University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota
Minnesota Design Center
College of Design

Projects & Research

Minneapolis Post Office Reuse Study, Minneapolis Downtown Council

MDC Director Tom Fisher, with Ph.D. student Subik Shrestha, studied the urban design potential of the area around the Minneapolis Post Office as the basis for a future building reuse study as part of an upcoming studio. The project looked at the regulatory, transportation, population, environmental, economic, and social aspects of the three-block-long site, which stands between the downtown and the river.


Comprehensive Plan Workshops, Multiple Locations in the Met Council Region

The affiliate members of the MDC have begun to offer workshops with decision makers in the 7 county Metropolitan Council region to convey the latest thinking around transportation, land use, energy use, housing, public art, and the public realm to inform their comprehensive plans for the 2018-2028 decade.  City leaders attending will have ample opportunities to share challenges and possible solutions. Visit to register for Fall 2016 workshops.


Granary Corridor Study, University District Alliance

Conversations led by MDC Senior Research Fellow Bruce Jacobson, with stakeholders along the corridor that stretches between I-35W and I-280, north of the University of Minnesota’s East Bank Campus and the Towerside Innovation District, have led to the development of an “MSP Innovation Corridor” that would be a place to showcase the newest transportation and infrastructure technology.


Ramsey County Regional Rail Authority, Riverview and Rush Line Corridor

Senior Research Fellow Bruce Jacobson, with Joseph Hang and several graduate students, have studied alternative transportation modes along the West 7th corridor connecting downtown St. Paul to the MSP Airport and Mall of America as well as between the downtown and White Bear Lake, Minnesota. The community engagement process is underway and the design process continues.


City of Rochester Urban Design Guidelines

Under the leadership of Senior Research Fellow John Carmody, with the aid of Bob Close, Joseph Hang, Bruce Jacobson, and graduate students, the MDC developed urban design guidelines for the Destination Medical Center district in Rochester, Minnesota. The guidelines have been embraced by the city and have formed the basis for a “design sprint” looking at the St. Mary’s Place sub-district.  Link to design guidelines as of Nov. 1, 2016. 


Prospect North Partnership, Towerside Innovation District

Senior Research Fellow John Carmody, with Bruce Jacobson and Bob Close, developed urban design guidelines for what is now called the Towerside Innovation District along the Green Line LRT in Minneapolis and St. Paul. The guidelines have helped influence the mixed-use development and green infrastructure currently under construction, and have become a model for other development efforts.  Link to design guidelines 2015.


St. Paul Riverfront Balcony

An MDC team led by MDC Senior Research Fellows Mic Johnson and Bruce Jacobson developed the design of a elevated pedestrian bridge linking buildings and open spaces along the Mississippi River bluff and connecting downtown St. Paul to the river. After much engagement with the community and city staff, the MDC passed the design to BKV Architects who have done design development for the first phase.


Housing Pathways, Hennepin, Ramsey, Anoka, and Dakota Counties

Led by MDC research fellow Emily Stover, this effort to design new options for the adult foster-care housing system has engaged a wide range of stakeholders and developed creative alternatives of the current process that are being prototyped in ways that will give people real choices and let them provide needed feedback. This offers a service-design model that has wide public-sector applications.


Youth Survey and Youth Summit, North Minneapolis and Beyond

MDC research fellow Remi Douah has conducted conversations with the youth of North Minneapolis about what it would take to create a healthier community there. Dr. Douah has developed an online survey and will gather the results as the basis for what the youth in that community want to stage: a youth-led Youth Summit to give voice to the ideas and concerns of young people.


Design Thinking for Leadership at the Centers for Disease Control

MDC director, Tom Fisher, with Jess Roberts, Senior Design Strategist at Allina Health, have delivered design-thinking workshops as part of a leadership training process at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta. The workshops have enabled them to address the most challenging problems they in more creative ways, prototyping and evaluating the most promising solutions.


Health = Housing, Hennepin County Medical Center

In partnership with the HCMC Upstream Health Innovations, MDC director Tom Fisher, with Ph.D. student Gabrielle Clowdus are researching the ways in which health systems have intersected with the housing community to provide supportive shelter for people in need. We will engage HCMC staff as well as the people seeking shelter to plan, prototype, and test alternative solutions.


National Green Infrastructure Plan, ESRI and National Geographic

MDC director Tom Fisher, with graduate student Madeline Goldkamp, are investigating implementation strategies and policy incentives that would prompt communities to enact the National Green Infrastructure plan the ESRI and National Geographic have funded and continue to develop. We are working closely with ESRI as well as the Green Infrastructure Center in Charlottesville, Virginia.


