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Factory Fusion

A Minneapolis architecture firm melds the old and the new in its rejuvenation of the Ford Center, a former Model T plant it now calls home

By Colby Johnson

“HGA has evolved and changed over the years,” says principal Stephen Fiskum, FAIA, whose 30-year tenure with the firm has spanned three Minneapolis offices. “Our new space in the Ford Center fits well with our personality and the way we work today.”

It also honors the firm’s history by embracing the values of HGA founders Richard Hammel, Curt Green, and Bruce Abrahamson, all of whom were trained in the Bauhaus tradition. “As young architects, they were greatly inspired by [Bauhaus School founder Walter] Gropius’ notion of collaboration and very little hierarchy, which is why HGA is a very egalitarian and open organization today. Our space reflects that philosophy,” adds Fiskum.

Initially hired as architect for the building renovation, HGA also became the building’s first tenant, thus playing a dual role throughout the design process. “Within our space, the goal was to preserve the beauty and integrity of the original building while designing a space that’s conducive to our collaborative work style,” says HGA vice president Rich Bonnin, who served as lead designer of the office.

HGA opted to occupy 83,000 square feet on the first four floors, including the half of the first floor facing downtown, Target Field, and the soon-to-be-completed Interchange transportation hub. “Because this area of downtown has a lot of energy and activity—the ballpark, the light-rail lines, and the Northstar commuter line—we really wanted to have a street presence,” adds Bonnin. “One of the most appealing aspects of the building is its large, open plan, which allowed us to create multiple sightlines and connectivity throughout each floor.”

The building’s new main-level concourse boasts soaring interior windows on both sides, so visitors get a preview of HGA’s reception area and adjacent reference library before they step inside. But the real drama lies beyond: Up a handful of wide concrete steps, the Ford Center’s former Model T showroom is now an airy white welcome gallery lined with glass-walled meeting rooms. With its high ceiling, industrial columns with ornate plaster capitals, modern furnishings, and large windows, the space has fully reclaimed its original grandeur.

To control acoustics and mimic the Model T showroom’s white plaster ceiling, Bonnin and his team used a high-tech stretched membrane on the gallery ceiling. And as a nod to the wood boxcars that once transported the newly assembled cars from the plant, the designers wrapped several enclosed spaces on the first floor with richly stained mahogany salvaged from the bleachers of a high school gymnasium.

Along one side of the gallery, a steel and concrete staircase—the studio’s central circulation spine—leads to the upper three floors, where almost all of the 300 employees work. Here Bonnin and his team created workstation neighborhoods of different sizes that surround open collaboration spaces dubbed “co-labs.” Conference rooms and other enclosed spaces, including the firm’s pleasingly cluttered model shop, are tucked along the perimeter of the work areas. A white-noise system that functions like noise-canceling headphones helps maintain sound privacy in the open environments.

Converting an historic factory into a modern office building is no small task. HGA accomplished the transformation without making extensive alterations to the interior by creating a new glass and steel entrance pavilion along the north side of the building. The firm also placed the new bank of high-speed elevators just inside the existing building, at the entrance.

Because the building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, painstaking care had to be taken with its renovation. The iconic red brick facade with cream-colored terra-cotta trim has been fully restored, and the original industrial steel-sash windows have all been refurbished or replaced with historically compatible, energy-efficient reproduction windows.

Today, after more than $50 million in renovations, the Ford Center is 97-percent leased. Other tenants include brand agency Olson and Northern Lights Broadcasting.

“We’re extremely happy with this space,” says Fiskum. “It’s a good place for people to work and collaborate in teams, and it will allow us to continue to evolve and grow in the future.”
Ford Center and HGA Office

Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota
Client: United Properties
Architect: HGA Architects and Engineers
hga.com

Principal-in-charge: Stephen Fiskum, FAIA
Ford Center lead designer: Loren Ahles, AIA
Office lead designers: Rich Bonnin; Victor Pechaty,
AIA
Energy modeling: HGA; The Weidt Group
Landscape architect: HGA
General contractor: RJM Construction
Size: 269,000 square feet (83,000 for HGA office)
Cost: $50 million
Completion: December 2011

This story originally appeared in AIA Minnesota’s Sept./Oct. 2013 edition of Architecture MN.

   
   


With its high ceiling, industrial columns with ornate plaster capitals, modern furnishings, and large windows, the Ford Center space has fully reclaimed its original grandeur. All images courtesy of Paul Crosby.

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A steel and concrete staircase—the studio’s central circulation spine—leads to the upper three floors, where almost all of the 300 HGA employees work.

Description: enlarge-icon

As a nod to the wood boxcars that once transported newly assembled cars from the plant, the designers wrapped several enclosed spaces on the first floor with richly stained mahogany salvaged from the bleachers of a high school gymnasium.

Description: enlarge-icon

HGA designed a new glass and steel entrance pavilion along the north side of the building.

Description: enlarge-icon

     
 
 

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