrie Theatre was removed over the living architect’s own strenuous objections.” Kate Johnson March/April 1982
MARCH/APRIL 1986 CONTRIBUTOR
R.T. Rybak, an architecture and development writer for the Star Tribune and future mayor of Minneapolis
2006–PRESENT: DESIGN IN FOCUS
From Christopher Hudson’s November/December 2016 Editor’s Note: It’s easy to point to architecturemn.com and our social media channels and think that today’s Architecture MN is distinguished primarily by its digital growth. But I would add to those advances our overarching efforts to enhance the visual side of our storytelling. In 2005–06, we worked with Tilka Design to create a new look for the magazine that would measure up to the world-class buildings and landscapes that fill our pages. Our decade-long collaboration with Tilka has yielded a string of top design awards.
Great art direction requires great imagery, and we’ve also had the good fortune to work with a growing number of talented photographers over the past several years. You’ll find their contributions in departments like Town Talk, Idea, Wayfarer, and Place; in our design-travel features; and at @archmnmag on Instagram.
Our writers, meanwhile, have had the job of maintaining the standard of excellence set by the notable contributors quoted in Beyer’s history. We think they’ve succeeded. Whether they’re highlighting a new idea or the latest skyline addition, writers like Thomas Fisher, Assoc. AIA, Joel Hoekstra, and Linda Mack all have a unique way of relating how design can improve our communities and our everyday lives.
Where do we want to go from here? More evolution: Content that speaks to an ever-wider audience, and channels that are optimized for sharing it. At Architecture MN, we’re always looking ahead. Which is why we’ve so enjoyed this opportunity to take a long look back.
A LITTLE FRENCH
“‘The blue color is that of the twilight sky,’ French architect Jean Nouvel has said of his first North American project, the new Guthrie Theater on the Mississippi River in Minneapolis. Twilight, he added, is ‘l’heure entre chiens et loups, as the French say—literally, the hour that parts the dogs from the wolves.’ Nouvel’s incantation, as metaphysical as the 285,000-square-foot Guthrie complex is corporeal, describes not only the building’s metal cladding but also the most immediate of its many dramatic effects.” Camille LeFevre July/August 2006
PRESERVATION? NOT AGAIN!
“Had the Metropolitan [Building] survived another 10 or 15 years to the return to Victorian fashion in the 1970s, it would be our Brown Palace Hotel, our Wainwright Building, our Monadnock Building. This is not news.
“What should be news is that we are still ripping out our landmarks during their awkward adolescent years. Today’s topic: Why are we even discussing a possible reconstruction of Peavey Plaza, once—and surely 40 years from now—a nationally recognized landmark of urban design by New York landscape architect M. Paul Friedberg? The answer is that we are stuck in the conundrum of not knowing how to recognize superb design from the recent past.” Frank Edgerton Martin September/October 2008
BREWHAHA OVER SURLY UNVEILING
“It’s not uncommon . . . for first images of high-profile projects to elicit strong public reaction. Building style and atmospherics—the marquee elements in most architectural drawings—can stir us down deep. But it’s always good to remember what really counts in a new building or landscape: how well it serves its use; its physical and visual integration with its site and surroundings; and its environmental measures, to name a few key criteria. On all of these counts, the Surly project appears to succeed.” Christopher Hudson September/October 2013