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Mill City Museum in Minneapolis, MN by MS&R Architecture
March 2nd, 2012 by Sanjay Gangal
Article source: MS&R Architecture
The Mississippi River is an unbroken thread running through the history of the City of Minneapolisand the Northern Plains region. Saint Anthony Falls—the only waterfall on the Mississippi—has attracted people to the region for thousands of years. By 1880, the falls’ massive power was harnessed to drive the turbines in Minneapolis’ monster flour mills, grinding wheat from the vast western plains into flour.
Originally designed by Austrian engineer William de la Barre, the largest of these mills (declared the world’s largest after its completion in 1880) housed a thriving industry—the home of General Millsand Betty Crocker—until 1965. In the early 1980s, it became a National Historic Landmark and was purchased by the City of Minneapolis both to preserve the building that played such an important role in its history and to facilitate the city’s goal of redeveloping the abandoned industrial area into a new neighborhood that would reconnect the city to the riverfront. But it sat vacant for ten years, rejected by numerous developers who believed it contained too many physical constraints to be economically adaptable to new uses. In 1991, it was gutted by fire, leaving an eight-story high, block-long shell filled with debris.
This project involves the adaptive reuse of those ruins into a museum and offices. Located with in the burned-out walls of the mill complex, the museum focuses on the stories of grain farming and trading, water power, the building, flour milling, food product development (Betty Crocker),railroading, as well as the related people, labor, and immigrant stories.
Urbanistically, the museum is designed as a porous link between the downtown and the river with multiple entries on three levels. The overarching architectural idea is interconnection: exterior and interior, near space and distant historic objects, existing building fabric and exhibits, extant artifacts and new components and spaces. The design seeks to sensually engage the body in the tangible experiences of the old and new by choreographing movement through diverse and varied spaces. Specifically, it does so by:
• Designing the complex loosely in concentric layers: mill complex within historic district,mill building shell within mill complex, new building with mill building shell, exhibit area within new building, Flour Tower within exhibit area.
• Organizing circulation so people move relatively long distances horizontally and vertically through engaging experiences.
• Incorporating exterior spaces (all year round) into the movement patterns: Rail Corridor,Ruin Courtyard, and Observation Deck.
• Preserving the evocative power and emptiness of the ruins and building the new with an attitude of Piranesian unstudied acceptance of the old.
• Using the quirky and accidental real spaces and artifacts of the existing ruin for programmatic function, accepting resulting inefficiencies and anomalies.
• Taking advantage of the two part programmatic organization as the basis for an experiential duality. The orientation function is open, free, naturally lit, outwardly directed. In contrast, the destination/museum function is closed, controlled, artificially lit,insular, and centered on exhibit materials.
• Featuring an exhibit ride—the Flour Tower, a thirty-seat theater in an eight-story elevator—to tell the gravity-based story of an industrial mill at full scale, using both exhibition media and architecture.
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