Take an architectural bike tour of Southwest Minneapolis

Getting outside for some air and sunshine this spring can be a refreshing remedy for restlessness, especially as we grow eager for meaningful connections amid social distancing. With seemingly endless trail systems and expanded pathways around the Twin Cities area, what better way to do this than around the Chain of Lakes? We’ve put together an online map that offers a means to deepen our understanding of the area as we roll, stroll or ride our way around the lakes — providing some less obvious options to discover both on and off of the main thoroughfare. (Enter the full-screen view to fine-tune your route.)

Finding the half dozen or so historic markers that dapple the shores of the lakes is something of a scavenger hunt. Many large rocks have plaques embedded into them that document significant moments in the lives of past generations. One of these boulders gently gestures toward the eastern hillside overlooking Bde Maka Ska to mark the construction site of the first dwelling in Minneapolis in 1834.

In its current context, at the center of intersecting roadways on the north side of Lake of the Isles, Peavey fountain is a more obvious monument, but its significance is easily overlooked. It was built in 1891 as a drinking fountain for horses, but it later paid tribute to horses that died during World War I.

Along the southeastern portion of Bde Maka Ska, a beautiful ornamental railing outlines the lake edge, created in June 2019 by Sandy Spieler, Angela Two Stars and Mona Smith in memory of the Dakota who harvested and grew crops along the lake in the early 1800s. Less easily spotted are the flora and fauna imprinted into the sidewalk.

public art project Bde Make Ska
Photo by Alex Smith

Visible from nearly every part of Lake Harriet, the Bandshell is arguably the lake’s most recognizable landmark, but nearby, tucked amid mature trees, the unassuming historic men’s and women’s rest buildings can be found. The two separate shelters were designed by Harry Wild Jones, with compelling hexagonal shapes and unique features (including a fireplace, not likely found in the restrooms of today).

Joining in the stories told by historic landmarks are voices of modern designs and innovative materials, pulling us forward in time. Some stark in nature and some eloquent in contextual blending, nearly every imaginable approach to modernism can be discovered on the neighborhood blocks that stretch from Lowry Hill to Tangletown. Whether notable due to immaculately maintained landscapes that verge on becoming works of art themselves or the  shiny steel cladding that reflects golden sunsets, venturing away from the often-crowded lake trail is a rewarding journey.

Slightly east of Cedar Lake, the Flatpak house by Lazor/Office is relatively easy to find amid the construction of the new light-rail line. It was built in 2005 as one of the first prefabricated systems for single-family homes in the Twin Cities to use wall panels constructed off site.

Nowhaus, a Locus Architecture renovation, is more tucked away into the neighborhood on the south side of Cedar Lake. The translucent panels with reclaimed billboard-backed siding create a striking façade and first impression. Through closer investigation, one can identify what this billboard used to advertise in the subtle outline of imagery still visible, adding depth and intrigue to the design.

On the northeastern hillside of the Lake of the Isles, the award-winning Dayton House (designed by VJAA) seamlessly connects exterior and interior spaces, becoming something of a hybrid between an art pavilion and a modern residence. Although undetectable from the trail itself, the retaining walls that create courtyards buffering public views are visible from the neighborhood streets, beginning the blend between landscape and structure.

There are infinite details, subtleties and carefully crafted landscapes worth noticing in between the highlights pointed out along the route. This spring and summer, make it your outdoor mission to identify the “unnoticed” and to imagine how design can bring us opportunities to engage with the world around us in new depth.

Email [email protected], and we’ll add your recommendations to the online map, sharing your discoveries and knowledge with others in the community.