Living the Didactic Landscape: Changing Intentions in the Meaning of Place

My paper, originally written for my History of Landscape Architecture class last year, will be presented to the Minnesota Chapter of the Society of Architectural Historians. The Sixth Annual Student Symposium on the Built Environment will be held on September 17, 2011 at the University of St Thomas, St Paul. 

The St. Anthony Falls Heritage Zone is a wide-spectrum landscape that has emerged from the processes of nature, time, political, economical, and technological constructs.  From a sacred place to a gateway, and from a hub of extractive and destructive processes to the origination point of a global commodity, St Anthony Falls has always been at the heart of Minneapolis.  Now, as a post-industrial assemblage of ruins and re-appropriated properties preserved and protected by legislative design guidelines, its status has returned almost to its former designation: Sacred.

 As an extremely significant complex of natural and cultural works, the identity of the St Anthony Falls Heritage Zone is at once emblematic of the iconic American past while a vibrant, living landscape.  The present design serves a didactic process: It is an entertaining place with an educational mission.  Since the beginning of the industrial age, the Zone has been a dynamic entity of creation, demolition, and re-creation.  As historic preservation now plays a major role in the construction of its identity, how can it remain both an icon of the past and an evolving urban center?  As so many of the parks in Minneapolis are a result of Horace Cleveland’s proclamation that every day its residents can live in the presence of beauty, how does a dilapidated complex of crumbling artifacts and abandoned properties contribute to that philosophy?  How can the myriad stakeholders and institutions directly involved in the preservation of the Heritage Zone work together to create a more cohesive, less fragmented place for the enjoyment of the Mississippi River?

By studying three of these properties, I hope to illustrate the complexities of this preserved landscape and offer some suggestions about the continued development of the St Anthony Falls Heritage Zone.  Mill Ruins Park on the west bank, Water Power Park on the east bank, and the Stone Arch Bridge as the physical connection between the two are each significant places.  As a sum of their parts, these three properties are the best locations for the visitor to truly connect with the cultural and natural qualities of St Anthony Falls.

Curling Water

St Anthony Falls has had many identities through its life but all of them connote its power and presence.  The Dakota paid tribute to Oanktchi, god of waters and evil who lived beneath the falls and spoke of the spirit Ampato Sapa who haunted the island just below the Minirara or ‘curling water’.  Towards the end of the 17th century when Father Hennepin renamed the falls for the patron saint of exploration, he remarked that St Anthony Falls was ‘terrible’ and ‘hath something in it very astonishing.’  For Hennepin and the adventurers of his time, the Falls of St Anthony marked the starting point of what would become Manifest Destiny.  America would hinge its quest for world dominance by manufacturing industrial landscapes such as the one in Minneapolis.  As the power of the falls was used successively for sawing timber, milling grain, and generating electricity, St Anthony Falls has been the at heart of this steady progression.

Two-hundred years after Father Hennepin, Horace Cleveland would say that the Mississippi River is ‘not only the grand natural feature which gives character to [Minneapolis] and constitutes the main spring of its prosperity, but it is also the object of vital interest and the center of attraction to intelligent visitors from every quarter of the globe, who associate such grandeur with its name as no human creation can excite’ (emphasis added).  This natural beauty and unique asset was in direct contrast with the area surrounding St Anthony falls, which he deemed ‘…the most unsightly and irreclaimably squalid quarter of the whole city.’   Cleveland himself provided little input on the design of and within the environment of the Falls and concentrated his efforts elsewhere.  In spite of his pronouncements though, this squalid quarter has been reclaimed.  The St Anthony Falls Heritage Zone is now preserved not so much for its qualities of natural beauty but to memorialize the exciting creations of human beings.  In current interpretations, the river is almost an afterthought to the industrial power that it permitted to flourish on its banks.

