DRAFT-Updated JUNE 13, 2003 by RK with input from JR, S D-B, SW


A Discussion of the Conceptual Site Design and Artworks for the College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture at the University of Minnesota


A Collaboration by: Rebecca Krinke, landscape architect and John Roloff, public artist


By Shelly Willis, UMN Public Art on Campus Coordinator




Site and Building

The site for the College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture (CALA) was once a primordial ocean and much later, land eroded by the glaciers.  The site has been both underwater and frozen, thawed and remade.  Tropical and tundra plants have existed on the site.  More recently, before European settlement, the site was most probably an oak forest/oak savanna.  The site may be described as occupying a prominent intersection on the Twin Cities campus, with the building’s main entrance on Church Street, one of the campuses’ main vehicular and pedestrian thoroughfares.  In a much larger sense, the site can also been seen as extending infinitely into the atmosphere, and deep into the earth to its core.  Both atmosphere and earth contain both water and air, and in section, the idea of where “the ground” is, is actually quite conceptual as air-water-soil-rock are interwoven and in constant flux.  This permeability and malleability of the “site” is something the conceptual design explores on several levels.  The design proposes that each courtyard work with the idea of the earth (“finish grade”) differently.  The West is a flat plane, the East contains a recessed space, the North contains a raised plane and the South is again recessed, but only occupiable visually.  The conceptual design explores a different conceptual and physical expression of the three elements of “site”: stone, water, and vegetation in each courtyard.


The original College of Architecture building, designed in the 1950s, was a cutting edge modernist work, square in form with a central interior courtyard.  The recent addition by Steven Holl is its opposite: a cruciform building, characterized by the interpenetration of indoor and outdoor space.  The strong masses, sharp edges and potent volumes of the architecture, with the juxtaposition of unusual materials: copper, glass (both transparent and translucent), and metal, along with the building’s nighttime glow, create an exciting and confrontational architecture, befitting its role as a school for designers.  The provocative nature and power of the new building was a force for the site design to respond to, enter a dialogue with, yet also provided the opportunity for the site design to raise its own questions.


Index (time, space, matter):

The site design explores different ways that the same three elements (stone, water, and vegetation) can be expressed conceptually and physically in each courtyard.  This idea works with the site and the building (both materials and conceptual ideas) and the history of architecture and landscape architecture.  The ways that the elements change and manifest differently in each courtyard reflects a strong understanding, questioning, and appreciation of the architecture and the site.  The idea of the index is used to ask questions and reveal information about the materials and processes operating on the site.  Indexing is central to both science and art and figures prominently in the life of a university.



The deep history of the site revealed through geological research is referenced in the courtyards by the use of anorthositic gabbro from the Duluth Complex of Northern Minnesota from the same quarry (Cold Springs Quarry, near Lake County,  MN) in different forms: slabs, remnants, or gravel.  The gabbro slabs will be quarried as several contiguous large blocks.  Three of these large “mother stones” will not be cut into smaller units.  The location and timing of quarrying and cutting will be recorded by a Global Positioning System and other devices, and then inscribed into all the “mother stones” and cut slabs.  Two of the “mother stones” will be located in the courtyards, while the third “mother stone” (the “Rosetta Stone”) will be located in the CALA library.  The “Rosetta Stone” will be inscribed with all the data to link together the information about the origins, locations, and temporal data of the granite used in the CALA courtyards. 


Geological time and origins are indexed in two other ways in the artworks: a video projection units in the Lobby/Gallery space visualizes data from the aeromagnetic survey made of Minnesota bedrock geology, utilizing aeromagnetic anomaly mapping by the Minnesota Geologic Survey.  This data reveals a Proterozoic (1.2 billion years before present) continental rift system buried several miles below Minneapolis that is linked geologically to the anorthositic gabbro used in the courtyard slabs and rock elements.  The gabbro is a cooled remnant of a magma chamber that was feeding molten volcanic rock to the ancient rift system when it was active.  The use of this system to conceptually drive the artwork echoes Steven Holl’s design for the addition which inverts the interior facing and courtyard emphasized structure of the existing architecture building into an outward reaching and light filled appendage-like form.  The rift system buried below suggests both an inversion of and a parallel to Holl’s interest in the physics of light and its use in the building.  The rift system is composed of extremely dense ultra-mafic rock and yet can only be known through its magnetic properties measured by aerial-borne instruments flown above the site. 