Sustainable Development in the Sharing Economy, AIA Minnesota

As part of a research project funded by the McKnight Foundation to the American Institute of Architects, Minnesota, and in collaboration with the Center for Sustainable Building Research and the St. Paul Riverfront Corporation, this project, led by MDC director Tom Fisher will look at how the sharing or on-demand economy can help create sustainable development.


Bridging the Trench, Creating Connected Communities: 35W Lid
Development Potential Along 35W and 4th Street in Downtown East

Students participating in Urban Design Studio course taught by Mic Johnson created an architectrual model of an innovative way to connect the University of Minnesota's West Bank with Downtown East with a new family-friendly neighborhood.  Their model was displayed at the IDS Center for two weeks and has garnered attention from University officials, Downtown planners and MnDOT. View the presentation presented in the IDS Center.

  35W lid

University District Alliance, The Landscape of Infrastructure:
Towards a Regenerative Design Approach to Recycle Minnesota Highways and Bridges

This report investigates three regenerative design strategies to transform freeway corridors in the Twin Cities by enfolding the below-grade segments of freeways with a system of plinths or "inhabited bridges" allowing for construction of new public spaces and parks on top of the enfolded sections. The argument is that these functional design elements can transform the adverse outcomes of our urban freeways such as noise, air pollution and neighborhood fragmentation.  The new linear spaces created could become parks or other public spaces that can be designed to address additional concerns in the urban environment.  Among the wide spectrum of innovations possible, examples include adapting new smart and green water-harvesting systems, capturing wind and solar energy, and using materials that can capture and eliminate CO2 emissions.

Transforming the SEMI into a New Innovation District

As part of a collaborative agreement with the University District Alliance, the Minnesota Design Center conducted an investigation concerning the transformative opportunities on a portion of land within the Postindustrial SEMI District. The site is located between the University of Minnesota and the Prospect Park Neighborhood and was once the location of an industrial and economic powerhouse in Minneapolis.  Abandoned for over half a century, its strategic location combined with its cultural and ecological significance provide a unique opportunity to explore a regenerative urban design strategy involving new methods of development beyond the usual property lines approach.  The outcome of this investigation presents a new method of land restructuring based on an integrated landscape system that can be the model for developing a new Innovation District for the University of Minnesota thus accomplishing a greater community purpose and future economical significance for the District.


City of Afton: Renovating Town Square Park
Landscape Design and Stormwater Management Strategies

Afton’s Town Square Park was established as the first public park plotted in the Minnesota Territory in 1855 and is located in the heart of the Old Village of Afton. St. Croix Trail (today’s County Highway 21) runs north-south through the Old Village forming the eastern boundary of the Park which is about 500 feet from the edge of the St. Croix River bank.  In the summer of 2013, the Minnesota Design Center was contacted by the Parks Commission to improve the aesthetic quality of the park and provide solutions to the site's persistent drainage issues that limit the recreational opportunities of the Park.  In addition to improving the aesthetic quality of the Park, MDC provided a stormwater management plan that collects water run-off at the base of the bluff and directs it into a natural infiltration drainage system along the edges of County Highway 21.

  Afton Town Square Park

Minneapolis Public Housing Authority
Glendale Townhomes: Development Opportunities

The Metropolitan Design Center worked in collaboration with the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority (MPHA) to study alternative development scenarios for the Glendale Townhomes.  This Minneapolis property was initially acquired by the MPHA in late 1949 with the intention of developing 184 units for families and elderly residents.  The project was completed in 1952 and initially housed WWII veterans.  Since these early days, many changes have taken place in the Prospect Park Neighborhood and the Glendale units have also gone through several remodeling strategies.  This study represents a preliminary effort to investigate the site's capacity to accept a redevelopment strategy involving a greater number of affordable and market-rate units.

  Glendale Townhomes

Exploring Urban Design Options Along the Central LRT Corridor:
Asian Economic Development Association: The Little Mekong District

The Minnesota Design Center worked with the Asian Economic Development Association (AEDA) of St. Paul to investigate the development potential along a section of the new LRT corridor traversing the Asian community neighborhood along University Avenue.

  Little Mekong District

University District Alliance Urban Design Framework, Phase II
Using Greenways and Green Infrastructure as a Vital Design Strategy to Achieve Sustainable Communities

This study provides for an integrated metropolitan design approach to transform the existing hybrid landscapes of the University District using greenways and green infrastructure as a model for implementing regenerative design strategies that challenge both the architectural approach of conceiving the city the theatre, "big architecture," and the traditional urban planning approach which uses the "master plan" as an instrument for optimizing development.


Central High School: Transforming the Character of Place

The Minnesota Design Center was asked to conduct research and propose design alternatives to improve the landscape surrounding Central High School in St. Paul.  The Design Center conducted field surveys to observe site conditions, the flow of surface water, student behavior and movement patterns throughout the day. Based on these observations, the MDC composed a series of design options that were displayed in the school for commentary. Incorporating a survey sent to students, teachers, and neighbors, the MDC provided a diversity of design options to depict the ways in which the school could be made to be more welcoming, sustainable, and attractive.