The story of the Falls as told today is barely about the ‘curling water’ but instead a promotion of the events and constructions that led to the near demise of those falls.  The current goals of preservation can be critically evaluated as ignoring the natural qualities of this genius locus while making monumental those constructions that sit within it.  The National Park Service, the federal agency among the myriad state and local ones charged with preserving the Heritage Zone, instructs the visitor to ‘walk up and touch’ the limestone; to ‘crumble in their hands the fragile St Peter Sandstone that underlies the limestone and allowed the falls to retreat.’  Meanwhile, guidelines and restrictions are promulgated to ‘preserve the memory of past events’ by maintaining the character of properties bearing historic significance and visitors are urged to protect their ‘community’s heritage.’  This paradox—the preservation of cultural constructs while ignoring the entropy of the natural environment within the Heritage Zone—has always been the philosophy of St Anthony Falls.

When viewing the St Anthony Falls Heritage Zone through the lens of modernity, it is clearly an important cultural landscape.  While the role it plays in the system of Minneapolis green space is obvious, it also tells several stories about time, setting, and people.  From its roots as a Chippewa and Dakota sacred space through its industrial development to its present revitalization and adaptive reuse, the landscape itself still garners national and international attention.


The first real proposal for preservation of the St Anthony Falls Heritage Zone came in 1961 as presented in the Barton-Aschman Associates report St Anthony Falls—Nicollet Island sponsored by the Downtown Council of Minneapolis.  That text states: ‘Without suitable planning, [the historical, cultural, and educational] values could again be submerged under blind, unfeeling concrete and steel that would not reflect or allow one to see or understand their meaning in the lives and heritage of the American people.’  With that acknowledgement of the value of this cultural landscape, efforts to preserve and present the heritage of the falls began to take shape.  Since then, the list of stakeholders has grown immensely demonstrating the importance of this place.  Those groups, agencies, and entities include the City of Minneapolis, Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board, Mississippi Watershed Management Organization, Hennepin County, Metropolitan Council, Minnesota Historical Society, St Anthony Falls Heritage Board, Departments of Transportation, Employment, and Economic Development, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, US Corps of Engineers, National Park Service, Minneapolis Riverfront Corporation, University of Minnesota, National Register of Historic Places, neighborhood associations, private developers, local businesses, and area residents.  Aligning the myriad views and opinions on the current and future development of the Heritage Zone and designing a workable master plan is a daunting task.

According to historian Peter Fowler, a cultural landscape is a ‘concrete and characteristic product of the interplay between a given human community, embodying certain cultural circumstances. It is a heritage of many eras of natural evolution and of many generations of human effort.’  UNESCO’s criteria for World Heritage inscription of cultural landscapes worldwide might be applied to the St Anthony Falls Heritage Zone to better articulate its significance while guiding future attempts to preserve its identity.

First, this landscape is highly demonstrative of the evolution of society through time.  Changes in technology, political organization, and economy can still be read on the landscape.  Human occupation of the area around St Anthony Falls dates back 12,000 years as evidenced by spear points found there.  Intensive settlement occurred between 200 and 500A.D. and several bands of Dakota were utilizing the area by Hennepin’s time in the 17th century.  The first European-American settlements were included in the Fort Snelling military reservation and the earliest mills were constructed to provide timber for that complex.  The period between 1850 and 1890 saw considerable changes to this landscape.  Buildings were constructed and demolished as they became obsolete to be replaced with new facades of industry.  Mills sprung from the earth and reached to the sky.  Canals were dug, railroad tracks were laid, and the falls almost collapsed under the pressures to harness its power.  Minneapolis became the center of the world as its flour production continued to lead the nation until it peaked in 1916. The next forty years saw a steady decline as buildings and mills were razed, railroads and depots disappeared, and the once thriving industrial heart of the city became the squalid wasteland that Cleveland predicted.  The revitalization of the St Anthony Falls Heritage Zone in the last quarter of the twentieth century saw a slow mix of commercial and recreational development that set the stage for the present landscape.  The current backdrop of brightly lit modern buildings of glass and steel that comprise the Minneapolis skyline is neatly juxtaposed with massive concrete mill-houses, cylindrical concrete grain silos, and unearthed archaeological remains.  As a designed landscape, the St Anthony Falls Heritage Zone is an example of Repton’s picturesque: From almost anywhere one stands, the views are like in a landscape painting with a formal and artistic foreground (of historical properties), a middle-ground of natural open space, (the riparian section of parks) and a wild background (of the urban setting).

