St. Paul


In developing the ceramic facade for a revamped studio-art wing for Macalester College’s Janet Wallace Fine Arts Center, the architects at Minneapolis-based firm HGA started to feel as if they had enrolled in an art class of their own. For four months, they worked with a terra-cotta manufacturer, experimenting with different clays and glazes to get the desired hues—a warm spectrum of burnt red, gray, beige, and brown—just right. The firm would receive a batch of freshly fired samples every few weeks that soon began to pile up in the office.

The labor-intensive process paid off, as is evident in the resulting facade, a rhythmic composition of terra-cotta fins. It also embodies the design approach that HGA took throughout the $63 million multi-phase renovation of the center’s studio-art facility, a campus commons, and an adjacent music wing. “We wanted to express the art happening in the building to the rest of the campus,” says project manager Rebecca Celis.

When the Janet Wallace Fine Arts Center first opened, in 1965, it was one of the country’s premier art facilities, thanks to a generous personal donation from DeWitt and Lila Wallace, cofounders of the Readers Digest magazine empire. (DeWitt’s father was an early president of the college; Janet was his mother.) The original Brutalist complex—designed by Boston-based firm Perry, Shaw, Hepburn & Dean—was composed of four volumes devoted to theater and dance, music, humanities, and visual arts, connected by a central art gallery and interspersed with outdoor courtyards.

But time and the changing needs of Macalester made it clear the art and music facilities were no longer adequate: galleries, studios, and practice spaces were lightless and claustrophobic; the exterior leaked; and the midcentury-era boiler and chiller facilities—which supported the entire campus—needed an overhauling.

In spite of the poor condition of this half of the Janet Wallace complex (the existing theater and humanities wings are being maintained for now), a teardown didn’t seem right, in terms of design and economics. “As we began to look at the existing building and spaces, it made much more sense to renovate. Each one was a different puzzle,” says Tim Carl, the lead project designer and CEO of HGA.

The terra-cotta-wrapped studio-arts wing marked the culmination of that puzzle. Completed in January 2014, the renovated 27,000-square-foot building, with a new steel-framed third floor, branches off from a new central student commons. While the terra-cotta rainscreen was treated as an artwork, the architects wanted the interiors to have a more industrial feel, with exposed ductwork and simple finishes to accommodate the heavy-duty equipment inside, including fume hoods, a foundry, kilns, and a ceiling crane system. The updated facility contains separate state-of-the-art work areas for sculpture, ceramics, painting, and print-making.

While the studio art spaces are straightforward, interior drama can be found in an earlier phase of the renovation, completed in 2012. Here HGA created a new arts commons on the site of the old central gallery. Students enter an airy, double-height atrium, which is punctuated by light monitors with clerestory glazing and lined with slatted screens of red oak. The wood addresses acoustic concerns, while glass openings illuminate interior spaces and enable occupants to see activities inside the building as well as out to the surrounding campus. 

Extending to the west of this commons is a renovated music block, which includes 51,000 square feet of new construction containing practice space for both full ensembles and individual musicians. At the music wing’s heart is a dramatic 318-seat concert hall. Working with consultants Acoustic Distinctions, the architects removed a balcony and added an undulating red oak screen over acoustic curtains to modulate sound.

The transformation of the Janet Wallace Fine Arts Center has been successful in the eyes of both Macalester’s administration and the architecture community (the studio-art phase received a 2014 AIA Minnesota honor award). As soon as funding is available, the college will embark on a third stage to renovate the theater and humanities wings. 

Ultimately, it’s the student life within that is providing the alchemy that finally completes the architecture. On a tour of the building, the architects peered into a senior art studio. It was in happy disarray, with a motley assortment of chairs and sofas, heaps of art supplies and books, and a life-size effigy of a character from the animated film Spirited Away leering through one of the substantial windows. Carl looked admiringly at the clutter: “It’s so much better now.”

Size: 57,000 square feet, renovation; 51,000 square feet, new construction (phase I); 27,000 square feet, renovation; 7,000 square feet, new construction (phase II)

Cost: $37.2 million (phase I); $25.7 million (phase II)

Completion Date: August 2012 (phase I); January 2014 (phase II)


Client/Owner: Macalester College

HGA Architects and Engineers
420 5th St North, Suite 100
Minneapolis, MN 55401

Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:
Principal-in-Charge: Gary Reetz, FAIA
Project Lead Designer: Tim Carl, FAIA
Project Manager: Rebecca Celis, AIA
Project Architectural Team: Steven Dwyer, AIA; Doug Gerlach, AIA; Andrew Weyenberg, AIA; Jesse Zeien, AIA; Rebecca Krull Kraling, AIA; Tim Carlson, AIA; Justin Bice; Robert Johnson Miller, CSI

Interior designer:
Amy Tasch, CID; Ariane Laxo, CID

Structural Engineer:
BKBM Engineers

Mechanical Engineer:
Michaud Cooley Erickson

Electrical Engineer:
Michaud Cooley Erickson
Civil Engineer:
BKBM Engineers


HGA Architects and Engineers (Ross Altheimer, ASLA and Erica Christenson, ASLA)

Schuler Shook

Schuler Shook

Acoustic Distinctions

General contractor:
McGough Construction

Paul Crosby Photography



Structural system
Existing Concrete Frame; Steel frame for new additions.

Exterior cladding
Masonry: Glen-Gery Brick / McGough install

Metal Panels: Dark Anodized Aluminum Metal Panel / MG McGrath

Glass curtain wall: EFCO System 5500

Rainscreen: Boston Valley Terra Cotta / McGough Install

Precast concrete: Hanson Precast hollow core plank

Custom Millwork: Aaron Carlson

Built-up roofing: Johns Manville 4 ply A & G

Metal: Firestone Flashings & Roof Caps

Metal frame: EFCO 5500 and 5600 systems

Glass: Viracon VNE1-63 and VE15-2M

Skylights: Viracon VNE1-63 and VE15-2M

Entrances: EFCO D318 Durastile and D302 Thermastile

Metal doors: Steelcraft

Wood doors: Algoma

Special doors (sound control): Security Metal Products

Locksets: Schlage

Closers: LCN

Exit devices: Von Durpin

Pulls: Hiawatha

Security devices: Schlage Electronics

Other special hardware: Cores - Best; Sound Seals - Reese

Interior finishes
Acoustical ceilings: Armstrong

Suspension grid: Armstrong

Cabinetwork and custom woodwork: Artifex Millwork

Paints and stains: Superior Painting PPG Products

Plastic laminate: Laminart, Nevamar

Solid surfacing: Corian

Floor and wall tile:
Floor tile, lobby: Kate-Lo
Restroom tile: Daltile, Kate-Lo
Service Kitchen tile: American Olean

Resilient flooring: Forbo

Carpet: Shaw Contract

Office furniture: Watson, Sit on It, HON

Fixed seating: Irwin Seating (Concert Hall)

Chairs: HBF, Allermuir, Stylex, Krug, Jack Cartwright, Leland

Tables: HBF

Upholstery: Arc Com, Knoll, Sina Pearson, HBF Textiles, Architex, Momentum, Design Tex

Task lighting: Luxo

Elevators: Minnesota Elevator

Energy management or building automation system: Trane