Two hundred and forty two. In the end, it took 242 pages for us to catalog the many design and programming elements necessary for the City of Minneapolis’ new Consolidated Office Building in downtown Minneapolis. This epic pre-design study is the roadmap for what promises to be a remarkable building upon its 2021 completion, supporting citizens and employees for at least a century to come.
Minneapolis’ leaders take pride in their city’s vision for promoting quality, democracy, and peace. So to translate those values into the city’s offices, we adopted a motto paraphrasing Abraham Lincoln. This building would be “of the people, by the people, for the people.” Presumably Lincoln never thought his words would motivate the designers of a government facility. Who knows, maybe he did?
Sited next to City Hall, the new Consolidated Office Building must become a gathering point for the city’s many communities. It must also establish a bold identity that responds to its immediate context and reflects Minneapolis’ dynamism. Our outcome—those 242 pages—were grounded in ten months of intensive, data-driven research and design, a process that balanced functional requirements with aspirations for the common good.
Currently, Minneapolis’ city departments are scattered across seven sites. Our team was tasked to help unite 1,000 employees onto a centralized campus, improve efficiencies for staff, clarify public wayfinding and services, and, in general, create a setting that met everyone’s expectations for the highest possible quality of service.
A building for the people mandates a people-centered design process. Our approach began with a visioning session for city employees and elected officials that clarified the goals of the project and asked how we could measure success. We then collected information from the public, city employees, department leaders, and customers of city services, through a variety of activities: discovery-oriented focus groups, interviews with personnel from facilities and operations as well as department leaders, sessions looking at how services are delivered, site observations at all seven existing buildings, and an ethnographic study of how the public-service area operates. Such a close examination of human, social, and environmental factors helped us develop a design strategy that is robust enough to support the city for many decades.
Informed by our research, we developed the components for an efficient and effective high-performance building, selected the optimal site for the future facility, and then developed a space program that could inspire both city employees and residents. We co-located 1,000 employees and reduced the overall real estate footprint. We also reduced the square footage per person by establishing a function-based approach to space allocation. And, working closely with public service staff, we developed a flexible, customer-centered service-delivery model.
Our workplace recommendations will optimize how people work once they’ve moved in—and addresses how they might expect to work in the future, based on their unique job requirements. So, what is necessary in the design of a building for the people? We articulated these nine guiding principles:
- Create space that encourages community engagement and welcomes the public voice
- Reflect the diversity of the City and create a safe, common ground
- Act as an important gathering place for all citizens
- Support community activities and actions
- Maintain fiscal responsibility and efficient use of resources
- Enable city employees to deliver excellence in public service
- Offer convenient and effective interactions with city services
- Provide accessible and intuitive design solutions
- Make the most of nearby businesses, buildings, and resources
Our Pre-Design and Program Report, all 242 pages of it, is complex. Imagine describing all the systems it takes to run a city, then describe what it takes to design and support them.
Yet it’s also an accessible document. Each component must clearly identify and address the service needs of 413,000 citizens, the space requirements of 1,000 employees, and the physical impact of 330,000 square feet in the city’s core—all while anticipating the impact of urbanization over the next 100 years. It was vitally important that everyone understand our vision. For this extraordinary chance to influence the future of our home, the project demanded not a page less.