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From plazas to profound places, architect leaves imprint

Gold Medal Park
Courtesy of Oslund and Associates
Gold Medal Park, Minneapolis

 

What architect made the most impact on the Twin Cities urban landscape in 2007?

Hands down, my nominee is Tom Oslund, who happens to be a landscape architect.

The seven-person Minneapolis firm of Oslund and Associates designed a major new riverfront park, took on the challenging design of the plazas outside the Twins ballpark, and is playing a leading role in the design of the new I-35W bridge, from its elegant profile to the 50-foot-high signs that will announce the Mississippi River.

In May, the 7.5 acre Gold Medal Park became Minneapolis' newest public space. The 32-foot-high mound, which is reached by a spiral walkway rising out of a green lawn filled with 300 trees, was an instant hit. The mound offers a destination, a place to view the river, to gather or to sit and reflect. The park, just east of the monumental Guthrie Theater, has given the Mill District neighborhood a much-needed green centerpiece — and the city a profound place.

Park became makeshift memorial
Within hours of the Aug. 1 collapse of the I-35W bridge, the top of the mound had become a makeshift memorial — a true sign of its success as a public place. A few weeks later, Oslund received a phone call from Linda Figg, president of Figg Engineering Group, the firm that eventually won the contract to build the replacement bridge.

Tom Oslund
Courtesy of Oslund and Associates
 Landscape architect Tom Oslund

 

"She'd gone to our website and liked the simplicity of our work," said Oslund, who advised on the pared-down concept for the bridge and became the landscape architect for the winning team. In that capacity, he played a central role at the October public workshop on the design of bridge elements. He is working on the gateway markers, lighting and the spaces at the river's edge.

Also this year, his firm was busy designing the public plazas leading to the Twins ballpark on Sixth and Seventh Streets North. Oslund's design achieves the nigh-impossible task of making the plaza inviting to both baseball fans and people just passing through the space. Oslund advised that trees planned for what is a bridge over the I-394 access lanes might survive but would not grow. Instead, he has suggested tall, vine-covered steel armatures —vertical trellises -- that will lend a sense of scale to the large open space while softening it and providing places to sit.

Awards a-plenty
Add five design awards from the Minnesota chapter (PDF) of the American Society of Landscape Architects, an honor award from the national organization for a rainwater pond at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, the design of a house and winery in California's Napa Valley and the conclusion of three years of work on the 20-acre site of the Harley-Davidson Museum in downtown Milwaukee, Wis., and it was a very good year.

"When the Harley-Davidson Museum opens in June, it will be our biggest association with a brand," said Oslund, whose work includes landscapes for General Mills and Medtronic. "General Mills is big. Medtronic is big, but this is really big."

Holiday bonuses all around!

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Comments (3)

The attention paid to architecture, public spaces and the urban environment is one of the things I miss since leaving Minneapolis for Winona twelve years ago. Count your blessings.

On another note: why an accomplished landscape architect would want to be associated with urban noise pollution is a puzzle.

Tom Oslund may be a great landscape architect but his firm's web site is extremely weak. It lists words like "360 degree view" in a tag-like format but they are mere words and not links to and actual 360 degree view of the park.

I might trust his firm to build a mound of dirt for me, but I wonder about anything more intricate.

I wish the Gold Medal Park had the effect on Mpls that you see, but I just do not see it. It is too far from the "used" parts of downtown, namely the economic district. It is good to see a park go into downtown, even though it misses the mark greatly. What downtown needs is a really downtown urban space, which must be accessible to people that are actually downtown, placing it with a few blocks of Hennepin and from 4th to 7th St. I will be very surprised if this new park gets much if any use at all, until the Downtown East neighborhood fills, which is undoubtedly many years down the road.