An imaginative plan to create an economically and environmentally diverse and sustainable community for learning, producing and living on a former factory site in Saint Paul, Minnesota, has been selected as the winning entry in the annual design competition among offices of global architecture and design firm Perkins+Will. Talent Factory, submitted by Janneke Eggink and Aarathi Muralidharan of the firm’s Dubai office, was selected from among 75 wide-ranging designs that aim to spark renewed discussion about redevelopment of the closed Ford Motor Co. plant, which sits on 135 acres on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River.
Now in its 14th year, the Perkins+Will competition is sponsored by the firm’s Design Leadership Council (DLC) as a key program to encourage young architects at the firm to address challenging issues with provocative designs. In this year’s program, “From Ford to Future: Creating a Work Co-Op in the Twin Cities,” Perkins+Will asked its emerging designers to imagine new possibilities for the Ford site—which produced vehicles ranging from the Model T to the Ford Ranger from 1925-2011—that incorporate water and energy sustainability and opportunities for worker and housing cooperatives, and that address resiliency factors such as climate change. Teams from six countries and 23 offices, from Atlanta to Toronto, Minneapolis to Shanghai, participated and submitted designs that ranged from a research and development center for electronic cars to a biomed cooperative that builds on the region’s medical research legacy.
Talent Factory envisioned a series of hubs—retail, housing, office, production—with a great deal of flexibility: 25 percent of the space at any time would be temporary and could be booked for use via a mobile app. “There was something compelling about the idea of going onto an app to basically say, ‘I need space to live and work,’” said Kjersti Monson, director, Civic Studio, Duval Companies, one of five external jurors who reviewed the entries. “The same kind of temporary rental concept that’s driving Airbnb, being applied to a place where you’re generating economic activity, I thought was really compelling.”
According to juror Merritt Clapp-Smith, principal City Planner, City of Saint Paul, what appealed about the winning submission was “looking at the site as part of a neighborhood that has a certain mix of uses, and thinking about what brings the community together and how to develop more independence for people to reduce their need to drive. This design aims to include more activities that are woven together within communities, and tries to bring back to cities the notion of having uses within neighborhoods, as opposed to segregated across areas.”
The design competition was hosted by the Minneapolis office of Perkins+Will, site of the firm’s first DLC competition. The purpose of the competition is to create a vehicle for ideas, promote a culture of design, and enhance the firm’s legacy of innovation, inventiveness and research. “What’s unique about this weekend-long design competition is the opportunity for emerging designers within our firm to share their observations, thoughts, goals, and visions with the more seasoned designers and current leadership,” said Ed Feiner, director of the Design Leadership Council, which is comprised of design directors and principals from each office.