In the middle of the last century, when suburbia threatened to drain Minneapolis of businesses and retailers, the city reinvented itself in the image of corporate campuses and indoor malls. Local officials converted a dozen blocks of the city’s Nicollet Avenue into a transit mall according to a design by landscape architect Lawrence Halprin, while real-estate developers inserted miles of skyways that connect the surrounding buildings. Today, this downtown zone is being revitalized as a mixed-use neighborhood, and Minneapolis is again reshaping its urban fabric by implementing a redesign of the Nicollet Mall, led by the landscape architecture and urban-design firm James Corner Field Operations, with lighting by New York–based Tillotson Design Associates (TDA) and local expertise contributed by the notable Snow Kreilich Architects and landscape architect Coen+Partners.
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According to Field Operations senior associate Megan Born, the new scheme retains Halprin’s existing curvilinear street, while organizing it to work better for pedestrians—people who are walking through it or those seeking out the mall as a destination in itself. For the former group, Field Operations created a clearly legible, 10-foot-wide walkway next to buildings, with TDA outfitting 43-foot-tall poles with adjustable LED floodlights to supply most of the ambient illumination. “Making a welcoming, safe place to stroll at night was a big priority for all stakeholders, so lifting the light source and letting it create an even wash of light is one of the primary design elements of this project,” Born says.
The light poles are spaced approximately 70 feet apart on average, and each has four pairs of small LED floods, each with a warm 3000-Kelvin color temperature and 85 CRI—a welcome change from the single, glaring light source often used for such projects. At the same time, for familiarity, the lighting designers maintained Nicollet Mall’s previous level of brightness, which exceeded 2 foot-candles. Cylindrical RGBW beacons located at the top of the light poles may be programmed in conjunction with different events, and unique, globe-shaped lanterns project from select poles as part of a public art program.
Outside of the walk zones, Field Operations conceived a variety of outdoor rooms for destination seekers. These include a lushly planted reading area for fine weather, where luminaires that look like oversize floor lamps add to the ambient glow, and a theater-in-the-round accented by LED points. At the heart of Nicollet Mall, pedestrians might gather, find respite, or take a selfie underneath the Light Walk, a series of contiguous trellis-like armatures, topped by mirrored fins, that the lighting designers outlined with color-changing LEDs in channel extrusions. Stands of uplit birches, northern pin oaks, and other trees unite the rooms into one continuous experience and lend a seasonal diversity to this reinvented street’s warm, multifaceted scene.
James Corner Field Operations - James Corner, Lisa Switkin, Megan Born, Eric Becker
Tillotson Design Associates: Suzan Tillotson, Erin Dreyfous, Megan Trimarchi
Electrical: SRF Consulting Group
Snow Kreilich Architects (architect)
Coen and Partners (local landscape architect)
Blessing Hancock, Skyrim Studios (custom Lighting Design)
Meyer Contracting (general);
Premier Electric (electrical)
Bega - high mast pole flood lights
Light art walk: Lumenpulse
High mast pole “beacons”: Lumenpulse
In-grade uplights at tree groves: Targetti
Tree accent lights in planters: BK Lighting
Point lights at theater in the round: MP Lighting
Exterior reading lamp: Millerbernd Lighting
High mast poles: Millerbernd Lighting