Press Releases 03.17.2022

Downtown Minneapolis’ Living Room Gets a Makeover

Respecting an Icon While Renovating for the Future
IDS Center Crystal Court
People, Water, Trees, Sky and Ground: biophilic gathering at the iconic epicenter of downtown Minneapolis

When the IDS Center opened in 1972, it was described as the country’s first “social skyscraper.” Designed by an iconic architect, this 57-story mixed-use office tower’s distinct architecture punctures the skyline while its base sits rooted at the core of downtown Minneapolis. Crystal Court is the interior courtyard of the IDS Center and in 2021, Perkins&Will and New History, were tasked with renovating this important facet of the downtown community.

“For Philip Johnson, Crystal Court celebrated how people move across time,” says Tony Layne, Principal and Managing Director for Perkins&Will’s Minneapolis studio. “Time is shortened for pedestrians who flow quickly between street and skyway. Time is stretched for those who find an invitation to pause, gather and engage with water, trees, and light. We feel lucky to be refining how people engage now and in the future within this beautifully timeless place.”

Connecting with Nature in the Heart of Downtown

In the new Crystal Court, you’ll notice the elements that made it a place to relax and connect are still there. But with a difference.

“The existing version had trees, water, seating, vegetation,” said Jeremiah Collatz, the project architect. “We made those elements more accessible. You can touch the water. The trees are on your level, because they’re planted below the floor instead of in planters. There is a wider diversity of seating. The benches look like rocks, a natural part of the landscape.”

“The sound of water, touching the water, standing beneath the trees, sitting next to and across from people–these biophilic moments rejuvenate us. It’s a way to connect to nature even in the midst of a busy urban setting,” he added.

 

The original Crystal Court design intent was to be flexible and adaptable. Over many decades of use, the perimeter became confused and closed off with retail accessories, raised planters and other fixed elements. The new design reduces the area of fixed elements by 36% while increasing seating opportunities by 10%, in addition to improved natural experiences and social connectedness.
Significant areas of the court are left unoccupied for flexible use and to accommodate civic-scale special events. Custom benches are designed to be movable, and areas of loose seating are intended to be reconfigured as needed. Flexibility for temporary or longer-term changes will provide resilience for the historically significant space.
We established the design intent for the benches and co-designed the benches with industrial engineer Jonathan Olivares. Custom digital software created by graphic designer Jürg Lehni with Paper.js automatically generated the designs. Dimensional Innovations, pioneers in biopolymer 3D printing technology made the benches.

New Technology Brings Nature Indoors

One of the first things visitors see at Crystal Court are the benches–except they don’t look like benches. Inspired by stones on the shores of Lake Superior, each of the 20 benches is unique in size and shape. A 3D printing technology, mainly used in the aerospace industry, created the layered structures and the tactile feel. This is the first furniture application installation using 3D technology of this type.

The advantages of 3D printing include:

  • Customization — the benches evoke rocks on a lake shore: no two are the same, yet they create a harmonious whole.
  • Lightness — the Crystal Court is above several floors of a parking garage, so weight is a key factor; concrete or stone would have been too heavy.
  • Eco-friendliness — the layered bench sides (which you can see and feel, just like the texture of a rock) are made with a BPA-free biopolymer developed locally in Minnesota. The material, reinforced with sawdust sourced from local wood mills, was specially formulated to meet the sustainable requirements of the project. The paper-based solid surface bench tops are made from 65% recycled and FSC paper.
Inspired by the shapes of stones on the shore of Lake Superior, benches were designed as a cohesive part of the biophilic design for the court. They were intended to be large enough to define a protected seating zone in the tree grove, and were designed at three different heights for sitting, perching, and to provide armrests for those who need a higher surface to assist with mobility.

Preserving the Past and Translating to the Present

The main design challenge was how to reposition the space as refreshed while working in harmony with what already existed, like the amount of lighting, the escalator, the pedestrian traffic flow.

“It was a high-wire act,” said Peter Hendee Brown, acting principal with New History. “The changes that we made have been subtle. The challenge was to take something that was so well done, be careful with it and remake it for the 21st Century.”

The Perkins&Will and New History team worked together to enhance how people circulate through the space, making it possible to simply walk through it, or to stop and take a break without blocking traffic. They also used subtle touches to make sure the light from the eight stories of glass worked to full advantage.

“We spent a lot of time thinking through how to democratize the seating of retail and public, the best way to create a continuous loop of circulation, how to construct open view corridors within the space, and how to provide intimate seating areas,” says John Slack, Associate Principal and landscape architect at Perkins&Will.  “Crystal Court is truly a common space. It’s large enough for big gatherings around events like the Final 4 and the Superbowl, and small enough for friends to talk one-on-one in the midst of this huge, open, airy but inviting space.