Minneapolis, Minnesota is home to the largest continuous skyway system in the world. Some 90 enclosed pedestrian bridges span downtown traffic one story above street level, an indoor pedestrian network between the city’s skyscrapers. These skyways spread across 80 city blocks, connecting 18 kilometers of interior walkways above the city streets. The network is a defining element of Minneapolis’ architectural identity, and the setting of our fifth project in North America.
Our New Public Service Building is the newest node in the skyway system. Connecting to the elevated network via three bridges between Hennepin County government offices and neighboring financial centers, the New Public Service Building is at the intersection of civic activity and commerce. Our design consolidates civic offices currently spread across Minneapolis, complementing the neighboring City Hall and adjacent government offices. With the surrounding skyway and street-level traffic, the project presents an opportunity to form a deeper connection between citizens and local government. Our design elevates private city offices above a dual level public commons, creating a shared space for socialization and civic engagement.
Government offices are not often social spaces, and the New Public Service Building seeks to change that. The ground level public commons not only merges the city’s civic and social life, but also acts as a gradient zone between the street and the skyway. Central to this common space is a broad staircase connecting the first and second floors, incorporating sitting areas for visitors and informal meetings. The stairs create a highly visible access point to the skyways, alleviating concerns of accessibility, but also provide a setting for street level and skyway traffic to meet. By giving social value to the physical connection to the skyways, the New Public Service Building dissolves the social and physical separation between street and skyway pedestrians.
Visible accessibility is crucial to the success of this new social space. A clear glass façade facing the streets gives a heightened sense of connectivity with the surrounding city. This transparency broadcasts the building’s social function but helps present the government offices within as more accessible. The building’s new design reroutes skyway traffic along the street-facing glass facade: Instead of sequestering skyway pedestrians through the center of the building, they now walk parallel to the street, strengthening the skyways’ visual and physical connection to the rest of the city.
The New Public Service Building is a reflection of our Scandinavian design philosophy adapted to local culture and architecture. Its approach to the skyway system fosters accessibility and encourages a more connected society, emphasizing democratic access to city infrastructure and civic offices. The building represents community-focused architecture, a design reflecting the local heritage and seeking to bring greater connectivity to the general public. Expected to open in 2020, we are excited for the chance to explore the intersection of Scandinavian design with something uniquely Minnesotan.
Since the first skyway opened in Minneapolis in 1962, the network has grown into a second layer to the city. Five different apps exist to navigate the second-story thoroughfares, which now connect to 140 different restaurants, multiple hotels, and Minnesota’s professional football stadium. The skyways have become a part of daily life for many locals, an air-conditioned sanctuary for daily commutes and weekend shopping.
Defenders of the skyway cite its utility for the Minnesotan climate: With temperatures sinking to -20°C in the winter and a humid 30°C in the summer, the skyways offer a climate-controlled respite for downtown pedestrians. But the skyway’s opponents allege that the elevated bridges detract from a vibrant civic life, drawing pedestrians away from ground level. They see the skyways as an amenity for those in the know; leaving empty streets for those left out.
Representing millions of dollars of infrastructure and commercial space, the skyways are unlikely to disappear – But they can be improved. With our New Public Service Building in downtown Minneapolis, we’ve found an opportunity to reimagine the skyways as a more visible, accessible part of a vibrant city.