Revitalizing a city with stone sculpture

August 21, 2001
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With hopes to revive the central core of downtown Minneapolis, MN, the city put a movement into effect to refurbish the area. This effort led one developer to hire a sculptor to transform natural boulders and raw granite quarry blocks into an artful streetscape along the pedestrian shopping street known as Nicollet Mall.

"I had been hired by Ryan Companies under a program called 'Minneapolis Beautiful,' which the mayor had established," said landscape architect/sculptor Brad Goldberg of Dallas, TX. "The project called for individual developers of projects in the downtown area to step forward to do something beautiful."

The sculptor explained that he based his ideas from a period in architectural history in America called "The City Beautiful Movement," but took a more modern approach. "I came up with this entire streetscape incorporation," said Goldberg. "To me, the whole street is the work of art - inside and outside. I came up with a 'Threshold Concept' to make the inside and outside work together seamlessly."

The most prominent structure of Nicollet Mall is the newly designed U.S. Bancorp Center, which is owned by Equity Office Properties and currently houses the U.S. Bancorp Piper Jaffray and Excel Energy, a public utility company. It will also soon be occupied by the U.S. Bancorp headquarters and smaller tenants.

"This particular building is really at the heart of the city," said Scott Berry of Ellerbe Becket in Minneapolis, MN, who was lead designer for the building renovation. "It's a very lively place in downtown," he said, adding that the U.S. Bancorp Center has become a major urban crossroads there. "The first two floors are retail, and the second floor links to a skyway system that goes all through downtown Minneapolis," he said, adding that the building also features three levels of underground parking.

The 1.2-million-square-foot center stretches half a block, with a 30-story mass intersected by a 13-story mass. "The taller mass is set back 12 feet from the property line, creating a large urban plaza in front," said Berry. "It provides a gathering place." In this area, Goldberg created "Continuum," which combines the Nicollet Mall streetscape with the building lobby.

Creating 'Continuum'

While the U.S. Bancorp Center is located along one of Minneapolis' primary commercial avenues, the design is rather conservative to reflect the nature of the financial institutions that reside there. To achieve the desired effect, two varieties of Cold Spring granite - Rockville White and Academy Black - were employed for a portion of the exterior and interior of the buildings.

"The Piper Jaffrey building tenant is a high-tech investment firm," said Goldberg. "I developed my ideas based upon the nature of raw materials and the way that they become transformed into objects of human culture -- technology itself had its basis in nature. Stone or "silica," when decomposed, become the resource material for technology." The sculptor went on to say that he developed an abstract concept to resemble a metamorphosis.

Goldberg chose the Rockville White and Academy Black granite to match the building's stonework. In addition to visiting the quarries in California and Minnesota, the sculptor also was on hand at the Cold Spring Granite fabricating facility to participate in the actual fabrication. "I worked with all of their craftsmen, instead of just ordering it," he said. "Working intuitively with the stonecutters at Cold Spring, we made these boulders that have cubes emerging out of them. They look as if something has been discovered inside of them."

According to Goldberg, a variety of processes - including wire saws and hand tools - were used to form the stone furnishings. "We had to do a lot of creative things to do it, and this is where Cold Spring Granite Co. excels" he said, adding that the entire project took about a year to complete.

In total, 90 tons of Rockville White was used to create three monoliths for the Nicollet Mall site - each measuring approximately 14 feet x 5 feet x 4 feet, 9 inches. Additionally, 1,100 square feet of Academy Black granite was used. This included nine blocks roughly 5 feet in diameter, which are embedded into the ground in various stages. Three were placed inside the building, while the other six can be found in the urban plaza.

Goldberg explained that the most difficult aspect of a job this size was finding the ingenuity to turn his vision into reality. "The biggest challenge is having this idea and finding a way to do it," he said. "Since I've been working with stone for 20 years now, my ideas are based on my knowledge of the machines and hand techniques that exist. I knew that Cold Spring's ingenuity could easily rise to this challenge."

Subtle distinction

While Rockville White and Academy Black granite were quality stones to use for the Continuum, the materials also were aesthetically pleasing for the U.S. Bancorp building itself. "It's a very traditional material in downtown Minneapolis," said Berry of Ellerbe Becket. "Historically, Rockville White is used a lot. [Also,] it was consistent with the direction of the building, which houses financial institutions."

Honed pieces of Rockville White granite, which averaged about 4 feet high, were used as exterior cladding for the first two levels. The Cold Spring Black was used as a base. "We chose a cooler palette - grays and whites - which we felt was appropriate for financial institutions and the expectation of the client," said the designer, adding that the stone was combined with glass and precast concrete. "The use of granite - particularly Cold Spring - is appropriate on the street. It restates the two-story stone fabric that exists along the Nicollet Mall."

The use of Cold Spring granite was also carried inside the facility. "The stone continues into the lobby both in the sculpture and structure of the building," said Berry. "It helps to make that transition from the outdoors experience to the interior." While Rockville White is employed for the columns, Cold Spring Black is used for the column bases. Including the exterior and interior, 22,500 square feet (2,500 cubic feet) of Rockville White and 4,200 square feet (570 cubic feet) of Cold Spring Black was employed for the project. This was broken down into approximately 4,600 pieces, including 6-inch-wide strips in both granite varieties, which were needed to achieve the stepped corner details at the columns and soffits.

"It's a building that is purposely understated and conservative," said the designer. "It's typical of the financial institutions. It's design is distinctive yet complementary on the skyline. We essentially tried to do something that was familiar, but distinctive."

Construction on the U.S. Bancorp Center began in March 1998 and was completed in April 2000. "Prior to the street being open, the street was a bit lackluster," said Goldberg. "Now people are everywhere. I'm very happy that [the property owners] allowed me to do it."

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