MacPhail Center for Music,
designed by Jim Dayton, nears completion
For about 75 years, the MacPhail Center for Music has occupied a four-story, brick building in downtown Minneapolis. The school doesn’t have much in the way of performance space. It also lacks soundproof practice rooms and humidity control for sensitive instruments.
"You can walk around the old building at MacPhail and you’re not exactly sure what happens here," said David O’Fallon, MacPhail’s president. "It does look a little bit like an old department store fallen on hard times."
That was intentional. MacPhail opened in 1907, founded by a Minneapolis Symphony concertmaster. But owners of the building housing McPhail thought the school might not live up to its name. So they constructed a building that looks like a store.
"It has some odd things built in here," O'Fallon said. "There is no really good performing space. There is an auditorium on the fourth floor, which is pretty small. Low ceilings, not such good acoustics."
Today, about 7,000 students take classes at MacPhail. There are courses on Irish fiddle, jazz, singing, composition and rock guitar.
O’Fallon became president five years ago. By that time, MacPhail’s board of directors had already decided to construct a new building. It had even hired a Chicago-based architect to draw up plans. But that design wasn’t generating much enthusiasm. So one board member suggested that O’Fallon meet Jim Dayton, a Minneapolis architect.
"I think architecture should be fun," Dayton said. "It think it should be sculptural and organic and dynamic."
The pair hit it off immediately.
"I called him the next day," O'Fallon said. "You know, Jim, I’d really like to make you the guy we work with in the future. Would work on speculation for a while? He said, Oh, I’m already doing sketches. I said, Right, this is the right guy."
Jim Dayton is the great-great grandson of George Draper Dayton. That Dayton founded the successful Minneapolis department store chain. But Jim Dayton had no desire to work in retail. Instead, Dayton majored in architecture at Yale. He later earned a master’s degree in architecture at the University of Virginia. Then he was forced to choose between two job offers: One from Frank Gehry, the other from Thomas Mayne.
Both Gehry and Mayne are architecture superstars based in Santa Monica,
California. Dayton chose to work with Gehry because he loved the designer’s unusual use of materials and shapes.
"Design is a language," Dayton said. "Frank [Gehry] might be the poet laureate of his particular Santa Monica school language. I’m just trying to learn some of the syntax and vocabulary. I’m trying to create my own verses out of the same kind of language. But it’s not … it wouldn’t be good to copy. It’s a very fine line."
Before MacPhail, Dayton’s firm designed the Minnetonka Center for the Arts ...
... and two condo projects: the Bookman Lofts ...
and Bookman Stacks in Minneapolis.
For MacPhail, Dayton’s approach was to open the music school up to its surroundings. This is a big change from its current department-store-like building.
The new building is 55,000 square-feet and will cost $13.5 million. It includes a six-story tower clad in silvery zinc. The tower contains 57 soundproof studios and office space.
The tower’s edges curve gently so they’re not quite perpendicular to the ground.
"I think a lot of people don’t quite get it," Dayton said. "We kind of joke a lot about it in the office. Initially when people see our first passes at models, very often they say, 'The walls aren’t going to be tipped like that, are they?'"
In front of the tower is a squat chocolate-colored box. The box is covered with Cor-Ten steel. It’s a material favored by many sculptors. It turns a rich, velvety brown as it ages. Inside the box is a large performance space. A giant picture window gives musicians a chance to share their talents with the city.
"This building is exciting because it’s open," O'Fallon said. "It reveals to the world. Something really interesting is going on here."
Vincent James is one of the city’s best-known architects. He’s been watching the construction of the MacPhail Center for Music. "Minnesotans are sometimes a little conservative about materials and form and their aspirations for architecture," James said. "And Jim’s building is bold and confident."
MacPhail Center for Music is scheduled to open in January 2008.
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(Photo of current MacPhail Center for Music by Todd Melby. Photo of Minnetonka Center for Arts and models of MacPhail courtesy of James Dayton Design. All other photos by Scott Theisen.)
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