Second, this setting demonstrates the combined works of nature and man as it centers on the only such drop in the length of the Mississippi River.  The continued technological modifications applied to preserve that drop represent an incredible testament to the perseverance of man—forgetting for a moment that it was the poorly engineered alterations to the falls that necessitated such responses.  With eighty-five properties within the Zone currently on the National Register, the combination of the natural falls and the architecture surrounding them is of great significance.  The Stone Arch Bridge, to be discussed in a later section, is an excellent example of such a combination.   The presence of Hennepin, Boom, and Nicolet Islands contrasted with the disappearance of others such as Spirit Island can be read as a sort of dialogue between man and nature.  Though currently closed to the public, the many caves and raceways dug into the karst formations found within the Zone to divert water are remaining evidence of man’s interactions with this landscape.

Third, many existing features demonstrate adaptations to the constraints and opportunities presented by nature.   Everywhere one looks in the Heritage Zone, man has adapted the environment to facilitate his exploitation of that single natural feature.  The river itself, which began as a barrier, created a unique setting for place making and way-finding.  Its tree-lined banks provided timber resources for the building of military forts and industrial cities while its fertile floodplain soils made this area a rich agricultural heartland.  It attracted, and continues to invite, designers from many professions and originations.  The list of participants in the 2010 Next Generation of Parks Riverfront Design competition included firms from New York, California, and Beijing offering interpretations of the Mississippi’s role in Minneapolis.  Today, the design guidelines for the Heritage Zone are being rewritten to update the preservation and presentation of significant properties and to create a more cohesive intermingling of the historic and the modern.

The fourth criterion, specific techniques of sustainable land use, can be seen in the engineered solutions to the deterioration of the falls themselves.  Because of the karst conditions of limestone capping the soft sandstone, St Anthony Falls has slowly receded from St Paul to its present resting place.  Had the discovery of the falls come much later, it is likely that they would have receded themselves out of existence before ever being named.  The necessary conditions do not exist even a half-mile further up-stream.  It is interesting that the falls were formed by natural erosion, almost obliterated by human-caused erosion, and finally stabilized in perpetuity against erosion by man’s genius and industriousness.

Nature presented the mill owners a unique condition at River Mile 854 that became as much a constraint as it was an opportunity.  The energy generated by the 49-foot drop has driven industry and electricity generation since Steele completed his first dam and mill in 1848 and began to transform the landscape beyond any semblance of its former self.  The force of the water at the falls combined with the momentum of the conversion of forest and prairie to agriculture across the Upper Midwest was a unique opportunity as Manifest Destiny played out.  The present landscape of St Anthony Falls actually obscures the falls themselves.  A maze of concrete ribbons, ‘horseshoe dams’, massive yellow pylons, abandoned bridge supports, spillways, mining races, and the concrete apron are the familiar sights today—not the curling water which gave the Heritage Zone its name.  The first apron was erected over St Anthony Falls in 1866 to halt the erosion of the sandstone caused by the freeze-thaw cycles and constant battering associated with milling.  The present apron, constructed in 1963, is part of the massive complex at St Anthony Falls that includes spillways, ponds, and concrete abutments to maintain the only waterfall on the Mississippi River.


Power is a predominant theme in American history and it can easily be read on the landscape of the St Anthony Falls Heritage Zone.  One can observe blatant physical manifestations as well as less obvious examples. The St Anthony Falls themselves exemplify the power of the natural world.  More than that though, their current appearance demonstrates man’s dominion over natural process and his ability to transform ‘dumb nature’ into something useful.  Power lines overhead convey electricity to millions of people.  Power can be seen in the massive structures used to support milling such as the concrete silos or those used to transport people and goods like the Stone Arch Bridge.  Skyscrapers now loom overhead and dwarf the Crown Roller mill and the Washburn complex which were once the man-made giants sleeping on the banks of the Mississippi.  The monuments of human ingenuity and ability now dwarf the god of water and evil.

