The Architectural Blues

Today’s post comes from Clyde of Mankato

I was driving down the street the other day, minding my own business entirely, innocent of marring the world with anything but my car exhaust fumes, when I looked up and saw two men putting a new sign on a building.

Birkholz Building

Back when I was the manager of a small company, I almost rented half of this building. The Birkholz this is now named for, if I correctly assume who it is, is no relative. (Well, I know he/she isn’t because I have no relatives named Birkholz, except my son and my ex-brother.) The probable building owner’s wife is my eye doctor. If it is he, the building will soon start tilting radically to the right.

I bemoan that my name is on such a squat dumpy pasty-white building. However, Mankato has has a spate of new construction in the last few years, which makes the Birkholz Building look blandly attractive. Let me take you on a short tongue-in-cheek tour. Along the way, I am sure many if not all of you will disagree with my assessments. My architectural taste has long been held up to ridicule.

US Banbk

I think all will agree about this new atrocity. But I give credit to a bank for giving the world a bold middle finger architectural salute, as they so often do financially.


This was completed five years ago at a local Lutheran college. This building is most certainly awkward. It makes me want to turn Catholic. It was Mankato’s first major step into what I call “sore thumb architecture.” We now have literally hundreds of sore thumbs sticking skyward around town, the finest exemplar of which is this thing near Minnesota State.

Sore Thumb

The next three buildings are all just being completed.


These three buildings are all on the same block, turning their backs to each other, as they should. One looks like a crossword puzzle, one looks like a Legos construction, one looks like a glass outhouse. Diagonally across an intersection from the glass outhouse is this building, which, if you took off that golfer’s cap and replaced it with a cross, would look as if they worship money.


Then there is the church we attend. Notice I do not indicate any sense of involvement.


This building used to look like a bottling plant, beer bottling no doubt. Two years ago they spent over $2,000,000, much of went to redo the front, adding the freight loading dock to the left of our view, the rusting crosses, the sore thumb to our right (had to be one of those), and the new windows and columns. This improved, they say, the narthex inside. I guess, but, my, oh, my, how sound does bounce off all that brick and glass. I think I better be quiet now.

How are you doing with post-modernism?

62 thoughts on “The Architectural Blues”

  1. To begin with, there is the billion dollar archtectural turd called the Vikings stadium. If I had naming rights, I’d put my competitor’s name on it.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I think there is something marketable in he turd bill
      maybe you should trademark the term and sell it to the highest bidder to use in an ad campaign


  2. I do have Birkholz relatives….hmmm, I wonder…but of all the buildings you posted, Clyde, I would agree, it is the least offensive. Actually looks rather mid-century modern cozy.


  3. In 1989 the Minneapolis city council worked for over a year to redesign the convention center, a contentious process that involved running fights about all sorts of features to please different constituencies with a claim on the building. Finally all the compromises had been struck and it was time for a vote. At that point someone said something that made history. He or she said, “Has anyone noticed that we’re just about to spend (XXX) million dollars to build a really, really ugly building?”

    Nobody had. The planners were so caught up in other issues that literally nobody had noticed that the building they were about to inflict on the city for many decades was consummately ugly. In panic, the planners tried to come up with minor fixes that would make the new convention center less jarring to the eye.

    I don’t know how bad the design could have been. The building they finally erected has been described as “an upside down ice cube tray.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I always want to go back to 1961 and talk to the people in the church and ask if they have looked at what they are about to pay for; do they notice it has no relationship to its environment? Do they notice it looks like it is turning its shoulders away in a message of “just go away”? (This was the reason for the big redesign of the front. I guess they did succeed to some extent.) But inside, the building is even worse. I estimate that the sprawling interior is about 25% hallway, most of which just sits there. Why does there need to be a wide hallway around the sanctuary? Take out the hallways and what’s the difference? Not one thing. The error is repeated in the basement around the fellowship hall. Take out the hallway and have the small rooms face into the fellowship hall. Hallways sprawl off into odd rooms that could have been incorporated against the mass of the building and not hanging off with all those exterior walls to heat. An old small church is incorporated into the building unseen in the photo to the left. You do not notice it from outside. Inside it too just hangs out there, sort of in the way of all those hallways.


        1. The high school where my two oldest girls went was often compared, appearance-wise, to a prison. Hardly any windows, very dreary looking. And middle daughter told me that even teachers who were lucky enough to have windows in their classroom kept the blinds closed, so she could go an entire day without a glimpse of the outdoors.


        2. LJB – I went to that same high school. Rumor was that it was built that way to withstand race riots (given when it was built, there may be some merit in the rumor). I went from an old turn-of-the-century building (the old Mpls Central) with large windows, wide hallways (sorry Clyde), wood floors and slate staircases to something akin to an above ground bunker. The teaching staff was good, though, and that almost made up for the crap architecture.

