Modernism In Minneapolis:

A Restless Desire for the New

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As the title intends, this work may be viewed as a survey of time and the city of Minneapolis; a city in constant change, as is the definition of a city.

We shall travel through space and time and observe the ability (or inability) of the polis to carry the inhabitant on a coherent journey along the streets and sidewalks.

The initial purpose of this exploration was to find a source (assuming that there was one) behind the destructive nature of the so-called "Urban Renewal" phenomenon brought to every major metropolitan area in the United States in the mid-1950s through the 1960s. It was quickly learned that there was no proverbial fountain of youth. Instead, what was found was a seminal sequence of images and fragmented stories... some of which are collected here. Many of which are lost forever.

"Revolutions are not made; they come. A Revolution is as natural a growth as an oak. It comes out of the past. Its foundations are laid far back."

--Wendell Phillips, speech on January 8, 1852.

Likewise can be said for the city of Minneapolis, as one will soon see.

The set of 202 slides are organized chronologically on the next page in a labeled index. One can start viewing the slides from the beginning or start the tour at any point within the show. Originally the show lasted for about 20 minutes, which proved to be to fast paced for complete cognition of the images and text.

The power inherent in the graphic is exercised to a great degree within the images on the slides. The nostalgic post card, with artificial coloring, saucy handwritten messages and impossible-perspective views depict a past mode of street life that we can never re-live today (nor may have ever been experienced in the first place). Yet short notes allow the reader to suddenly be intimately involved with the writer, a person who is more than likely dead, written to a mortal recipient who also must share the same fate. The post card is not a completely private or flawless form of communication. The turn of the century writer most certainly knew this, as did the receiver of the message. But they could not have anticipated that their words, their descriptions and their photo selections would be the very documents used today to help reconstruct a recent past that so little is known about. Formal documentation and primary source research this collection is not. Witty anecdotes do not litter every page of images, first-person testimony is rare and too many first-person sources are unable to recollect a past without nostalgic enhancement filters. What is one left to do?

The few faded newspaper articles, interviews from periodicals and secondary source artifacts have become so incredibly important to the researcher who is attempting to create a context for a story. If history is in deed written by the victors, there are a lot of stories out there that have died and are no longer spoken. Withered voices can not be heard for great distances, and time coupled with economic growth are an almost unconquerable pairing for obliteration of the past.

There is hope. American society has upturned the governmental experts; structures still seemingly in their youth of under fifty years old are able to quickly acquire iconic status as well as entry into the formal academic architectural canon. Institutions such as the National Trust for Historic Preservation coupled with the National Register of Historic Places have recognized the fact that people have a strong connection to place, no matter how young. The myriad of texts written in the recent decade about suburban malice, urban ghetto decay and general dystopia all seem to suggest that the promises, virtues and values held in the "good old days" were true. This is not the desired discussion, nor is this the arena of discourse intended by this virtual paper.

One can begin reading a simple story about a place. Pictures supplement text (or vice versa). Very quickly links are formed between the place and the collective consciousness of the reader. A hierarchy is understood. If at the micro level the plan is the generator, then at the macro level the street is the universal datum at which all things can be examined. The notion of the street is essential as is the street as the generative base all architecture must grow from. The acknowledgment of the street's presencing force is requisite for discussion to take place.


Very quickly this project got out of control. Perhaps this is good. Now it seems quite daunting. Reflecting back, it is amazing how quickly the rolling snowball grew, and how easily it was to be buried beneath the impending avalanche.

One of the most challenging tasks put fourth was not how to organize the specific information (each individual building received a file) but instead, how to link these buildings together in a coherent story. Shall one use proximity? Nicollet Mall provided a stable spine to travel along... but then came building use and functional similarities conflicting with date and style differences... the problem only became more complex as the scope of inquiry was expanded.

A simple street map was desired but the abstraction of a street down to a singular linear element, a black line, seemed to be antithetical to the arguments contained herein. There must be a solution. A solution was not found. Instead, "rough adjacentcies" provided the organizing framework in which the building files were organized, and the subsequent slide images were put into place. But there are gaps. There are time differences. And there are many unresolved links that this web-based system can not even begin to accommodate. Truly unmatchable is the complex collective consciousness of the reader.


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