High Line Raises the Bar


The Minneapolis Park Foundation, College of Design, and Walker Art Center have teamed up to bring us a phenomenal lecture series, “The Next Generation of Parks”. Wednesday night’s conversation on New York’s High Line was the second of three summer events. If you didn’t get in the doors, or couldn’t make it, you missed something great, but you can find the full lecture here. Todd and I have been to many a lecture on the subject of design, landscape architecture, architecture, and planning. A few on bicycling, too. This, though, was far more than just your average power point presentation or ubiquitous “here is what I’ve done in the field” lecture. From the introduction by Cecily Hines and Andrew Blauvelt to the last word by Lisa Tziona Switkin and Robert Hammond, it was damn inspirational. Why? We’ll give you our top three reasons.

1. Not just envisioning potential, CREATING potential.

Robert Hammond appreciated the abandoned elevated industrial era ruin of a railroad in his West Village neighborhood enough to take action when it was slated for demolition in 1999. How many of us wonder about the things we see on a daily basis, but when they come crumbling down for surface parking we tell ourselves ‘there’s not much you could have done about it anyway, so don’t fret you didn’t speak up’? Like those cool abandoned grain mills in our Minneapolis skyline. Sure we envisioned a cool future for them, but when they were felled, ground up, and a slab of asphalt was put in their place. Not again.

Linear park in an abandoned elevated rail corridor? Of course. It is a no-brainer now. But, such was not the case before Hammond and his Friends of the High Line co-founder Joshua David, did something about it. Hammond and David used their entrepreneurial spirit to create a movement that resulted in an overwhelmingly successful public space, likely by every index imaginable.

2.  Project process and tactical brilliance.

A lot of the process was no different than what developers, planners, or landscape architects do for every project (develop concepts, present to the public, attend seven bazzillion meetings, gain support, refine concepts…implement). But, a lot of the process WAS different. Hammond et al. recognized the power in branding and visualization early on in the project, and as they enter phase two and three, we would predict their savvy in the realm of communication and its power is going to prove to be a game changer.

Before beginning the project, they had a year-long photography project commissioned in effort to show people the life of the rail corridor thus making the space visually (and we would argue emotionally) accessible to those who usually just experience the steel undercarriage of this elevated line. For more project awareness, Paula Scher at Pentagram created a so-simple-its-brilliant logo. And, they held a design competition with phenomenal renderings by the winning landscape architectural and architectural team James Corner Field Operations and Diller Scofidio + Renfro. (Full design team listed here.)

The game changer? Well, the area where High Line Section Three would be is also currently slated to potentially house twelve million square feet of development. Of course, the current plan does not include what could be the coolest end of the High Line.


Friends of the Highline are pushing for a temporary (and relatively inexpensive) walkway installation in this section. The renderings illustrating this temporary installation are gorgeous and compelling (and not available yet). If they are successful in receiving the okay on a temporary walkway they will create insurmountable public support. The public will LOVE IT and when Mr (Mrs?) Developer comes in to place what amounts to TWO DOWNTOWN SEATTLES (Hammond’s smart analogy), the outcry of “not to my Highline!” will be loud. Very loud.


3.  1+2 = 3 for us. Listening to Robert and Lisa describe what we imagine is the abridged version of the project process and game changing tactics resulted in a new vision of possibility for us.

We could list the numerous calls to action we felt last night as a creative duo, but let’s just leave it with the most inspiring. Believe in your vision, hone your technical AND tactical skills, and surround yourself with crazy brilliant talent who will make you better at your own work. Push the envelope in design AND process. The High Line raised the expectations of our own work and the possibilities for public space in the Twin Cities. We hope it does the same for you.

Above images by James Corner Field Operations, but retrieved from the High Line website.

landscape-highline-041 & 3 by flickr user don juan tenorio. 2 by flickr user lucas_roberts426, but retrieved from the High Line website.

Citizen Architect


PBS has done it again. An intriguing look at intelligent people doing interesting things. Nothing blows up. There are no scantily clad women. No murders. No esp flashbacks at the scene of a horrific crime. And, there will be no commercials – hallelujah! If you are not used to television of this quality you’ll be delighted to know you have until Summer to work up to it. Start by checking out the trailer at

“Citizen Architect: Samuel Mockbee and the Spirit of the Rural Studio is a documentary film on the late architect Samuel Mockbee and the radical educational design/build program known as the Rural Studio.” In short it looks like one of those stories that is simultaneously heart breaking and deeply inspiring. Reminding us of the power of our creative energies and how meaningful it can be to contribute them without thought of reward.


Windows of Opportunity


Whatever you believe about global warming 2009 demonstrated that the governments of the world aren’t prepared to do much about it. Yet I suspect most of us appreciate that treading lightly and nurturing our planet are good ideas. The truth of this fact is all around us and the tools to contribute to reducing your personal impact are nearer at hand than ever before. There are many small things you can do that are improvements on multiple levels. For instance, you can replace your battery hungry flashlight with one that you crank by hand. Not only will you save money and prevent all those heavy metals from entering the landfill (and eventually your drinking water) every time you pick up your flashlight it will actually work!

There are also some big things you can do like changing the car you drive and the home you live in. Buildings account for a massive portion of the energy we use and as with the flashlight bringing your home up-to-date has many advantages like energy savings and the opportunity to mold your home around the way you live rather than the other way around. Why wait for the G-men to get their act together when you can get going right now? For a little inspiration check out the terrific collection of 62 innovative green homes on They’ll pique your appetite for improvements large and small.