          Liked by 1 person

  4. I was wowed in China 30 years ago to be driving through the transformation of a nation that was trying to find places to spend their money. 100 foot tall stainless steel sculptures that acted as a welcome to the small villages where the freeway had brought civilization up to the door of a culture dating back to oxen walking down Main Street just weeks before. the government favored fearless architecture and encouraged bold buildings and would put them up in every direction in every major city and lots of smaller cities too. it was not unusual to see 20 or 30 of those cranes that lift building materials to the top floors of skyscrapers, I remember going to a meeting at a fabric company in Shanghai in some new part of town and noticing 5 cranes within a 5 or 6 block area and upon looking out across the horizon there were 40 more. there were lots of plain jane electric shaver looking buildings and lots of boring boxes with expensive marble on the outside to be deemed acceptable but there are also some exceptional building where the punchline is to be noted as exceptional world contribution. I will see if it is possible to throw some of he buildings I remember up here after I get out of my hot tub
    what a glorious Saturday in 50 degree sunshine

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Speaking of buildings that evoke Legos – I love this MinnPost article about the Spruce Tree building in the midway. There’s a painting of it if you go to the article. A few of my favorite quotes about the building:

    I have never seen the inside of the Spruce Tree Centre, so I have wondered – can a person actually enter it? Is it hollow, with rooms and everything?

    There you go: Spruce Tree Centre is your oddball, stuck-in-the-unfashionable-past uncle, wearing plaid and reeking of cologne.

    I drive by the Spruce Tree Centre most every day. Each time I have the same thought: By God, at least he tried. The architect tried.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. I do want to say that about the three newest buildings: he/she/they tried. I think the two glass buildings would look quite attractive in another setting. They are crammed into a tight space, right against sidewalks on four busy streets. Does not glass need something to reflect besides traffic and the surrounding run-down buildings. Put the glass outhouse in a space with grass and trees around it, I would then applaud it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The building that is captioned Legos could be fun if it was made to look like a bigger version of the little shop next to it – is it a pizza shop? – with fire-engine red pillars in front, and a red stripe across the top, and green awnings.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. It is a pizza place. Bars and pizza places are the only other things on this block, most short and blocky. The most attractive building on this block is a bar.


    2. I should say, though, by way of clarification, that I don’t really dislike Spruce Tree Centre. You get used to it, and it could be a lot worse. There are many buildings that manage to be worse by being mind-numbingly dull.

      The clock at the top is a nice touch. It recalls the courthouses of ysteryear.


      1. I notice the architects also were responsible for Har-Mar Mall. That’s quite a resume. The most elegant innovative design imaginable wouldn’t have elevated that corner on University and Snelling.

        Liked by 2 people

  6. I find it difficult to appreciate post-modern buildings of any sort: commercial, civic or domestic. To my eye, post-modern structures seem narcissistic. They don’t “waste” money on appealing external views but instead work hard to create impressive interiors. It is as if architects no longer care about the look of a neighborhood.

    Modern architecture can be difficult to like. Design experts at one time assured us that the modern architecture we found so jarring in the 1960s would, over time, begin to feel beautiful. But it rarely happened. While some people tried to get nostalgic about the original Guthrie Theater, most folks were delighted when it was gone.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. My complaint about recent architecture is exactly opposite. The buildings are all about the external and are human unfriendly on the inside. The newest iteration of the Walker Art Center, also known as the angry robot, looks like a twelve-year-old’s idea of an innovative building, as if making the windows irregular in every sense of irregularity adds anything to the esthetic besides expense. Inside, one walks through mostly windowless tunnels. Orienting yourself to the outside world or to your location inside the building without signage is difficult. The necessity of signage is evidence of bad design.
      I could go on at length about Frank Gehry’s Weisman Gallery. The building itself is prosaic. All the flash is superficial and attached to the outside. It’s the architectural equivalent of the class clown. More than one of them would be simple chaos.It doesn’t offer any dialog with anything around it and I happen to favor architecture that dialogs.

      Liked by 3 people

        1. I find the Wiesman to be at best a “meh” sort of building. It’s quite sculptural in its exterior, which is cool – but not what I think of as a building. And it is disappointing then when you get inside and it’s just white boxes inside all that razzmatazz.


    2. The old Guthrie was not particularly lovely, not very functional and poorly constructed. I can’t think of a single example of Ralph Rapson’s brutalist architecture that enhanced its setting or the city.


    3. i always find it interesting that people with an opinion proclaim most feel that way.
      who else was delighted when the guthrie was gone to replaced with underground parking
      it was the premiere stage of the twin cities and could be used every day of the year were it still here. to be torn down so it could be parking when the parking lot could easily (or at least feasibly) have been jockied over to another part of the property. is was continues to be the problem with our world. tear downs for replacement with clone boxes is the deal. if wal mart can affod it they will build it.
      the arts community should be better but with limited dollars and the i got to get mine attitude it is the way of the world even with those in the arts i love.
      i noticed yesterday the art deco constructuin on the main post office on the river banks next to the sarch bridge in minneapolis and how putting a simple contour on the corner of a stone on a limestone or granite building makes all the difference in the world. bless the westin for saving the farmers and mechanics bank in downtown minneapolis rather that razing it to build a nothing box.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. no is it small rooms from 1930.