Completing the geologic references to the CALA complex are geologic analyses of four different CALA building materials: copper, glass, reinforced concrete and brick that trace the materials globally back to their origin in the earth.  The analysis of each material will be presented in the form of text panels etched into the actual materials being analyzed on the sides of the building; the size and scale of panels will strike a balance between consistent size and relevance to the scale of the materials as used architecturally.  Materials to be analyzed will use many current geologic and geophysical technologies including: x-ray diffraction, spectrography, magnetic and GPS



Each courtyard will explore water in one or more manifestation.  Water is essential to life on earth, and human beings are composed primarily of water.  Human settlement is inextricably linked with water, and some of the earliest designed landscapes focused on wells, irrigation, and the symbolic expression of water as the source of life. 


Rainwater, groundwater, and steam will be explicitly explored and indexed in the design, and snow will be a beautiful addition to the spaces.  Groundwater at the CALA site is a constant 50 degrees, and provides a datum of temperature on the site that will vary more than a hundred degrees Fahrenheit.  Groundwater and/or rainwater will be monitored on site.  The visible system of steam geysers will be regulated and monitored.



Indexing is central to working with plants: botanical classifications assemble and differentiate, and botanical gardens explore different ways of organizing, displaying, and studying plants.  One courtyard explicitly explores the tensions that have existed for centuries between the ideas of introduced and native plants, by grouping/juxtaposing native and cultivars of the same species, while each courtyard will explore moss in different manifestations.  (Note: The moss may be Irish Moss, which is not a true moss, or may be another similar “primordial material”.)  The moss will register microclimates- doing well in wetter, shadier places, and not found in sunny spots.  It will be either be the featured plant or an opportunistic plant, allowing visitors to see plants as both aesthetic features and as an organic system constantly in flux. 


The CALA landscape as a whole is being re-envisoned in this design as a setting with only a small intentional lawn panel.  Planting the ground plane with a richer palette of vegetation will give CALA a unique identity on campus and a setting befitting a College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture – stimulating the senses as well as the intellect. 


Four courtyards, three elements

Each of the four courtyards has different visual and spatial qualities, and different uses and microclimates.  The West and East Courtyards were designed by Steven Holl as linked spaces, both visually and functionally – they are the social spaces that flow most readily from indoors to outdoors.  The West and East Courtyards will each contain the gabbro “mother stones” described previously, as well as cut slabs of the same rock, although the material will be cut differently in each courtyard.  Each “mother stone” will be visible from the Gallery/Lobby space.  These two courtyards are also planned to have a relationship with strong (but different) geometries of deciduous trees.  The North and South courtyards have different expressions, but both are seen as primarily contemplative spaces.  The following is a more detailed discussion of each courtyard:


The West Courtyard is the entrance courtyard, containing the main entrance into the new building from Church Street.  It is a space that operates on several levels as both a social and symbolic setting.  It is composed of two major elements – a stair/terrace of granite slabs and a grove of deciduous trees.  The “mother stone” here has been cored to allow groundwater to bubble to the surface through it.  Approximately twenty slabs of the gabbro at four inches thick by six feet by 8. 5 feet make up the stair/terrace that links indoors and outdoors, while also challenging and extending our usual understanding of what a “stair” or “terrace” looks like.  It also has its own form order- one that does not relate orthogonally to the building - but rather has its’ own strong expression, one that relates more to geologic or chemical processes.


