Farewell to the Southwest Journal

Local architectural stories from the staff of Locus Architecture.

Purcell & Elmslie House
Purcell & Elmslie House

When we started writing Unsung Architecture in 2019, we didn’t realize our time would be so limited. It’s hard to say farewell when you have much left to say! 

We won’t get a chance to dig deeper into those built environment questions we had. Who were the stone masons who built the incredible landscape wall at 5125 Lyndale Ave. S.? What’s the history behind the exquisite prairie-style house at 4101 Lyndale? Has anyone put together a map of all the examples of Purcell & Elmslie homes in Southwest? What are the most underrated buildings in Southwest? Will Kmart finally vanish? What does an accessory dwelling unit really cost? Where are Minneapolis’ most stylish Airbnbs? Where are the best garages? Who are the artists who made the Southwest murals that elevate mundane buildings? Where can you find really nifty urban infrastructure? What can we learn about urban design from impromptu encampments? Has anyone put together a map of all the examples of Purcell & Elmslie homes in Southwest? 

landscape wall at 5125 Lyndale Ave. S.
Landscape wall at 5125 Lyndale Ave. S.

Although our time with the Southwest Journal is ending, we hope readers and community members continue to connect through shared experiences of the architecture around us. COVID-19 has certainly impacted the health of our commercial spaces; we encourage you to pay attention to their vibrancy as they contribute to the diversity of our city.

At a larger scale, this column has opened a door for us to explore, digging deeper into how our neighborhood and its houses, community centers, restaurants and various other places came to be. It’s quite likely that old trolley lines led to the placement of the corner stores around you —take a bike ride down Minnehaha Avenue sometime to see how that played out. City planning shapes the neighborhoods and park systems we often take for granted — and often assume were always just as they are. Newer initiatives are more familiar and contentious. The 2040 plan and Minnehaha Parkway redesign are recent controversial issues that led our neighbors into spirited debates about morality, ethics, beauty and even threats of moving to the suburbs! 

With a purpose of seeking to understand connections between the seemingly unconnectable, one can find traces of city founders’ decisions throughout Southwest. Remnants of Minneapolis architecture, like the Metro Transit garage at 31st & Nicollet, which was once a trolley station, still feature prominently in the urban environment. Stop by our office sometime to see the encrusted wheel from the horse-drawn trolley we dug up when renovating our office building. The lingering presence of other iconic ghosts of the city, like the Nicollet Park stadium, continues to inspire exploration and discovery.

We also hoped to write more about smaller-scale design. Houses and renovations in Southwest continue to innovate, whether pushing the envelope with new materials (shou sugi ban siding, corten steel, high-tech rain screens, birch bark paneling), through sustainable strategies (cross-laminated and mass timber, reclaimed and salvaged materials, building-integrated photovoltaics), or by compact size (tiny houses, ADUs). Notable examples we hoped to cover in future columns included the Wee House in Linden Hills (and others like it built across the country), the FlatPak house and NowHaus by Cedar Lake and the multiple examples of tear-down infill rebuilds — from boxy moderns to clunky McMansions — scattered across local neighborhoods. We thought we might even do a photo essay on the most common misconceptions about ice dams.

Nowhaus
Nowhaus

Beyond the new, constantly evolving urban design and residential design environment, bigger structures have moved in alongside the historic places we know well. We’d planned to tour Southwest High School’s addition (designed by AST+R) and compare it to Washburn and Roosevelt’s more historic campuses, stroll through Mount Olivet Lutheran Church’s new digs (designed by ESG), and give our (not very positive) opinion on the buildings “taking shape” in the south-Lyndale corridor. (It’s hard to believe that area actually has a master plan.) We also planned to offer our own take on local mid-century modern churches — from the iconic Christ Church Lutheran by Eliel and Eero Saarinen to lesser known examples such as Annunciation Church in Windom.

Alas, we’ve run out of column space to do all of that. As our time writing for the Southwest Journal comes to a close, our time observing and sharing Unsung Architecture does not. We will continue posting our observations on our social media pages. Let’s continue the conversation and promote sharing of knowledge and inspiration with others. Your urban environment is worth it!

Emily Bissen is a staff member of Locus Architecture, located in Kingfield. Visit locusarchitecture.com to learn more.