Though this area has always had a powerful affect on man, man has had an undeniable impact on the place as well.  In 1838, Major Forsyth came to Minneapolis to complete the process of removing St Anthony Falls from the possession of the Dakota.  This act is an obvious example of the power of the American military and political machine as it steamrolled the rights and traditional entitlements that existed here long before.  Of the falls, Forsyth said they seemed to be ‘determined to make war against anything that dared approach them’ but he may well have been talking about the military strategies of the day.  Thirty-two years later, with the construction of the apron to stabilize them, the Tribune reported that the falls ‘…exhibit now the wonderful genius and power of man and are shorn of their power for destruction to property and capital.’  Today, culture, history, and technology are dominant features on the landscape and natural character is subservient to the built environment.  Any element of naturalness that this urban place allows to survive serves a purpose (recreation or transportation) and is held under strict control. The story that is told though, in landscape and interpretive paraphernalia, is less about nature’s power over man and more about man’s abilities to control and conquer whatever natural force might present itself.

Beyond harnessing the power of nature, St Anthony Falls Heritage Zone demonstrates man’s ability to overcome the specter of time.  In many ways, this cultural landscape is one frozen in time.  The concrete apron over the falls has stopped (as far as one can tell) a geologic phenomenon centuries in the making.  Less overt, the current guidelines are engaged in selectively stopping the clock throughout the Heritage Zone.  The present model of preservation was adopted in the early 1980s and fragmented the place based generally upon recommendations cited from the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation.  These guidelines control not only the restoration of historic properties but also limit the appearance of proposed development.  The selection of materials and styles for masonry, roofs, windows, porches, directional emphases, rhythm of projections, and landscaping must be historically sympathetic.  The guidelines state that ‘Historical landscape features, including street furniture and vegetation, should be identified and preserved. New landscape features… should be compatible with the historical nature of the district.’

Three Sites

While the St Anthony Falls Heritage Zone is comprised of eighty-five historic and significant properties, the study of three places physically connected by the ‘curling water’ itself will illustrate the representation of power in this cultural landscape.

Mill Ruins Park, one of the best known in Minneapolis, is a 3.8-acre parcel designed by URS Corporation.  Opened in 2001, this park describes for visitors the milling history of Minneapolis on the west side of the Mississippi.  Resulting from archaeological investigations, Mill Ruins Park still looks like an excavation in progress.  Sections of buildings, stubs of walls, and rusty metal contraptions protrude from the riverbank and emerge from the swirling water.  These fragmented remnants of the milling industry contrast starkly with the revitalized architectures that tower on the banks above.  As built, this was an entirely utilitarian landscape exemplifying the power of industry.  It underwent many transformations as technologies advanced, fortunes were made, and fires blazed.  Developed piecemeal, the constructions were added and subtracted as the milling industry grew into, and fell from, power.  Trains rumbled overhead, raceways perforated the sandstone, and ice floes caused collapse and ruination.  All this can be read on the now idle landscape and it is easy to forget that this was once a hectic and active place where men lived, worked, and died.  Indeed, if not for the multiple interpretive signs with historic photos, maps, and timelines, the modern visitor would struggle to imagine the power that this place once exhibited.  Instead it is a serene, waterside rest from the bustle of the city.

