“We shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us.”
People are shaped by their buildings. For architects, this shaping goes both ways, involving an exchange of influences between where one is in life emotionally and where one is physically. The same dynamic holds true for organizations including architectural practices.
a foreshadowing of future connections to the Minneapolis milling history, the
first architectural office I worked in was located in the Alfred Pillsbury Mansion.
The family had long since moved to the suburbs, the once upscale neighborhood
had declined, and the firm leaders bought the house at a bargain price. I
worked in an upstairs bedroom where we lit the fireplace on chilly days and conferenced
in the grand dining room. With long hair and wide ties, I felt at one with the
times in this space. The elegant space bolstered my confidence as it must have
the Pillsbury family, while its transformation from home of old money elite to
progressive architectural office fostered a sense of rebellion appropriate for
started my own practice in a small bedroom in my 100-year-old house. As an
introvert, I thought the solitude and company of my cats (as well as the free
space) would be an ideal place to start. I soon learned that I needed the
energy and interactions of people around me, and that convenience, practicality,
and economy are insufficient to make a great place to work.
connected with architect and riverfront pioneer, Peter Hall, who had living
space and an office of five people in the Washburn Crosby Mill Complex. We were
the only occupants within the 300,000 square-foot mothballed, flour mill
complex. The structure offered floor after floor of ghostly quiet among
hundreds of wooden chutes, pulleys, and machines that once shook the structure
and produced a million barrels of flour a day. A white patina of flour dust
covered everything and filtered the sunlight that come through the windows in
the stone walls. Out the windows was the Mississippi River and its only once
natural waterfall. It was magnificent architecture that offered a sensual
experience of space, history, light, material, structure, order, and
abandonment. It opened me to a world of existing buildings and possibilities beyond
the conventions of modern architecture.
found a 500 square-foot storefront at the edge of downtown where artists were joining
manufacturers and wholesalers in the massive brick and heavy timber warehouses.
Here, Garth Rockcastle, Jeff Scherer, and I formed Meyer, Scherer &
Rockcastle, Ltd. In contrast to the solitude of the abandoned riverfront mill, this
location offered a dynamic community of creative people and lively businesses.
Behind us in the same building was the New French Cafe, where artists and business
leaders dined together. We contributed to and benefited from the creative
energy of our immediate neighborhood. Over time, we accreted into every
available corner of the New French building. I met Martha, my wife, in the
was time to move to a bigger space. Three blocks away, we found the perfect little
brick warehouse to buy. As had become a strength of our practice, here we could
explore the relationship of the muscular existing building with the dynamics of
post post-modern ideas. The relationship between old and new, flexibility,
movable walls, raw materials, and openness shaped the space. The whole office
centered around a two-story, sky lit space lined with books, material samples,
and photos of our work. The office
reflected who we were becoming as a mature office.
we outgrew our space, this time coinciding with the commission to design the
Mill City Museum complex—the flour mill where I once shared an office with
Peter Hall. Sadly, the mill had suffered severe fire damage with little but the
stone shell remaining. We bought the top two floors of the building, which has
served as a catalyst to a new urban neighborhood that has developed around us. Here,
we enjoy one of the best views in the city of the riverfront, and the building has
become a signature of our identity, helping bring us exciting adaptive reuse
work around the country.
Once again it is time to move, this time in an effort led by the next generation of MSR leaders. Located in the heart of downtown, the new space is a quiet eddy of daylight surrounded by the flow of streets, light rail, and skyways. MSR will relocate this fall. How will the new space shape MSR? I am excited to find out.