          I am a romantic not a realist. I love the cottage looking buildings of the Cotswolds in the uk but the owners would love to have taller ceilings less drafts bigger space but if you do that the illusion goes too. commercial and industrial space can be wonderful but even the best looks lame 50 years later unless it is truly visionary

          I enjoy open space and appreciate the architechture who can see both
          function and beauty in that special way


  7. I posted the picture of the Birkholz building on facebook. My son Nate Birkholz shared it on his page with the caption “Is he related to you NATE BIRKHOLZ (name as a link)?”

    People got confused about why he was talking to himself, which he was not.


  8. I had no thought about architecture, or the arts in general beyond graphic arts, when I went to the U of Chi. I did not succeed there, in part because the required humanities (which there means the study of arts among other things) opened me up to whole new worlds, as did the city and the slums in which it sat. What a place to be introduced to architecture, the city but also the campus, with its neoclassic Gothic college buildings sitting in quads. The gym is amazing; one of my favorite buildings ever. But the U of Chi had built several new buildings, on the fringes, most across the two-block wide Midway Plaisance (A n open grass and tree mall left over from the 1892 Columbia Exposition.) We walked through buildings designed by some of the greats of the early 60’s such as Saarinen. The instructors had been schooled by the architects on their thinking, which was shared with us. The F. L. Wright Robie House sits on campus. We toured that as it was going through restoration.


  9. OT I am enjoying a salad that I want to share. This is something I came up with when looking for something like tabouli that wasn’t nearly so much work. Four ingredients: cubed cucumber, cubed tomato, canned chickpeas, finely minced curly parsley. Dressing: olive oil, tiny bit of salt and fresh lemon juice. You could set your own proportions, but I do this with two large cukes, three large tomatoes, two cans chickpeas (drained), one grocery store bundle of parsley. You could add cubed green bell pepper, but it isn’t needed.

    I appreciate the way the chickpeas give the salad staying power. A serving is satisfying like a whole meal, and you aren’t hungry again two hours later. Healthy, tasty, easy. A perfect salad for my current life.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. I wonder why Quick Trip stores and other connivance stores can’t be made more attractive. Do they always have to be red, white and blue or some other combination of colors that tends to make them standout in a bad way. Why can’t they be up dated versions of the old style of gas stations that had a quaint look something like a small cottage.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. count on your fingers the number of places that make an attemmp at making things attractive then on the other hand use a finger or two for the ones that make it work


  11. OT — This Saturday broadcast of PHC was the last show hosted by GK from the Fitzgerald Theater. I couldn’t catch it when it aired here. The Strib reports that it was an emotional event, something like the last broadcast of TLGMS. PHC fans might want to make a special effort to catch the Sunday rebroadcast.


  12. Morning all – the latest architectural trend (which has gone on way too long as far as I am concerned) is to use several building materials on one building, making them look like the construction folks ran out of the initial materials before they finished the building. Mpls Schools rebuilt Child’s elementary school when she was in 2nd grade. I’ve always thought it looked awful:


  13. Hello gang-
    I’m still here. Just been busy.

    This past week in the online Art History class I’m taking, we are talking about architecture. I wrote about E. Townsend Mix from the 1880’s; most of his Minneapolis designs have been torn down but several of his buildings still stand, such as the Grain Exchange (or the Mackie Building) in Milwaukee.
    Anyone here remember the old ‘Metropolitan Building’ in downtown Minneapolis? Torn down in 1961. That was one of Mix’s.
    We’ve also talked about Louis Sullivan including his banks in Owatonna.

    There certainly has been a change in styles… I think I’d prefer to go back to Art Deco.
    And I agree with VS about the multiple materials used these days. Houses with 3 different claddings; Aaaagh!


    1. I like the Grain Exchange building. I took a picture of it for my portfolio for one of my classes last semester, for the architecture category.


  14. I must confess that I actually liked the old Guthrie. It may not have been well constructed, I know nothing about that, but I found the scale of it much more satisfying than the new Guthrie. The new Guthrie I don’t like at all. They may have improved the stages, behind the scenes facilities and whatnot, but the audience parts of the theater are dark and dungeon-like, to say nothing of the horrible seats with no leg room.

    The “new” addition to the Walker is awful. I don’t care for the way it looks from the outside, and they have converted the innards of a once great gallery to a mystifying maze. I’m disoriented and lost the whole time I’m there.

    My reaction to the Weisman was guarded; initially I was not too sure about what to make of its appearance from the outside. But, it’s growing on me. From what I “hear,” though, it’s a curator’s nightmare on the inside. Or perhaps it just needs curators with a different perspective?

    I think a lot of people, perhaps most, resist change, and I certainly recognize that not all change is for the better. But, as I’m aging I try to keep an open mind and not reject new ideas out of hand. When I find myself in the company of a bunch of “old people,” i.e., people my age or older, and they’re bitterly complaining about all sorts of things, I find myself questioning what the complaining is all about. I’m actively working on NOT becoming my father. Just because I’m old, doesn’t mean I must cling to the status quo or the past.

    Liked by 4 people

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