The current design of Mill Ruins Park gracefully illustrates the passage of time:  The excavated tailrace that allows visitors to interact with the water itself is but a primitive example of the harnessing of water power when compared to the massive Army Corps of Engineers lock and dam that now towers over that site and limits actual views of the Mississippi from the park. The lock and dam, completed in 1963, speaks of modernity as this former destination has now become but a nine-foot channel on the journey to somewhere beyond.  The races were a necessity for the industry of the 1880s through the middle part of the twentieth century.  Now these relics serve a more romantic function as the slow-moving water reflects the surroundings

Visitors descend into the park for their best opportunity to interact with the Mississippi River.  Opposed to the ‘curling water’ in the adjacent St Anthony Falls spillway, water in Mill Ruins Park courses gently through the former mill raceways as in a reflecting pool or garden runnel.  This water emerges from a battered cave in the sandstone and exemplifies Burke’s description of the sublime: dark, uncertain, and confused.  A sort of post-industrial Grotto of Neptune, the water—along with typical urban flotsam—emerges from the underworld.  The visitor seeks to understand the crumbling ruins, to make sense of the chaos.

The park itself, according to one sign there, is the ‘crown jewel of the Minneapolis riverfront’ and ‘symbolizes the return of the city to its roots.’  There are many vantage points to allow the visitor to gaze at the ruins and several opportunities for physical interaction with the place.  Much of Mill Ruins Park is inaccessible because of the delicacy of old structures and the liabilities of rusty metal. Being inside the park near the river means being removed from much of the surroundings.  Because of the steep cliff into which the ruins are situated, the modern city all but disappears from view.  One can peer into the raceways—some still actively spewing water—and imagine the surge of power in the days of the mills.  Interestingly, for a place that is interpreted to reflect power, there are several signs that warn of its fragility and urge park-goers to keep off of steep slopes and historic remnants.

The park encompasses the area adjacent to the Washburn A Mill near the Guthrie Theater, the plank road, the steep-sloped prairie grass hillside, the ruins of the old mills, and the tailrace leading back to the Mississippi.  Mill Ruins Park provides prospect and refuge through the compression of space and the reflection in water of the surroundings.  The steep hill leading down to the river is an adaptation to the grade change once the old mills were removed to make way for the gravel and cement plant that existed there in the 1970s and 1980s. It is now a landscape of prairie plants used to stabilize the slope and provide visual interest In Mill Ruins Park, appropriated rail ties and wood planks slow traffic and separate vehicles from pedestrians. When standing on the plank road one might have no idea that the picturesque ruins of crumbling pylons, twisted iron, and sandstone wall stubs lie below.  Looking beyond the signs that read Caution Do Not Enter Steep Drop Off, one’s focus is drawn instead to the river itself, the Stone Arch Bridge, and the skyline of the East Bank.

Whether traveling by car, bicycle, or on foot, the descent along South Portland Avenue is exciting and rewarding.  The scale of the Stone Arch Bridge, the views of the river, and the disappearing modern city are enhanced by the grade change.  The preserved ruins are seen framed through the stone arches and juxtaposed against the grass hillside.  Twisted metal scaffolding, carved sandstone blocks, and architectural remnants contrast with the modern blued-silver walkway.  One can touch the water here, can smell the caves, and can make physical contact with the ruins.  The skyscrapers looming beyond the park serve as a backdrop for the mind to wander into this place that is not quite the present but not the past either.  As Julie Bargmann states: ‘The industrial traces one finds, considered detritus by some, contain the memories, the story of that place. Keeping them is not about some romantic or nostalgic notion. Instead, their presence along with new layers of interpretation and occupation allows the evolution of the site histories to continue and for a community’s association with that place to stay alive.’ The use of gravel that mimics the sandstone walls, the concrete benches, and the stacked stone that edges the tailrace blends the modern with the historical.  Viewed from the southern end of the park, the reconstructed tailrace follows the same curve as the Stone Arch Bridge behind it and the still water reflects the skyline of modernity to create abrupt and complimentary contrasts.  Throughout are sequences of movement and rest as both the eye and the body can travel in and out of the park and wander from the present into memory.

