Nonprofit, independent journalism. Supported by readers.

This content is shared with MinnPost by MNopedia, the digital encyclopedia created by the Minnesota Historical Society and supported by the Legacy Amendment's Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.

Remembering Minneapolis architect David Madson

Madson designed an AIDS memorial in the mid-1990s, when few memorials for the disease existed and the epidemic was at its height.

David Jon Madson was born in Waterloo, Iowa, on October 16, 1963, to Howard Madson and Carol (Muller) Madson. He grew up throughout Wisconsin with his sisters, Dianne and Nancy, and his brother, Ralph. In high school, he was heavily involved in extracurricular activities, especially musical theater.

David Madson
David Madson
Madson enrolled at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD) in the autumn of 1982. He played Marcellus Washburn in “The Music Man,” and the UMD Statesman declared that his performance “shined” and was “impish and energetic.” For this role, Madson was nominated for the Irene Ryan Acting Competition (an acting scholarship for pre-professionals via the Kennedy Center) for his performance. Madson graduated from UMD in May 1987 with a bachelor’s degree in political science and a minor in communications, and by the fall of 1988, he was living in Minneapolis.

Madson took courses through the University College and Institute of Technology for two years prior to being accepted into the School of Architecture at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities in 1990. Though he had begun working towards his master’s degree in architecture, he had also considered working in law. While attending school Madson worked various jobs, including at a law firm, a restaurant, and Saks Fifth Avenue. One of these jobs was at JohnRyan Company, a retail marketing firm he joined in 1996. Madson became a rising architect at the company, where he helped design commercial banking spaces for supermarkets.

During this time, Madson was living in the warehouse (now North Loop) district of Minneapolis, first on North Fourth Avenue and then, by 1993, at 280 N. 2nd St. He frequented iconic Minneapolis spaces, LGBTQ+ ones and not, such as the Gay 90s, the Saloon, Monte Carlo, Cafe Wyrd, and Nye’s. He was a supporter of Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS (DIFFA).

Article continues after advertisement

Madson completed his coursework for his master’s degree in 1995 and continued to develop his thesis, titled “The AIDS Memorial: A Place of Healing.” It argued that the “need for a memorial is rooted in the tripartite relationship of recognizing (past), healing (present) and learning (future).” Madson conceived of a memorial that was both temporary and permanent to address the fact that HIV/AIDS is an ongoing epidemic with an uncertain future that will always leave lasting effects. It had no precedent but was informed by the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt. As Madson explained in the thesis:

“I remember seeing the quilt in Central Park in 1990; I thought that the miles of fabric would never end. And they didn’t. It became dark before I witnessed the end of day. And when I left, as other visitors arrived with candles, I had only seen a portion of it. At that moment, I felt a sudden sense of being overwhelmed; the quilt bridges a gap between the personal experience and global impact.”

Madson’s life and architectural career ended abruptly when he became the second murder victim of infamous spree killer Andrew Cunanan. Madson and Cunanan had been friends and intimate partners in the years leading up to 1997, but they had grown distant by the time Cunanan visited Madson that spring. Cunanan began his killing spree when he murdered Jeff Trail on April 27, 1997, in Madson’s apartment at the Harmony Lofts. Cunanan then shot Madson in Chisago County, north of the Twin Cities, on April 29, 1997. Cunanan killed Gianni Versace in Miami Beach, Florida, two months later.

Madson was portrayed by Cody Fern in the 2018 TV series “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story,” created by Ryan Murphy. Articles, shows, news segments, and books that detail Madson’s life often center his victimhood and his affiliation with Gianni Versace and the Cunanan murders. Two pavers memorialize Madson on the north side of the Garden of the Seasons in Loring Park in Minneapolis, and he is buried in Wayside Cemetery in Barron, Wisconsin.

The University of Minnesota certified Madson’s thesis after his death and dedicated it to his memory. The school awarded him with a posthumous master’s degree in architecture in May of 1998.

For more information on this topic, check out the original entry on MNopedia.