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Minneapolis Public Service Building Awarded the 2023 AIA Architecture Award

Celebrating the best contemporary architecture regardless of budget, size, style, or type, our first civic building in North America has been recognized by the American Institute of Architects as a striking contemporary alternative to civic design.

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The seven-person jury for this year’s AIA Architecture Award presented the award for demonstrating excellence in design achievement, including a sense of place, purpose, history, and environmental sustainability. The most prestigious project-based award in America, it celebrates the best contemporary architecture and highlights the many ways buildings and spaces can improve lives.

The project began in 2017, when Minneapolis sought a new contemporary face for public service. Developed through a close partnership with the city and other public advocates, the building’s openness demonstrates how public spaces can better reflect the communities they serve.

Standing in stark contrast to the granite buildings of Minneapolis’ Government District, the Minneapolis Public Service Building brings local government to street level. It defies the architectural legacy of stately and opaque civic centers that stand distinct from the public realm they serve. Instead, seeking to create an inviting space for the public that encourages personal connections, open dialogues and civic engagement.

Completed in 2021, in collaboration with MSR Design, the soaring façade is a welcoming beacon. Double height pockets are carved from the building, breaking up its massing and giving each of its frontages a distinctive presence. 

Easy public access also helps to extend an invitation to the public. Bus and light-rail stations pass by and drop off next to the new building, offering easy access to it from across the city. A large feature stair in the entry foyer provides inviting public space that, even if not physically connected to the square outside, is visually linked to life on the street. On the building’s second floor, an extra lobby plugs the 370,000-square-foot building into the city’s second sidewalk: Minneapolis’ sprawling network of skyways which allows residents to walk in climate-controlled comfort throughout the city’s harsh winters.

The themes of transparency and connection continue inside, once scattered across various buildings in the city, 10 city departments and 1,200 employees are brought together in one building. Today, employees are just as likely to meet in transit as they are in meetings: the communicating stairs in double height spaces trace their way across the building as they ascend, their landings expanded to serve as additional breakout spaces. In a government building requiring high security, the design still feels open and airy at every turn.

“Our approach to the Minneapolis Public Service Building aimed to flip the conventions of civic design, so we are thrilled to be recognized for designing a building that is truly for the people.”

The best civic spaces are not judged by the amenities they provide or the facilities they contain, but by what they encourage the people they serve to achieve.

“The best civic spaces are not judged by the amenities they provide or the facilities they contain, but by what they encourage the people they serve to achieve. By deliberating designing for openness and connection, we have fostered a renewed sense of community trust and partnership within the city.

“Thank you and congratulations to our partners at the City of Minneapolis, MSR Design and Buro Happold,” says Michael Sørensen, Design Director North America, Henning Larsen.

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