Directly across the Mississippi on axis with the St Anthony Falls is the 1.4-acre Water Power Park, designed by Barr Engineering.  Opened in 2007 as part of an agreement between Xcel Energy and the City of Minneapolis to perpetuate Xcel’s lease on Hennepin Island, the park offers visitors the closest possible view of the falls.  If there is any landscape in the Heritage Zone that is about power, this park is the place.  The Hennepin Island Hydroelectric Plant generates 12 megawatts of power and is one of the 85 historic properties in the Heritage Zone.  Beyond the generation of electricity and the multitude of interpretive signs about electricity, the visitor is inundated with symbols of power.

Organized spatially by sightlines, Water Power Park is a convenient place to gaze at other places in the Heritage Zone.  Excel’s director of project services is quoted as saying “In a nutshell, we’re going to provide the public with two views; an educational view and a spectacular river view.”  Adjacent to the white water of St Anthony Falls, the spillway that leads to the hydroelectricity plant calmly reflects the arches of the Third Street Bridge and provides a setting for peaceful waterfowl and idyllic St Anthony Main.  Few trees live on this segment of Hennepin Island; a canopy of high-tension power lines and tubular transmission pylons reach to the skies.  The St Anthony Main historic aesthetic is reflected in the park’s lamps, benches, and railings.

Unlike other parks in the St Anthony Falls Heritage Zone, a tall industrial fence controls access.  The park is closed at night and is off-limits from December to April.  The first sign that greets visitors to Water Power Park reads Use At You Own Risk!  A long narrow walk set atop a dam leads the visitor past the electricity transfer station—a confusing network of imposing coils, wires, and scaffolding—to the park interior.   The path is a short circuit that branches at the river to permit the visitor to walk south 100 feet to a dead-end overlook of the Outdoor Stream Lab or north 300 feet to two more overlooks. While the opportunity to view St Anthony Falls so closely might elicit excitement, the presentation of views at Water Power Park leaves much to be desired.  Even though the park itself offers three distinct station points from which to view the intended targets, it exists as more of ‘go-through’ space than a ‘go-to’ place.  I’ve made several visits to the park to observe visitors there and have rarely seen people linger for more than 20 minutes.

Different from most parks where one is invited to rest, recreate, and relax, the visitor to Water Power Park is subject to heightened feelings of anxiety and dis-ease.  A multitude of signs announce Danger, Do Not Enter, Restricted, and No Trespassing. Interpretive signs tell the story of ‘dangerous construction’ and announce that ‘…the scare and anxiety was… upon the public.”  In some ways, Water Power Park feels almost like a prison: Every borrowed view has a fence in the immediate foreground.  Industrial fences, chain-link fences, and ornamental fences crisscross the site, establish perimeters, and segregate spaces.  Stonewalls are protected by fences, the benches are positioned such that the sitter stares directly through fences, and the views of the Heritage Zone are interrupted by fences. While the borrowed views from Water Power Park are spectacular, the park itself is dismal, restrictive, and unimaginative.  The park is clearly about ownership and technology; power is demonstrated over the visitor due to controlled access and enjoyment.  While it offers views of that place named for the patron saint of exploration, there is little opportunity at Water Power Park to either explore or discover.

The design of the park could be more imaginative considering its prime location and history.  There is an over-reliance on interpretive signs creating a struggle for the visitor between studying the complexity of power generation and experiencing the St Anthony Falls Heritage Zone.  Those signs, while meant to clarify the site actually impede the views of the falls themselves.  Two open spaces of grass are wasted spaces.  The currently unused wasteway formerly utilized to calm floodwaters is a scrubby-looking field surrounded by fences.  Instead, it could be a pleasant site for typical park uses such as picnicking and watching the river.   The patch of grass near the spillway beneath the power transmission lines could support trees, a play area for children, or a sculpture garden.  While the prairie plantings around the park might take a while to reach their full potential, they often seem like unmanaged weedy spaces.

