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We Know the Minneapolis Central Riverfront Will Change–What Will It Become?

January 15, 2014Patrick NunnallyRivers1

The Central Riverfront in Minneapolis, that area surrounding the Falls of St. Anthony which was once the location of the largest concentration of hydropower in the world, is one of the most significant sites on the entire length of the Mississippi River.  It could be argued that this place with its “outstanding universal values” related to the exploitation and then renewal of the power of water, is worthy of nomination as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

It is also a vibrant part of a growing metropolitan urban region.  So this place will change, as it has for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.  What will it become?

The question has taken on urgency recently with plans to redevelop parts of the west side of the district as “Water Works Park.”  As described in a recent news article, the site’s layers of history are some of its most impressive and enduring qualities.

Here’s hoping that the site’s designers have the wisdom to elicit what is truly unique about this particular spot on the globe in their design, rather than pulling out some generic “could be anywhere” scheme.  Too often, designers design stuff that is more “about the firm” than “about the place,” making places that are recognizable as the work of that company but that don’t speak to what is particularly “there.”

Here, the story is about water, the movement of water, the capturing of water for power, and the perhaps inevitable decay in those structures that served so ably 120 years ago.  As we are forced to think more about our use of water, and can take it less for granted, the headraces, canals, gatehouses, and other structures that served generations of flour milling will have even more to teach us.

The Mississippi River will continue to speak to us–will we learn to listen?


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One Comment

  1. Miranda MoenJanuary 23, 2014 at 10:43 am

    I completely agree with this post; especially about the “could be anywhere” scheme. We need to focus on people and places before starchitect qualities known to surround the field of architecture. This, however, will soon be changing throughout the profession.

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