The grove of trees is planted in a tight grid, becoming both a compelling, sculptural “object” as well as a compelling space to be near and traverse.  The trees will cast dramatic patterns of light and shadow, provide the beauty of fall color and spring bud, and be lit provocatively at night.  The quantity and spacing of the trees is designed to “wake the visitor up” to nature, and to the presence of trees, which are more generally seen as a green backdrop.  Trees are potent both symbolically and actually as a key to life.  Groves were among the first symbolic and productive landscapes.


The East Courtyard contains the other “mother stone” and also uses cut gabbro slabs, although these are more columnar in form.  These stones may be used as places to sit.  The “mother stone” is located in the lawn panel near the intersection of two lines of deciduous larch species trees.  Each line of trees works with the architecture, located on the centerline of the voids between windows.  The lines of trees are designed to explore one deciduous species- through both the native and cultivar forms – allowing visitors and students the opportunity to read the index and make their own comparisons and conclusions.  One of these lines of trees extends back to the knoll space at the east entrance to the original building, strongly uniting the two eras of architecture and landscape.  A feature of this courtyard is a recessed space that excavates eight feet below grade to expose the top of the “crane pad”.  This ten foot by ten foot concrete block was built to hold the crane that was necessary in the building process.  Bringing this block to the viewer’s attention underscores the process and materials of construction  A glass “roof”, the size of one of the windows on the west elevation, is used to allow visitors to safely view into the space.  Light, snow, and rainwater will interact differently at different times of day and seasons both with this space and with the black gabbro slabs, some located in the sun, some in the shade.  A square of lawn - the same size as the grid of trees in the West Courtyard – creates an informal social setting, and a meditation on cultural values of sustainability and beauty.


The architectural volume that creates the North Courtyard is quite inspiring- the building beautifully edges the sky and the copper walls create a deep V- shaped void.  The space is small and in shade most of the time, but a staircase lines the side and the entrance is well used.  A dramatic triangular, tilted plane of moss and gabbro chunks is planned as a landscape expression equally powerful, yet complementary with the architecture.  The moss and rock garden would be a mixture of mosses and low growing groundcovers contained by a low wall, built of gabion structures.  Gabions are essentially metal cages for rocks, used to create walls.  In this courtyard, the gabions are filled with the same gabbro as the other courtyards and moss garden, remnants from the cutting process in the quarry.  The gabions containing these chunks of stone also enter into a dialogue with the more precisely cut stone of dimensional building material and the various other stones that humans can make and the stones that humans cannot make.  The gabion wall is its own structure, independent of the architecture; it is proposed that the low portion along the sidewalk be a sitting wall.  Water is explored in this courtyard via steam.  The primordial spell that the moss garden casts is enhanced by the steam that rises from it.  The steam is planned to be on a timer - not operating continuously - and when the steam plumes rise, the campus landscape will acquire a powerful landscape event.  The steam vents are arranged to work with the window-void layout of the building and create compelling, ephemeral lines of white against the copper walls.  The steam heightens one’s sense of temperature, wind, light, season, etc. as it will vary quite intensely depending on atmospheric conditions. 


The South Courtyard is a floor below grade and inaccessible to visitors except through sight – from both inside and outside the building.  Here the stone is explored in two ways, through gabbro as the gravel ground plane and as the transformation of granite to silica, and silica to glass.  Five cast glass sculptures (in the shape of trapezoids, inspired by the reflections off the windows) contain shallow depressions to catch light and shadow and rain.  The number five relates to the number of windows in the main portion of the courtyard, and their position works with the window layout.  Moss will be strategically planted to explore microclimatic differences.



The History of Landscape Architecture

The courtyards reference elements from the history of landscape architecture, particularly expressions of planted form.


The West Courtyard contains a deciduous grove of trees, or more precisely a bosque, defined as a small geometric woodland, generally implying the same species of trees planted equidistantly in a grid.  According to landscape historian Christopher Thacker, groves found in nature were one of the first gardens, and were an archetype drawn upon to create the first symbolic and productive landscapes.  It is also fitting that a grove stands at the entrance to CALA, recalling the groves at the academies of Ancient Greece.


