Nicollet Mall was originally conceived as the first pedestrian mall in America with its inception dating to 1967. Once a vibrant hallmark of the city, over the years the nearly one-mile-long corridor has degraded into an uninviting “urban canyon” with big-box-retail and lack of identity. Previous renovations were implemented without any holistic vision or focus on the life of the place. The result: an unmaintained, chaotic, and inadequate urban experience.
!melk (lead design) and Tom Leader Studio (landscape architect of record) collaborated to reimagine the once thriving shopping street into an enhanced public realm, a re-established cultural hub, and repository for economic investment. To accomplish this, first a functional reorganization of the architectural framework was established. Second, the programmatic zones that are currently underperforming; eat, shop, play, were redefined. Third, was to consolidate the clutter of street elements (lights, furnishings, but also trees) into “knots,” which are clusters of concentrated program, each with a unique design and purpose to significantly increase pedestrian circulation space. Lastly, a new iconic design vocabulary was developed that draws inspiration from Minnesota’s geological context focusing on sustainability, longevity, and year-round usage (responding to the harsh contrast of seasons). The result reorganizes Nicollet Mall into a unique hybrid: linear park and shopping street. The rationale to establish some of the “knots” as mounded forms was to create microclimates of shelter, increased soil depth (for favorable rooting conditions) that accommodates four-times more street trees.
In addition, the new streetscape typology facilitates programmatic diversity by inter-connecting a series of large gathering spaces. One such space is the newly proposed Market Square where a failing big-box retailer is removed to create a public outdoor plaza for seasonal markets and large events, as well as an iconic new market structure, further reinforcing civic and commercial activity in downtown Minneapolis.