My greatest criticism of Water Power Park is that it is highly controlled and programmed.  The visitor has little opportunity to explore or imagine while in the park.  Marot describes a process wherein the visitors of ambivalent landscapes are more able to mine their personal memories to create deeper connections than those where the program is constricted by dominant paradigms.  Compare that to Water Power Park where seating elements are arranged to capitalize on some programmed borrowed view, where trails dead-end at overlooks, and where the visitor is discouraged from exercising choice due to great personal peril.

From Water Power Park or from Mill Ruins Park, a predominant feature on the landscape is the Stone Arch Bridge.  Now a pedestrian promenade offering 360° views of the Heritage Zone the Stone Arch Bridge was constructed for trains in 1883. An iconic symbol of power and identity in Minneapolis, it has been re-created from a major transportation corridor to a destination landscape itself.  While it provides a link between the more naturalized East Bank and the urban West Bank, the Stone Arch Bridge is often used for social gatherings, weddings, and an annual arts festival.   If walking from east to west, the visitor begins from historic St Anthony main in a treed park, observes a natural landscape below, and then slowly crosses the river into the urban environment of Minneapolis.  It is a journey, a transition, and a rite of passage.

James J. Hill’s Stone Arch Bridge—dubbed ‘Hill’s Folly’ in the days of its construction—played a major role in making St Anthony Falls a spectacle and in making Minneapolis a center for trade and industry. Originally planned further upstream, Hill’s engineer advised that to build the bridge above the falls would most likely result in the destruction of those falls.  Said to be stronger than the earth that supports it, the Bridge is a National Engineering Historic Landmark.  Measuring 2,176 feet long and 28 feet wide and constructed from native limestone and granite, the Stone Arch Bridge ties the city to the river.  Beyond the falls and the river, the Stone Arch Bridge is also tethered directly to the system of Parks in Minneapolis.  Prior to its construction, no entity existed to establish parks in the city.  In 1883, a group of interested citizens called the Board of Trade saw an opportunity in Hill’s investment.  The Board of Trade established the Park Board and convinced the state legislature to pass an act funding public parks. Hill’s Folly made people realize that Minneapolis was becoming a destination and would benefit from a concerted effort to provide infrastructure and recreation.  This occurred in the same year that Horace Cleveland described the sense of place along the river in Minneapolis.

The Bridge effectively ties Minneapolis to the larger world.  Constructed using draft animals and manpower, it is as similar to ancient Egyptian tombs as it can be without being of pyramidal shape.  While much of the stone was quarried in and near the Twin Cities, a substantial portion was imported from hundreds of miles away.  The construction of the bridge was carried out by crews of laborers, many of whom were immigrants from around the globe.  Two of three casualties during construction were immigrants.  Hundreds of thousands of passengers on trains – eighty a day at the railroad’s peak—arrived from all major transit centers in the US and were carried over the Stone Arch Bridge.

The bridge maintains the connection to its former identity by including recessed tracks in the walkway.  The lamps and railings are in keeping with the historical theme.  As a gathering space, one might expect to see benches but there aren’t any.  This doesn’t seem like an oversight though.  It remains the conduit that it always was and people sit on the stone abutments.  Visitors can stroll along the bridge, seek shade beneath it, or view it as a backdrop to the parks and natural spaces around it.  The bridge attracts people from afar and is a touchstone for the community.  The arches were lit in 2004 thus making the Bridge an icon even at night and modernizing its appearance.

While offering spectacular views of the St Anthony Falls, the historic properties, and the modern skyline, the Bridge is more than a vantage point and greater than a conduit.  Redesigned by Roger Martin from a train bridge to one for pedestrians and bicyclists, it serves as a threshold and it provides a place for transformation.  Imagine how the bridge vibrated with the powerful trains spewing smoke over the polluted industrial setting.  Now it is a peaceful stroll where one can contemplate, meet friends, and escape from the bustle of the city.  From the west end one can look down and see the remnants of Mill Ruins Park or watch barges emerge from the lock and dam.  From the east end, visitors can see the natural landscape of Hennepin Island with its gentle spillway and meandering waters.  From other points, the Bridge provides views of the modern skyline, the St Anthony Falls themselves, and of iconic bridges, islands, and properties.  The Bridge is also a place where one can feel the spray from the falls, can sense the scale of the riverfront, and can linger for a moment to imagine the history and the future of Minneapolis.  Completely a constructed landscape, the Stone Arch Bridge offers visitors the chance to fly over the river and relate to the ‘curling water’ below.


