Openness is key in Minneapolis’s new Public Service Building

Minneapolis’s Public Service Building creates a civic hub as the city seeks to reset its relationship with the public, aiming for the same level of openness as the building itself.

The historic, granite buildings that make up Minneapolis’s government district offer a stately yet opaque architectural vision of civic duty, engagement, and transparency; but if the traditional architecture parlance approach to civic design has required stylistic solemnity, the new Minneapolis Public Service building offers a contemporary alternative.

Designed by Henning Larsen, with Minneapolis-based MSR Design as architect of record, and in close partnership with the city of Minneapolis and public advocates, the building is the latest project in a new coalition of civic architecture across the U.S. conceived around the question: “How can our public spaces better reflect the communities they serve?”

It starts with openness—the soaring glass and aluminum facades wrapping the Public Service Building are a welcoming, bright face in the quad. 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 extend an invitation to the public, as bus and light rail stations pass by and drop off next to the new building. The large feature stair in the entry foyer, while 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 34,374-m2 (370,000-sf) building into the city’s second sidewalk: Minneapolis’s sprawling network of skyways.

The themes of transparency and connection continue inside, even as access slowly switches from open-to-all to secured workplace. The office floors—levels three through 10—contain daylit workspaces and enclosed offices, quiet spaces for personal time, improved indoor air quality (IAQ), and a top-floor conference space, cafe, and terrace.

Once scattered across various buildings in the city, the new building brings together, for the first time, 10 city departments and more than 1,200 employees. And while government offices are not often social spaces, the new Public Service Building offers collaborative spaces to change that.

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 ascent, 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.

The needs of the employees do not take a backseat in this concept. There is ample space for group and private work, public and private meetings across the building, and employees are encouraged to meet and share space with colleagues in neighboring departments. By keeping the floors and stairwells open, light is also brought deep into the building’s core, connecting employees to the outdoors. Crowning the building, an expansive rooftop offers views across downtown Minneapolis, of the Mississippi River, and into twin city St. Paul.

The project has been awarded 2023 American Institute of Architects (AIA) Architecture Award.

“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,” says Michael Sørensen, design director and partner at Henning Larsen. “Transparency of mission and public trust in institutions will be fundamental as the city of Minneapolis begins to craft their new collective, reflective, and pluralistic course for the future. We hope the new Public Service Building can be an anchor for this.”

Leave a Comment


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *