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The Zero Becomes a Plus

Steven Holl Architects, Ellerbe Becket

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Xululabs, Xululabs

Project Name

The Zero Becomes a Plus

Project Status



100,000 sq. feet

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Project Description

Many P/A Award-winning projects get built, although not always as originally designed. The addition to the School of Architecture at the University of Minnesota, designed by Steven Holl Architects and Ellerbe Becket, won an award in 1990 and received praise for its “discipline … rigor … (and) spark of spontaneity,” as juror Mack Scogin put it. The proposed 90,000-square-foot structure added an auditorium, library, offices, and studios to the existing 100,000-square-foot building, with four new towers containing jury rooms and studios that terminated axes on the campus, capturing different light conditions during the day and glowing like lanterns at night. The plan, made up of two arcs around a central garden, contrasted with the square plan and interior courtyard of the original.

It took almost a decade to get funded, however, and the same amount of money 10 years later afforded an addition roughly half its original size. After realizing that he could not simply shrink the previous design, Steven Holl started over, designing a cruciform addition with many of the same features as the previous scheme: exterior gardens, metal cladding, and tower-like end walls that glow at night. At the same time, two aspects of the original that disturbed Scogin during the jury deliberations—the curved auditorium and library—became more straightforward in the final design. When speaking about the development of the project, Holl joked at how “the zero became a plus”—referring to the shift from two arcs to a cruciform plan—but his design process shows how much architecture remains an evolutionary process, never over until it’s over.

1990 P/A Awards Jury
William Fain
Helmut Jahn
Min Kantrowitz
Fred Koetter
Peter Rose
Mack Scogin
Stephen Selkowitz
Daniel Solomon
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