Across the globe, at Duisburg-Nord in Germany, Peter Latz has designed an interactive solution to historical interpretation of an industrial landscape.  Using what he calls a structuralist approach, Latz sees the landscape as ‘composed of a wealth of selectable information layers covering one another up and presenting themselves as coincidental images.’ This approach might function well at St Anthony Falls as the design guidelines are updated.  Latz is dealing with something completely separate from the Minneapolis landscape because his Landshaftspark is, unlike St Anthony Falls Heritage Zone, one of complete abandonment.  Still, his approach is focused on memory and the re-use of industrial properties much like what has occurred in Minneapolis.  As Latz reused old gas tanks for scuba divers and sewage canals for phytoremediation channels, warehouses in the Heritage Zone have become condominiums and sluiceways are now reflecting pools.  Latz could have been speaking of the Heritage Zone when he reflected on his design solution at Landshaftspark.  He said ‘The park is not a park in the common sense, not easy to survey, not clearly arranged, not recognizable as a whole. According to its situation amidst chaotic agglomerations and infrastructure lines, it appears as a torn figure with numerous different aspects.’

Since 1980, the guidelines of preservation and development for St Anthony Falls Heritage Zone have been designed to perform four major functions: To preserve the memory of the past; to encourage sympathetic new development; to enable access to the river; and to foster a pedestrian-friendly environment.  Still, visitors sense that the Heritage Zone is disconnected and chaotic.  That fact shouldn’t be surprising considering the history of development in the Heritage Zone.  Jane Jacobs describes the modern city as a place where individuals survive in a place characterized by layered complexity and chaos.

Currently, a new process is underway to update the guidelines to establish a more holistic approach.  According to the City’s website, the new rules will balance ‘…preservation, restoration, and rehabilitation with the opportunity that comes from integrating new infrastructure, new uses, higher densities, new buildings, and new landscapes.’ At a community meeting held at City Hall on April 25, 2011 landscape architect Bob Close spoke of the highly subjective context expressed in the form and character of properties within the Heritage Zone and said that the extreme diversity found there makes it difficult to define any common context.  This was fully elaborated on when two diametrically opposed viewpoints were expressed during the meeting.  One man who identified himself as a representative from the Dakota Nation said that the current guidelines do not acknowledge the Native American perspective and that the Heritage Zone should include and identify pre-contact sites.  Another individual- who expressed no affiliation with any formal group- remarked that the cultural landscape of St Anthony Falls has nothing to do with nature and that it should celebrate the industrialism, transportation, and commerce that evolved into the modern Minneapolis.

History plays a major part in drawing people to the Heritage Zone.  Visitors are seeking an old world ambiance, a rough-around-the-edges authentic experience.  The complexity of St Anthony Falls is in its presentation: Is history a backdrop for the modern American city? Or do the skyscrapers of glass and steel create the necessary framework by which modernity understands its histories?

Presenting and re-presenting a place with such a diverse history requires a deep appreciation of the context and a keen sense of design.   St Anthony Falls Heritage Zone is as much about designing time as it is space.  The landscape is one of experiential sequences rather than of single points along a continuum.  That spectrum relies on the interpretation and preservation of history but must be tempered with the understanding that history includes events as recent as yesterday.  The role of the landscape architect is to combine the subjective and the objective through comprehensive studies and artistic interpretations.  If the themes of St Anthony Falls include power, the passage of time, and preservation of the environment, the landscape architect must masterly balance the past, the present, and the future.


About matthewtraucht

Graduate school student at the University of Minnesota's College of Design pursuing a Master's of Landscape Architecture, class of 2013.
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