Cuningham Group, in partnership with Mortenson Construction, designed a new 70,000-square foot addition and 65,400-square-foot remodel of Minnehaha Academy’s Upper School after a gas explosion destroyed the historic heart of the campus in August 2017. Building on prior master planning work done for the school, Cuningham Group pushed the limits of the typical design process, delivering a progressive take on the school’s original, 105-year-old buildings in just under 20 months.
The three-story addition is located on the east side of the campus where it embraces the Mississippi River Valley and the historic West River Parkway. Connecting the two remaining buildings, this new heart of the school features an interior landscaped courtyard, student commons, a prayer chapel, library, fireside lounge, a variety of learning spaces, and deep, visible connections to the school’s rich history.
Centered in Community
The new Upper Campus is physically centered around a reimagined student commons area, in the middle of which is a memorial to the two faculty members who lost their lives in the explosion. The memorial, a pair of interior olive trees, symbolizes the way Minnehaha’s community came together to grieve and heal following the blast. The trees are placed under an angular skylight with beams signed by both current students and alumni — further emphasizing that this space is the literal and emotional core of the school.
Minnehaha Academy is one of Minnesota’s oldest private school. As such, many elements of the school’s rich history are incorporated into the remodel:
Simple and Honest
The school’s material selection is simple and honest, limited to a primary palette of concrete, wood, and daylight. The finish palette adds pops of color only where appropriate for definition and wayfinding, while softer carpeting, fabric-wrapped panels, and upholstered furniture work to soften the line between the two.
This emphasis on an honest material palette extends to the building’s exterior, which is clad with a hand-made brick shingle product that respects the character and scale of the existing campus and surrounding community.