The space is located on the 10th floor penthouse level of
a loft conversion of an abandoned warehouse built in 1914,
which is a national historic landmark. The space balances
living materials and man-made materials within a precinct
bounded by walls on three sides. On the fourth side are an
expansive view of the Mississippi River and a postcard view
of downtown Minneapolis.
Inspired by the owner’s love of minimalism and the
complexity intrinsic to the works of Robert Ryman that grace
the client’s interior walls, the landscape architect
determined that the exterior rooms must contain the same sense
of nuance and purity. As one examines a painting by Ryman,
the initial mental reflex may be to question how anything
so plain can contain anything approaching complexity. But
as the examination continues the light shifts, the point of
view is modified. It is now that the layers of shadow, differing
textures, and subtle movement begin to become apparent to
the viewer. In an environment where these shifts occur from
day to night, from season to season, and from indoors to outdoors
the opportunities for endless complexity are expanded exponentially.
The design challenge—creating a series of outdoor
rooms that function seamlessly with the interior environment.
The result: a design that features a rooftop lawn/badminton court,
a Corten steel water wall and floating patio, planters,
and a meditation pavilion all contained within a 3100 square-foot
space. This striking garden terrace synthesizes the architecture
and the landscape within a shared modernist vocabulary.
The loft architecture and landscape sustain a symbiotic relationship
where each is enriched by the other, managing light and form
outside of the traditional garden-residence paradigm.
This rich interior-exterior relationship is accomplished with
an acute dedication to the subtle detail found in the Japanese
garden tradition. The landscape architect worked intimately
with the architect from the outset of the project to ensure
the interior-exterior relationship remained seamless. Central
to the tenets of Japanese garden design is the delicate shifting
of light and shadow, and the intentional framing of views.
The landscape architect’s attention to how light and
shadow accentuate differences in the space creates a landscape
that subtly shifts from morning to night, day to day, and
season to season. The Japanese influence can also be seen
in the deliberate framing of interior to exterior views, as
well as the placement of objects within those views. This
project speaks to a subtle combination of aesthetics and ecological
design. By creating a pristine lawn and planting modules that
occupy 65% of the roof area, the landscape architect provided
an unexpected delight within the urban condition.
There was not a lack of challenges. The height of the building
required most of the components of the design to be craned
up 10 stories. The design elements needed to withstand the
extreme weather conditions of a Minneapolis rooftop year-round.
All of the inner mechanical and electrical components of the
design had to be incorporated into the existing roof structure.
The framework of the space begs for simple hardscape materials
that reflect its industrial vernacular: stone, concrete, steel.
As the design called for the patio, lawn, walkway, and other
elements to read as floating planes above the roof deck, construction
was needed to support this illusion. Mounting structures and
electrical and water utility chases were detailed to remain
The rooftop garden is an unexpected delight on two
levels, the first level being aesthetic. To add a sense
of warmth to the space, yet retain the industrial feel, the landscape
architect chose to utilize Corten steel to create a floating
wall plane that would incorporate an Ikebana shelf and a
water feature. Three panels of 5/8” Corten plate were prefabricated
off site and individually craned into place. Each panel
was slipped between I-beams, to which they would eventually be
attached, and then turned and carefully fitted into place.
The synthesis of the architecture and the landscape creates
a quiet space of respite up and away from the city streets.
The modernist vocabulary provides a refreshing contrast to
the notable riverfront structure, allowing the historic fabric
of the city to be reinterpreted and refreshed for the 21st
This space is designed to frame the natural and man-made beauty
that surrounds it. The roof plane is covered in a deep grey
Dresser Trap rock, providing the canvas on which the three-dimensional
forms of planters, meditation pavilions and the lawn are incorporated.
Hovering backlit art pieces by Lynn Geesaman have been placed
on the wall directly across from the kitchen pavilion, offering
a focal point during both the day and evening hours.
These modular forms frame the outdoor space. The planters
frame the meditation pavilion and the walkway, the terrace
frames the lawn, the plantings help to frame the approaches
to the lawn space; they also offer an opportunity for fresh
flowers and herbs to be plucked without fuss.
The second level is that of ecological design. Rainwater
is collected and stored for the irrigation of the lawn. The
925-square-foot lawn panel needed not only to seem to float
above the roof deck; it also needed to include a hidden irrigation
system to allow the lawn to stay green in the extreme rooftop
environment. To achieve this, the lawn panel was constructed
as a self-irrigating system. Water is introduced to subsurface
reservoirs, which hold water and distribute it evenly across
the square footage of the lawn. Excess rainwater can also
be retained in the same reservoirs, helping to decrease stormwater
runoff. Water can then be wicked up through the planting medium
to the turf, which extracts moisture as needed.
This penthouse roof garden is an excellent example of creating
a usable space for intimate or large gatherings that not only
shows the finest attention to aesthetic detail, but also embraces
the need for thoughtful ecological design in stormwater collection