Architecture without urban form: meh.

What’s the best part of Christmas eve? My childhood self leads me to believe it’s seeing all the presents under the tree. The idea that so many gifts have been lavished on us gets us all giddy. Is that one for me? For my sibling? Parents? Who’s it from? What’s inside? WHY CAN’T I OPEN IT?! All of these thoughts whizzing through your eggnog-drenched synapses make the Christmas tree itself look that much more glorious.

You might be asking “Hey, so… where is this going?” and that would be a rightful inquisition my friend.

Cities, more specifically, buildings, are the same way. They can be beautiful by themselves, but they’re far more beautiful with other buildings to help it out.

What’s the most beautiful building in Mankato? Do you know? Does that question have an answer? No, not really. I can tell you it’s not the Marigold and that’s about it.

You might say the courthouse or the Brett’s building or one of our many churches.

For me, all of those would be correct answers, but I’m going to narrow the criteria. Recently built.

If we’re going with that, for me, hands down it is the United Prairie Bank Building.

You may be wondering where that is and what it looks like.

Here’s what it looks like:

UP Mankato

Here’s where it’s located:

UP-bank

Look at that building, seriously, it’s easily the best piece of modern construction in the city (outside of Jim and Sam’s Octagon house.)

Here’s the problem though, very few people get to appreciate it because it’s way on the edge of town.

When you put a building in with no urban form, it does very little for anyone, aesthetically speaking.

Imagine if that building were downtown, say where that parking lot is on the corner of second and main; here:

Screen Shot 2015-05-04 at 3.30.46 PM

That would make a statement.

In our history of city building, masons and architects would intentionally leave a side of their buildings blank or under-decorated because they knew that someone would probably build something right next to theirs. Look at some of the buildings in town, you’ll see it.

Could you do this now? Maybe in the right spot with the right code or variance therefrom, but setbacks have largely eliminated this opportunity.

But why does it matter? Well you can see it. This building is nice, but without the surroundings it’s just kind of… meh.  It’s the tree without the presents.

That building is awesome, but why they chose to build it way the heck out there is beyond me. It could have been a heralded asset to our downtown, now very few get to see it.

It’s the broken window theory, just in reverse. The idea that if a window breaks on a house and no one fixes it, it will just invite more people to do the same and the whole neighborhood will go to crap.

But if we flip it, if we build good buildings around our other buildings, their values will rise.
More than anything though, building good buildings in the right spots, shows that we value the society we have built thus far.

When we tore all that down, we insulted our ancestors and made ourselves look shallow and arrogant. We turned our back on the society we had built and the potential of a society still to be built.

On a related note, today is “Urban Renewal Remembrance day” as it is Jane Jacob’s birthday. My friend and fellow Urbanist Edward Erfurt (restless Urbanist) and I came up with the idea after a quote from Chuck Marohn at CNU (I’ll have more on that later). In memoriam, pop on over to my flickr page (right hand side) and check out the Flickr link. It’s chalked full of old pictures of Mankato. A true testament to our hubris.

About Matthias Leyrer

Matthias Leyrer is a resident of Mankato looking to restore a fraction of its old glory. He writes about the economic, aesthetic, practical and financial issues facing the city of Mankato going forward.