Scattered across Minneapolis, buildings created for bygone uses have been adapted over time to meet the new needs of the city’s residents. Southwest has an abundance of examples, from warehouses to fire stations to gas stations (Locus Architecture’s office at 45th & Nicollet was once home to a 1930s Texaco). As industries and society change, so do the structures left behind. Buildings like the Midtown Global Market and Exchange (Lake & 10th) and the Icehouse (26th & Nicollet) were transformed into their current uses over a series of years, sometimes even decades, and involved intense construction to meet their new needs. The former was originally a Sears and Roebuck retail and distribution center and is now home to apartments, condos, offices, a market and a small business incubator. The latter was built over a century ago to store ice harvested from Cedar Lake and was later transformed into Icehouse Studio (for music recording) before evolving into its current incarnation as a climbing gym and restaurant.
Unlike these examples of buildings that have adapted over long periods of time, we are currently experiencing a period of rapid change to address unforeseen challenges. As businesses began to reopen following the stay-at-home order for COVID-19, they adapted their current spaces to comply with new safety measures. Many businesses are continuing to address these new regulations with technology and DIY barriers. Plexiglass shields at checkout stations or office desks, stickers on the floor marking distances and one-way routes and copious amounts of hand sanitizer allowed businesses to open quickly — without a construction crew.
Where tables were once packed together, restaurants reimagined the dining experience and strategized new layouts to account for social distancing directives. As regulations continue to change, first allowing only outdoor seating and later allowing some indoor seating at reduced capacity, restaurants have scrambled to find viable outdoor space and have introduced 6 feet between tables, dedicated to-go locations and sanitation stations. AIA Minnesota continues to offer consultation services to bars, restaurants and other food service establishments to quickly help reorganize existing spaces to accommodate the new requirements.
David Burley, owner of Blue Plate Restaurant Co., implemented many new strategies to mitigate exposure, keeping employees and patrons safe and businesses open. One innovative solution was to repurpose motorcycle windshields from local company Slipstreamer into a drink-friendly version of personal protective equipment. The iconic plastic shapes now line the bar at The Lowry in Uptown and The Freehouse in the North Loop. A slot at the bottom, created for a motorcycle headlight, provides just enough space to pass a drink.
Some retail businesses, like Diamond Lake Hardware, are queuing customers in front of their building with stickers on the sidewalks to maintain customer distance. Once you reach the front of the line outside, customers hand off their list to staff to shop on their behalf, without having to step foot inside. Other businesses turned to technology to address their needs. France 44, Hola Arepa and Red Wagon Pizza Co. are a few establishments in Southwest that have upgraded to digital platforms to protect both workers and customers. New apps can facilitate everything from ordering, paying and notifying a worker when you arrive to help streamline the process allowing for more orders and no contact.
As has been done in the past, buildings will continue to evolve and adapt to our ever-changing community needs. Third Haus Retail Lab in Linden Hills pivoted its 8,000 square feet from a co-working, event and pop-up retail lab into a gathering space for companies and communities to hold large meetings while maintaining distance. Many companies are currently faced with thousands of square feet sitting idle, waiting for an appropriate use to fill them. These spaces may break up into separate work zones, offer flexible use or decrease in size altogether if the rise in telecommuting continues. According to Anne Mezzenga, Third Haus’s co-CEO, these quick and temporary space adaptations may lead to lasting changes in zoning, government regulations and how people occupy public space.
Businesses that can quickly grow or shrink their current space by using innovative design solutions like modular wall systems — such as DIRTT — will have a more nimble response to changing spatial needs. Buildings designed to easily adapt to new tenants and uses will limit reconstruction and waste and help the city be more resilient in times of change. It’s hard to imagine what Minneapolis will look like in five years, let alone 50, but we hope some of the landmarks we know and love today will continue to endure by adapting to contemporary challenges and embracing flexibility.
Maggie Krantz is an architectural designer at Locus Architecture, located in Kingfield. Visit locusarchitecture.com to learn more.