Choosing Downtown Minneapolis’ New Building—None of the Above

A new building is going up in downtown Minneapolis—but University of Minnesota College of Art and Design Dean Tom Fisher questions if it’s the right real estate for the long term.

The onetime site of the Nicollet Hotel on the north side of downtown Minneapolis is now a parking lot. Soon it will be the site of an urban transformation, when the city council opts for one of the plans proposed by property developers—with construction slated to kick off next year. Tom Fisher, architecture professor and dean of the University of Minnesota College of Design, isn’t particularly impressed by the proposals. 

“My first impression when I saw them was how conservative they all are. They’re pretty safe, and to me the issue is whether Minneapolis and our region is competing with cities around the globe for talent—and in that competition, playing it safe isn’t necessarily wise.” 

“Hotels and ground-floor retail are a model that worked through the 20th century, but assuming it’s going to be here in 100 years, I’m almost certain that then they’re going to want to see things that are unlike these proposals.”

“What is the city going to need 50 years, or even 20 years, from now? Given the new economy and the digital revolution, people will be living and working in profoundly different ways.”

“There are hybrids and new kinds of flexible space that you see in San Francisco, New York, and London. They can be offices or light industrial. You can live in part of the space and work in another part. These are hybridizations of space, and we don’t have nearly enough of it. 40 percent of people work from home; all these lines are blurring. I worry that we’re going to build these buildings in a 20th century mode— and that they’ll become obsolete pretty quickly.”