Exploring Bioremediation Options for UMR:
Phytoremediation Strategies for Low Levels of Contamination

This study explores state-of-the-art ecological design solutions to mitigate a site (owned by the UM-Rochester) containing small amounts of soil contamination. The central aim is to develop a phytoremediation plan to deal with lowlevels of soil contamination, monitor the soundness of the phytoremediation approach, and provide a design scheme that enhances the existing conditions of the site.


Urban Design Framework for the St. Anthony Main District

Each year the M.Arch Graduate Urban Design Studio selects a complex, and often controversial, urban site within the Twin Cities region as an urban design topic to be analyzed and redesigned. The site chosen this year (fall, 2011) is part of the University District Alliance within the Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood  and the birth site of the City of Minneapolis.  The site borders the Mississippi River and combines issues pertaining to development, preservation of historic buildings, linking the community to the waterfront, and approaches for infill development--all of which makes for a perfect urban design studio topic. 

April 2012 Update: The Twin Cities Daily Planet published an article about the neighborhood's response to some of the ideas generated by the students.

  St. Anthony Main

Discovering Frogtown: A Contextual Evaluation of the Wilder Foundation Site

Frogtown Gardens (non-profit) contacted the MDC to conduct an investigation of the abandoned Wilder Foundation site in St. Paul to evaluate its potential as an urban farm project. The study included a geophysical evaluation of the site, its development history, and its suitability as a place for an organized community farm project.  The report concluded that the site was appropriate for this use and made recommendations to Frogtown Garden's steering committee regarding next steps.

March 2012 Update: The Wilder Foundation has agreed  to sell this 12-acre Frogtown property to the Trust for Public Land for use as a new park, urban farm, and nature sanctuary


Como/Front/Dale: Rethinking the Intersection

The intersection of Como Avenue, Front Avenue, and Dale Street, in the North End neighborhood of St. Paul, is a fulcrum point between Como Park, Downtown St. Paul, and University Avenue. Traffic moves through the area at high speeds and the angles of the streets create challenging site lines and a vast amount of pavement in the middle. Using the principles of Complete Streets and stormwater best management practices, the project explored how to make the intersection safer, more accessible, and attractive. 

  Como Front & Dale
Rethinking East 7th Street

Alternative designs solutions were provided to the City of St. Paul to bring East 7th Street into compliance with the "Complete Streets" program.  The report also included approaches to reduce the volume stormwater runoffby using street infiltration planters and it lists plants and trees that are appropriate to this purpose.

  East 7th Street

Discovering the Future of Granary Corridor

The Granary Corridor is again the source of multiple land use discussions at the City of Minneapolis. An original but currently abandoned railroad easement links the historic neighborhood of Saint Anthony Main at the base of the Mississippi River waterfront along a horizontal alignment crossing the University of Minnesota and the Marcy Holmes neighborhood, into the City of Saint Paul to the east.  Previously, the corridor was to be utilized as the new main Light Rail alignment connecting the city of Minneapolis with its twin city Saint Paul. After this promising proposal failed, the city of Minneapolis provided a new proposal for the Granary corridor to serve as a truck-route linking highway 280 with interstate I-35W. To counter this proposal, the Minnesota Design Center in collaboration with the University District Alliance, provided an infill urban design alternative for the future of the Corridor.

  Granary Corridor

Overcoming Crime: Transforming the Physical Design and Character of Peavey Park

Peavey Park in metropolitan Minneapolis is a notorious place in the city for it's frequent crimes, shoot-outs, and drug commerce. The Ventura Villiage Community, in conjunction with the Minneapolis Police Department, hired the Minnesota Design Center to study the possibilities of curbing the crime while providing a design strategy for the park and the community. The intent was to design the park with a well-fitting program of activities in an effort to create a welcoming civic park place for the benefit and joy of the community.

January 2012 Update: The StarTribune highlights the work of the Minnesota Design Center in jump-starting a redesign of Peavey Park.

  Peavey Park

Urban Design Framework for the University District

The Minnesota Design Center is engaged in developing an Urban Design Framework for the University District in collaboration with The University District Alliance Committee. The University District is composed of the Minneapolis Campus of the University of Minnesota and the adjacent four communities.

Phase 1 investigated how to restructure the District into a future model sustainable community. Understanding the community as a subset of greater urban and ecological systems is critical to understanding how it has come to be what it is today. This research provides the foundations for envisioning the possibilities for developing this human habitat in harmony with the bioclimatic regime of the region.

  UDA Framework: Phase1