Restoring Minnesota’s ‘City Beautiful’

If Monday’s post on A+A looked at et al. Consortium’s inspired efforts to find new uses for discarded Christmas trees, and Tuesday’s pondered artist Ludvic’s reconfiguring of scrapped steel into sculptural works of surreal whimsy, today looking at one Minnesota design-build firm striving sentively to restore  homes built from the 1890s to the 1940s.

It too, works hard at re-imagining what we’ve left behind as the nation moves forward.

“We work in neighborhoods that are already built,” said Michael Anschel, principal in Minneapolis-based Otogawa-Anschel Design-Build.  “We have to be respectful of them.  We don’t do a lot of new homes, just remodeling and additions to existing homes from that period.”

His firm brings to the table a knowledge base about the building types –  of the balloon frame, the materials and the finish work that’s become a lost art in craftsmanship.  “What sets us apart is the ability to work within that environment and respect it – to make an addition that could be part of the original structure,” he said.  “The architecture of that period was sensitive to the human scale, and what’s left behind is a kind of cheat sheet – a language to understanding it.”

The result is designs that come not from CAD or Sketchup software, but from a relaxed and loose approach to what already exists.  “We like to have fun with form and tile and color,” he said.  “What we do is more like the craftsmen from the turn of the 20th century – it’s a marriage between the house that exists there, the client who lives there and the house of that earlier time.”

He finds his inspiration in the chaos, asymmetry and colorful aspects of nature.  That might be interpreted in the way the color of tiles push up to the vista revealed in a window, the way the color of tile changes every time a wall turns, or how a permanent shadow forms. 

“It’s not all rigid, and it doesn’t all match up,” he said.  “Nature’s fascinating because it keeps our brain excited and happy.  Our work is about a conversation between the space we occupy and the nature around us.”

If so, that sounds a lot like those who designed and built the homes he’s restoring.

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For more on Michael Anschel, go to

Photos by Andrea Rugg: