Midtown Crossings: An Innovative Design Collaboration

 “Midtown Crossings is a great demonstration of the City’s new policy that art is an essential element of public planning,” -Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton.

The University of Minnesota Design Institute in collaboration with the Midtown Community Works (MCW) Partnership hosted Midtown Crossings, October 26­28, at Intermedia Arts, Minneapolis. This specialized workshop piloted an integrated creative design process to reconstruct the more than three dozen vehicular/pedestrian bridges that cross the Midtown Greenway Corridor in South Minneapolis. “Through the workshop, the Design Institute and the MCW Partnership sought to integrate public art and design with public infrastructure through an innovative approach that would help to build great new places in South Minneapolis,” said Nate Garvis, Target Corp.

The Design Institute procured the talents of internationally recognized artists, architects and engineers to work in multi-disciplinary design teams with high-caliber local artists and community activists to create the most inventive bridge design concept possible. Each five-member design team was assigned to one of three focus areas comprised of multiple bridges grouped by location. The focus areas included Portland, Nicollet and Lyndale Avenues.

“The collaborative nature of the workshop encouraged a lively exchange of ideas among some of the most innovative artists, engineers and architects currently practicing in this country as well as Europe,” noted Design Institute Director Janet Abrams. “The results will not only serve as prototype design concepts for new bridges and amenities along the Greenway, but also as a practical demonstration of a radically new approach to interdisciplinary design which we hope will influence how the city commissions public works in the future.”

Approximately 35 of the bridges crossing the Greenway were built prior to 1920, most of which are expected to be replaced or removed over the next 30 years. Renovations to the bridges will be commissioned by the City. “From the traditional public works perspective, this is not the way we normally design bridges,” observed Jon Wertjes, Transportation Engineer, City of Minneapolis. “The interdisciplinary, holistic approach is really exciting.”

The City will utilize resulting workshop design concepts as guidelines for its subsequent Request for Proposal (RFP), employing them as an educational tool and affirming its commitment to integrate public art and urban infrastructure design. “Midtown Crossings is a great demonstration of the City’s new policy that art is an essential element of public planning,” noted Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton. “The bridges are a key armature for the Corridor, rich with both history and new connections.”

Though the bridge design project itself will take many years to reach completion, the attention to the needs of the Greenway and the people that live there is long overdue and the final product is well worth the wait. The “Midtown Crossings” bridge design workshop is one of many steps in the planning process, but it is the critical first step that will supply the foothold that supports the bridges, and what they represent, for years to come.