Architecture City Guide: Minneapolis

Architecture City Guide: Minneapolis

Photo of Le Meridien Minneapolis
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Get ready to discover the great architectural mecca that is Minneapolis.

15 Places
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    One of the most impressive cathedrals in the United States, the Cathedral of St. Paul sits on a hill overlooking downtown St. Paul and the Mississippi River. It is the third largest church in the United States. This magnificent structure, modeled after French churches in Paris, features French Renaissance and Classical themes. It’s absolutely huge, and the interior is incredibly beautiful, with its ornate and intricate design and 186-ft high domed center.
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    A distinctive landmark of the U of M, the Weisman was designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry and was completed in 1993. Gehry’s signature trademarks are all here – the stainless steel panels, the fragmented angular design, and the “deconstructivist architecture” he so often employs to give his buildings the aesthetics that set them apart.
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    The unique Landmark Center in downtown St. Paul serves as an arts and cultural center for St. Paul. Its beautiful, castle-like design of turrets, spires, a clock tower, and red clay tile roof are emblematic of Romanesque Revival architecture. Originally built as a courthouse in 1986, the building almost met the wrecking ball back in the 1970s until a group of preservationists was able to save it. 
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    Located inside of Lakewood Cemetery, the Memorial Chapel was built in 1910 and modeled after the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey and serves as the architectural focal point of the cemetery. Like many buildings on this list, it is listed on the National Register of Historic places. Its chapel dome is 65 feet high and ringed with stained-glass windows that serve as a sundial telling the time of day and season.
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    Admittedly not the best picture of the building, the photo still shows another example of Richardsonian Romanesque architecture, with red granite blocks, arched doorways, columns, turrets, and its copper roof, green with patina.  The building was built between 1887 and 1906, and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.  Unlike most buildings downtown, it is not connected via skyway.
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    This mansion found in St. Paul’s historic Summit neighborhood just steps away from the Cathedral was built by railroad magnate James J. Hill in 1891. Another example of Romanesque architecture, this modern marvel is still considered one the largest homes in Minnesota. It sits on top of a bluff overlooking St. Paul and tours are offered by the Minnesota Historical Society.
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    One must applaud the idea of transforming an old flour mill, severely damaged due to an explosion in 1878 and a fire in 1991, into a museum and park, now ran by the Minnesota Historical Society.  The building, known as Washburn A Mill, was built in 1874, and served as an important part of early Minneapolis’ commerce history. At the time it was the largest flour mill in the world. The explosion killed 18 people and destroyed most of the mill and 5 nearby mills. 
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    One of very few glass-domed Victorian-style indoor gardens in the US, the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory was built in 1914 by the German-born architect Frederick Nussbaumer, and modeled after the Royal Botanical Gardens in England.  Found inside of St Paul’s Como Zoo, this indoor garden is home to more than 260 varieties of plants, including palms, ferns, flowers, bamboo, and more. 
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    This castle-like structure found in south Minneapolis is home to the American Swedish Institute. Originally a private residence built by Swan Turnblad, a Swedish immigrant who made his fortune in publishing Swedish-language publications in Minneapolis. It was built at the turn of the century and later turned into a museum and cultural center in 1929.
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    Named for Richard McNamara, a 1956 alumnus of the University of Minnesota and former football player,the McNamara Center opened as recently as 2000. Designed by architect Antoine Predock in 1996, it features an asymmetrical geode-styled exterior built with granite and copper. The inside features large expanses of hemlock wood panels. Fun Fact: The music video for the song “Drive” by the band Incubus was filmed here.
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    The original “skyscraper” of Minneapolis, the Foshay Tower, built in 1929, was once the tallest building west of Chicago. The building is is another example of Art Deco architecture, a favorite of mine, and was modeled after the Washington Monument in D.C. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. Standing at 447 feet tall, it is now dwarfed by the surrounding skyscrapers which came along later in the 1970s. 
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    Formally known as the The Prospect Park Water Tower, this historic water tower in Prospect Park in Minneapolis bears a strong resemblance to a witch’s hat, and is rumored to be the inspiration for Bob Dylan’s classic song “All Along the Watchtower” from his days living in Minneapolis.  
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