The East Courtyard features a tapis vert, a swath of lawn usually rectilinear in shape, used to strengthen a visual axis or focus attention on an object.  The rows of natives and cultivars make a reference the tradition of botanical gardens, where plants were grouped and planted in rows or other geometric order for ease of classification and study.


The North Courtyard contains a raised bed, a device found in gardens since the Middle Ages.  This initially facilitated the tending of the plants, and has evolved into a device to allow different views of plants and a place (the edging or wall) that allows the visitor to sit closer to the plants.


In the South Courtyard are five cast glass basins to catch both light and rainwater.  These objects recall the intertwined history of sculpture and water features in the designed landscape.


Coda (Vision)

The conceptual site design for the College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture references ideas and asks questions about landscape architecture/art/architecture/ecology and rewards the most prevalent visitor- the student of landscape architecture and architecture - with a beautiful and provocative landscape to stimulate their thinking and facilitate their dreaming.



Rebecca Krinke is an Assistant Professor of Landscape Architecture at the University of Minnesota, where she teaches studios, technology courses, and seminars on contemporary landscape architecture.  Prior to joining the Minnesota faculty, she taught studios at Harvard Design School, Rhode Island School of Design, and the Boston Architectural Center.  Degrees in art (sculpture) and landscape architecture have provided the framework for her research and practice which has a focus on contemplative and commemorative space.  A contemplative space she designed for the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, Forest Transformation, has just been built.  It is composed of a bench/room and a copper clad wall that catches light and shadows, inviting visitors to pause and see the forest in a new way.  The Great Island Memorial Garden, in collaboration with architect Randall Imai, was constructed in Massachusetts in 1999.  Krinke organized and participated in a ground breaking symposium: “Contemporary Landscapes of Contemplation” which was held at the University in October 2002.  She has given invited lectures on her work at Harvard Design School, MIT, Rhode Island School of Design, Savannah College of Art and Design, the University of Florida, and Virginia Tech, among others.  Her publications include essays on The Lightning Field, the Oklahoma Memorial, and articles on the design of the contemporary, post-industrial landscape.  She has twice won Landscape Architecture magazine's "Visionary Landscapes" competition and has served as a juror for this event.



John Roloff's work generally falls into two site-related categories: large-scale environmental projects and large-scale photographic images installed in an architectural context.  Roloff consistently works with themes related to ecology, geology, climactic phenomena, processes and history of the site's region or specific locality.  He is probably best known for his site-collaborative ceramic installations in which large, hollow, refractory cement sculptures are fired at night outdoors using propane gas.  This results in artifacts analogous to those made by naturally occurring event.  Roloff grew up on the Oregon coast and attended the University of California at Davis, with the idea of becoming a marine geologist, but ultimately turning his attention towards making art.  His work has been included in exhibitions at the Whitney (1975) and the Smithsonian (1989).  He was the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1983, a Fellowship award from the California Arts Council (1990), and three Fellowship awards from the National Endowment for the Arts (1977), (1980), (1986).  His work has been reviewed in the San Francisco Chronicle, Artforum, New York Times and Art in America, among others.  Since 1974, Roloff has done more than 85 lectures, panels, and visiting artists positions.  He has taught at numerous Collages and Universities from 1978-1988, and is currently a full-time professor at the San Francisco Art Institute.


About the Public Art on Campus Program

The University of Minnesota established its Public Art on Campus Program in 1988, five years after Minnesota lawmakers declared that one percent of constructions costs for any state-funded building go toward the acquisition of artwork.  The Public Art on Campus Program is managed by a committee of ten artists and arts professionals, architects, planners, landscape architects and engineers, chaired by the Weisman Art Museum's director, Lyndel King.  They collaborate in each selection process with a committee composed of people who use the building where the artwork will be located.