Shelter Me


Shelter Architects has completed one of the first LEED Platinum residential houses in the Nation. And not just any ol’ place in the nation – right here in Minneapolis on Washburn Avenue near Theodore Worth Park. Not only is the design a nice break from the endless rows of traditional houses but the materials are up-to-date as well. The home boasts energy star lighting, no-voc finishes, recycled and fsc finish materials, and even reclaimed flooring and tile. They score on all three counts: reduce, reuse and recycle. Check out Shelter’s site for more or if you’re local make the pilgrimage one day when the weather is nice… late May perhaps.



Have You Voted Today?


You may not have a house that is an architectural masterpiece but take heart – you have an opinion and that’s all you need to participate in The House Vote. Roughly every day a new bite sized bit of architectural creativity is posted and you get to give it a thumbs up or thumbs down. If you are feeling particularly loquacious or lean more toward freestyle commentary you can do that too. It’s a fun way to get a dose of architecture and if you see something you like you can click on the picture to visit the website of the architectural office responsible.

If you are not confident about your opinion check here first to baseline (or possibly flat line) your appreciation for homes that are poorly designed, poorly crafted and basically out of touch with reality. Then check out some of the architecture posts on this site or jump right to The House Vote to look at some really nice homes that were designed to be built in a specific location and support the healthy, happy life of the occupants.

Clearly I have an opinion (grin)

An Oblique Lesson in Creative Direction (part 1)


One of the credos from my childhood that has served me particulary well as a creative director is “Give credit where credit is due.” With sufficient practice this simple act of generosity becomes so rewarding you’ll never miss an opportunity to share the love. So, naturally I felt the need to share with you my praise for the beautiful portfolio of residential work featured in the Turnbull Griffin Haesloop Architects portfolio. It looks like a really nice crew of folks in this San Francisco office and I appreciate the smiles on their down-to-earth faces given what a minor miracle it must be to achieve architectural nirvana despite the obstacles of budgets, deadlines, building codes, personalities, weather and the chaos inherent in a quantum mechanical universe.

In a world overflowing with cheap plastic meaninglessness and flashy technological trends there is something about the soft, reassuring glow of wood that never fails to satisfy my sense of a welcoming home and TGHA employs it masterfully. The integration of these houses into the landscape is likewise wonderful and I hope to see the next iteration of the TGHA website give the firms they work with (like Lutsko Associates) credit for their important role. Take a minute to click through their work, email them a note of appreciation and let the inspiration of their work find expression in your own.



Don’t forget to apply this lesson’s theme of sharing credit with those who have earned it.

Red Mountains Yellow Trim

Tucked away in a little neighborhood just below the Flatiron Mountains in Boulder, Colorado lies the Sampson House by Tician Papachristou. Make sure you take the time to actually sound out his name because despite looking unfamiliar it will roll off your tongue with the same comfortable charm that this house inspires. It’s amazing how a home built in 1958 can escape looking dated over 50 years later. In part it is the simple honesty of the wood siding and bare concrete. The shape is intriguing and makes even more sense when seen in context with the dusty red peaks that soar almost 1,000 feet above. I believe the yellow trim is a recent addition but it serves to emphasize the way the roof line parallels the slope. Together these design details ensure the house feels rooted to the landscape but also celebrates the jagged mountains that surely inspired it. It was also likely inspired by the long, low lines of Frank Loyd Wright’s Usonian homes.

Tician collaborated on a few projects with a more famous architect Marcel Breuer. Breuer was brilliant without a doubt and it must have been rewarding to collaborate but unfortunately seems to have overshadowed Tician’s own work which is wonderful in its own right. If you’re ever in Boulder take a moment to walk by.

Get Out and Go Inside


The Twin Cities Homes By Architects tour is coming up September 19 and 20, 2009. There are a few interesting modern numbers including 4869 Dominica Way (pictured below) by Altus Architecture and Design. There are quite a few – shall we say – “traditional” homes on the tour so you may want to take a look at the full portfolio before you spring for tickets. Fortunately, the site includes a detailed map so you could swing by the ones you like the look of and then get tickets if you are just dying to get a peek inside.

Far Away Without the Commute




One of my very favorite spots in the Twin Cities is tucked away down a little side street in what must be one of the most beautiful settings I’ve seen. While very close to all the wonderful things the city has to offer (like milkshakes) approaching this spot is like leaving it all behind. Every time I ride my bike by I leave feeling relaxed.

The house itself is unique and handsomely designed but not ostentatious the way well funded homes often feel the need to be. It nestles into the side of the hill like it grew there years ago. What’s growing right next to the house is a big part of what makes it so special. A full lot worth of Japanese style garden plays out in a myriad, tranquil shades of green. Backing up against a park allows the garden to take full advantage of the borrowed landscape.

The garage is a recent edition and makes the entry to the house even more private. A feature that makes the fact that the owners have generously shared unobstructed views of their garden even more of a gift. Larger photographs are available on flickr.

An Architect Lived Here

One of my design professors once told me “A designer should never take the same route to work two days in a row.” Going on he explained that the repetition dulls our ability to perceive the details afresh each time. I’ve followed his advice for 17 years now and have traveled for miles going around ‘just one more bend’ at a time.

Just the other day I took a different turn and discovered this fun little house just a single block from a house I’ve been by many times. Interestingly, the day after taking these pictures the home (at 1912 Norfolk Ave. in Saint Paul) went up for sale. There is a corner stone (unusual for a residence) listing the architects Bergstedt and Hirsch which is also unusual since they designed things like Mount Zion Temple on Summit Avenue so it’s possible this is just another one of a number of interesting reclaimed materials. Then again I believe the house is currently owned by an architect so you never know. If you’re not in the market you might still enjoy going to an open house to see some of the interesting solutions on display. And who knows what else you’ll find – just around the bend.

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