Environmental Impact Project Finalists: Hiawatha Public Works Maintenance Facility

Project Location:  Minneapolis

Project Summary

Minneapolis’ Hiawatha Maintenance Facility is a building type typically designed for function alone, with little regard to its site or image. But RSP quickly saw that this facility could be more than a simple maintenance garage – it could also change perceptions of the Public Works department within and without, providing a collaborative, sustainable infrastructure for efficient and responsive work. RSP Architects has created a workplace that balances the polarities of industrial and residential neighborhoods, of history and future, and of transformation and connection to the site, community and user.

The Hiawatha Public Works facility is a nine acre site owned and operated by the City of Minneapolis. It is located in a transitional corridor of 100-foot grain elevators and single-family residences, flanked by a 55-mph highway and 30-mph residential streets.

The facility is home to five public works departments and includes 33,000 sf of office space over two floors, a 28,000 sf maintenance bay and 20,500 sf of untempered city storage. The project includes unfinished office space and modular construction for additional maintenance bays to accommodate future expansion.

The project removed all but two of 18 existing buildings. An existing brick building in the northwest corner of the site was totally renovated for office space; new construction to the east provides the remainder of the office/support space and is clad in Cor-Ten steel and burnished concrete masonry; a precast maintenance structure is located to the south. These three forms are connected by a two-story glazed entry/circulation spine.

When RSP began their work, they found a mélange of 18 buildings strewn over the site in varying states of disrepair. Above towered Public Works’ abandoned asphalt plant; below were pollutants and the edge of an arsenic plume that had plagued the surrounding residential neighborhood for decades. The site was flanked against Hiawatha Avenue by “the Wall” – a visual barrier meant to shield residences, but seen as confining and demeaning by the Native American population living nearby. This wall could not be removed – construction overbuilding made demolition unfeasible.

It may seem incongruous for a public works facility to be highly sustainable when its main purpose is to repair and maintain roadways (arguably our leading affront to the environment). However, when the City of Minneapolis decided to renovate the facility after years of blight the local neighborhood was actively engaged, and their request for sustainability was the result. The Hiawatha Maintenance Facility was mandated by the City to be LEED Gold, and through site-specific creativity RSP was able to exceed this goal. The objective was not mere point-gathering, but to transform a century of manufacturing and consumption into a facility culturally and ecologically productive; in the end, Hiawatha is among the most energy-efficient and sustainable facilities in Minnesota. The building received LEED Platinum certification.

Notable features include:

• A facility accessible by public transportation, with showers and changing areas that encourage employees to bike or walk

• Strategic space planning reducing the building blueprint by 43%

• External and internal openings throughout the facility (including clerestory windows in locker rooms) allowing natural light to workspaces and minimizing lighting needs

• Geothermal collection providing the majority of heating and cooling to the facility

• Completely self-contained site drainage: runoff is collected in existing underground tunnels that originally connected buildings, condemned onsite buildings and asphalt were crushed and recycled for permeable site substrate, and bioswales and permeable paving were employed for portions of the parking lot

• A focus on construction recycling reusing nearly 100% of demolition rubble on site

Architecturally, the building’s atrium connections allow old and new building forms to be individually expressed, while permitting daylight to penetrate all interior spaces. An efficient lighting system, daylight dimming, and occupancy sensors reduce energy consumption. Overall, the new Hiawatha Maintenance Facility is projected to use 60% less energy than a similar building built merely to code.

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the facility is the creative re-use of existing or original materials. For example, old switchboards and crane rails are displayed as artwork throughout the facility. When the city tore down the asphalt plant they sold all the parts that they could, but old controls were left behind. The architect saved them and repositioned them randomly in the existing brick building as living palimpsests of the site.

With the city’s cooperation and vision, RSP was able to reinvent a building type not known for design sensitivity. Hiawatha Public Works contributes to its social context and history while efficiently housing the current and future needs of Public Works. As Minneapolis’ Mayor RT Rybak notes, “The facility represents progressive design at all levels – RSP has demonstrated that quality design can be affordable, sustainable and responsible”.

Project Submitted by:  RSP Architects

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