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Weesner Family Amphitheater Receives AIA Minnesota 25 Year Award

MINNEAPOLIS, MN — The Minnesota Zoological Gardens-Weesner Family Amphitheater, located in Apple Valley, Minnesota, and designed by HGA, is the 2022 recipient of the 25 Year Award.

The project team included Gary Reetz, FAIA, Principal-in-Charge/Project Manager; Bill Blanski, FAIA, Project Designer; and Jim Butler, AIA, all from HGA. Landscape architects included Tom Oslund, FASLA and Tadd Kreun, FASLA, previously at HGA, and project consultants included Arkay Construction and Kvernstoen, Kehl and Associates.

When HGA was commissioned to program and design the Weesner Family Amphitheater in 1989, the Minnesota Zoological Garden’s mission statement was “to connect people, animals, and the natural world to save wildlife.” This notion of zoos serving our world as research and educational tools for the betterment of the planet was a continuation of the original design and intentions of the Minnesota Zoo altogether from its inception in 1978.

Today, the zoo’s mission is the same, anchoring their work with even more urgency as they contribute to the global environmental initiatives related to wildlife. The design of the amphitheater was strategically set to be a contributing participant in this endeavor and thereby excels in the first of the AIA’s Framework for Design Excellence criteria, “Design for Integration”. Its design has elevated this small project to deliver both beauty and function.

The design process included benchmarking national models of zoo outdoor amphitheaters and significant analysis of multiple site opportunities at the Minnesota Zoo. The selected site adjacent to the zoo’s largest lake afforded the opportunity to create a beatific setting for the amphitheater. Furthermore, in partnering with the DNR and local Dakota County authorities, HGA was successful in improving the macro stormwater management approach to this district of the Zoological Garden. The outcome was a site selected at the center of the zoo that still provided the environmental seclusion appropriate to the exhibit.

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This partnership with the DNR and the resulting stormwater improvements to the region are demonstrative of the fourth of the AIA’s Framework for Design Excellence criteria, “Design for Water”, in that the design improves the quality of water as a precious resource.

Established by the American Institute of Architects Minnesota in 1981, the 25 Year Award annually recognizes one exemplary architectural project that stands the test of time. The award recognizes completed building projects — either individual buildings or groups of buildings — completed at least 25 but not more than 50 years ago, designed by firms with architects registered and practicing professionally in Minnesota.

The 2022 AIA Minnesota 25 Year Award jury included Michelle Mongeon Allen, FAIA; Trevor Bullen, AIA, NOMA; Ligeia Cholensky, Allied Member of AIA Minnesota; Nathan Steuerwald, AIA; and Ellie Ziaie, Assoc. AIA.

The jurors noted that the amphitheater is incredibly adaptable and a strong example of biophilic design, blending into the surrounding landscape and supporting the zoo’s overall ecological mission. It is heavily used by the public, giving them an opportunity to engage personally with a timeless work of architecture. Jurors also noted its simplicity and functionality, as well as the ways it exemplifies the Framework for Design Excellence.

The HGA team will receive their award at the AIA Minnesota Awards Celebration on December 2, 2022.

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