BEST RENOVATION (2001)
Amid the patchwork of 19th-century flour mills and 20th-century kitsch (and vast expanses of parking lot) that forms its downtown-Minneapolis neighborhood, the Open Book literary center manages to fit right in, in the best possible way. Rather than snub the surroundings, architect Garth Rockcastle took an archaeological approach to the renovation of the center's three turn-of-the-century commercial buildings and created a gritty palimpsest of past and present usage. Vestiges of the buildings' former incarnations are everywhere: little stairways that now lead nowhere, fire-separation doors, faded signs. Like a good book, the interior reveals itself on multiple levels--some of them slyly contradictory. Public spaces create an open flow between central tenants the Loft Literary Center, the Minnesota Center for Book Arts, and Milkweed Editions, while strategically placed internal windows give a slightly voyeuristic sensation of peeking in on offices, classrooms, even exhibition spaces. The red clapboard mezzanine resembles a cozy cabin in the woods, while plywood panels and scarred wooden floors suggest muscular artmaking in workmanlike surroundings. The boldest stroke is a grandiloquent staircase that rises from the lobby in operatic splendor. Translucent polymer panels spiraling up like pages unfurling reveal more subtle meanings as you climb the stairs, viscerally connected to the overlapping panels as they slide vertiginously past one another. It's organic, but also queasily evocative of the ambiguity of language, the multiplicity of ideas in search of form that permeates this vibrant restoration.