Gustafson, VJAA and Interboro

Designer Q+A: GGN, VJAA and Interboro

June 24, 2013 by Elizabeth Hixson

This last of three posts in our Water Works finalist Designer Q+A series features a collaboration of three firms spanning the country, from Seattle to Minneapolis and New York City. Kathryn Gustafson of Gustafson Guthrie Nichol, Vincent James and Jennifer Yoos of VJAA, and Georgeen Theodore of Interboro responded jointly on behalf of the team.

Water Works has many layers including history and archaeology, significance to First Nations, geology, the river, and the falls. What fascinates you about Water Works?


What fascinates us about the Water Works and Saint Anthony Falls site is its resilience. We see this in the story of the river’s shifting geology as the dramatic falls cut its way upstream to its current manmade stasis. We see resilience in the indelible presence of Spirit Island long after its disappearance in the emerging industrial landscape. And more than a century after the Washburn A-Mill explosion, we see resilience in the transformation of a post-industrial ruin into a social and cultural center for the City of Minneapolis.

How can we future-proof our parks? What are the big issues facing urban parks in this century?
It’s clear that parks are again a priority for many cities. Ambitious, inventive, and often stunning new parks from New York to Chicago to Seattle evidence an urban park renaissance, which hasn’t been seen in over 100 years.

In the face of this renaissance, it’s essential that we design parks that reflect the increasing diversity of the cities they are built for. When, over 150 years ago, Fredrick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux designed Central Park, they couldn’t have imagined the diversity of publics that enjoy the park today, or the incredible range of recreational uses that these publics engage in.

Today, our challenge is to design open, inclusive parks that appeal to a wide variety of publics and where everyone feels welcome. With Water Works, Minneapolis has the opportunity to lead the way.

What is your favorite river or waterfront city, and what do you like about it?


Our team hails from three great and distinctive water-fronting cities: Minneapolis, New York, and Seattle. Cities on rivers, bays, and harbors have always been the great gateways between cultures, places of entry and trade in the exchange of goods, traditions, and ideas. Bringing people together, the water’s edge opens the city up to a larger world and our place within that world. 
We love cities on the water because of their sense of openness and permanence. Yet large bodies of water also have an irresistible quality of impermanence. The rivers and bays of the city are always in motion – tidal, storm filled, calm, or rolling. The sight of a dark summer storm coming in across the river or the brilliance of whitecaps on the bay reminds us that our cities inhabit only borrowed land. The water’s edge is a place of transition where the border between land and water overlap, shift and change places. This sense of change, of our history, of loss and renewal keeps us returning to the shoreline seeking stability in the flowing of the water.

What got you interested in design and what keeps you fascinated?

Our interest in design centers on the movement of the human body through the landscape. By landscape, we mean the designed world we inhabit out-of-doors—from furniture to gardens, plazas, streets, parks, and cities. As designers, we are fascinated by design at the intersection of the cultural and the natural, the manufactured and the evolved. We feel a responsibility as designers to contribute to creating and maintaining a healthy and rich environment for living in our cities and in nature.

Featured Image (from left): Kathryn Gustafson, Gustafson Guthrie Nichol; Vincent James and Jennifer Yoos, VJAA; Interboro, featuring Tobias Armborst, Daniel D’Oca, and Georgeen Theodore

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Water Works is Supported By:
St. Anthony Falls Heritage Board | Jay & Rose Phillips Family Foundation
Pentair Foundation | Many Generous Donors

Additional Funding Provided By:
McKnight Foundation | George Family Foundation| Curtis L. Carlson Foundation

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