How the BLEND Awards influence new construction and remodeling projects in Minneapolis neighborhoods
Just over 10 years ago, Fulton and other Southwest Minneapolis neighborhoods were experiencing a significant number of home teardown and remodeling projects. To some observers, a number of projects were too large for their surroundings, or they clashed with the look and feel of the area.
In 2007, local architect Phil Rader and Ellen Berner, then a member of the Fulton Neighborhood Association Zoning Committee, joined forces to found the BLEND Awards as a way to tackle the problem. An acronym for Buildings and Landscapes Enhancing the Neighborhood through Design, the awards encourage and recognize builders, architects and homeowners who blend newly remodeled or constructed homes and businesses into the fabric of their neighborhoods.
“Many of the builds at the time were frankly too large or detracted from the charm of the neighborhood,” explained BLEND’s Jeremy Abbs, who joined the volunteer-run organization in 2012. “BLEND is a way to influence the quality of the new builds and remodels so that they fit into the established neighborhood.”
Over the course of the past decade, the awards has grown from a small Fulton neighborhood award into a citywide series of awards, recognizing as many as 16 projects a year.
Every year, the BLEND Board of Directors selects an independent jury of industry professionals to choose projects for recognition. Each BLEND Award winner is selected with regard to the size, scope, taste and attention to detail that were prioritized by the project owners in relation to the neighborhood. No project is too big or too small to qualify, whether it’s an addition, new construction, new or redone outbuilding, landscaping or an exterior facelift.
Dan Nepp, the principle at TEA2 Architects in Minneapolis, is both an architect and homeowner of BLEND-recognized projects. Nepp and his firm are multi-year BLEND Award winners, including the 2016 BLEND Best in Show Award for its remodel of a Kenwood shingle-style cottage, and he also won an award for the remodel and addition built onto his own 1911-era home.
Working with his team at TEA2, Nepp removed “a bad 1980s addition” on the back of his arts-and-crafts cottage, replacing it with a more seamless version. They also expanded a poorly insulated covered porch into a family room while leaving the sloping roof of the one-and-three-quarter-story house intact. In the process, they took care to work around a large oak tree in the backyard and added higher-set windows to provide sunlight while maintaining privacy.
“We asked ourselves, What’s appropriate for the house and the lot and our neighbors?” said Nepp. “We wanted to make sure we were as low profile as we could be.”
Eligible projects for this year’s awards, which will be held Sept. 25 at Fulton Brewery and Taproom, include new build and remodels, renovations or additions to existing buildings and landscape projects that have been completed within the past five years. There are two primary categories — Remodel/Addition and New Construction — and applicants can specify if the project is landscaping, an outbuilding or ancillary structure and/or an update to the building’s exterior or façade.
The BLEND board is continually looking for new ways to encourage submissions and offer recognition. In the past couple years, they added a special designation for small projects (under $150,000 total cost) and a Best in Show award, and this year they’ve created lawn signs to place in winners’ yards to help spread awareness.
In 2012, the EcoBLEND Award was introduced to offer special recognition for projects that emphasized sustainable energy and eco-friendly design by long-standing. The idea came from BLEND Board Member Keiko Veasey and Felicity Britton of Linden Hills Power & Light, a neighborhood-based organization working to reduce the global carbon footprint.
EcoBLEND judges evaluate projects for resource efficiency, water conservation, indoor environmental quality and energy efficiency. The EcoBLEND Badge, which has a lower threshold than the original award, was added in 2015 to offer additional recognition to environmentally friendly projects.
Incorporating sustainability and “blending” home construction projects aren’t without their challenges. There can be an upfront cost associated with good design, eco-friendly technology and sustainable materials.
“I think that viewing good design and sustainability as difficult is a bit of a misconception,” said BLEND Board Member Brad Schulz. “In fact, designing and building projects to blend and for sustainability is easier than it ever has been. (As) the demand for sustainable, well-designed buildings has increased, the availability of solutions is increasing and costs are falling.”
Ultimately, BLEND is about enhancing the character of neighborhoods and rewarding those who make long-term investments in both good design and sustainability. And it’s validating for firms such as TEA2 that pride themselves on creating designs that are positive for their neighborhoods.
“These projects aren’t done in isolation,” Nepps said. “Architecture is a civic exercise. Your client is primary, but you’re trying to do what’s appropriate and right for all.”