Hometown Tourist

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June 27, 2005 // UPDATED 1:55 pm - April 26, 2007
By: Linda Koutsky
Linda Koutsky

Miller Meester Building, 17 Washington Ave. N

Just as a visual artist decides between paint, paper, wood, steel or ceramics, architects have a wide variety of choices in materials. Late-19th-century office buildings were constructed with stone or brick walls and heavy timber posts and beams. Later, internal steel frameworks allowed for glass "curtain walls" so buildings could grow even higher. By the mid-20th century, poured concrete construction revolutionized the way buildings went up and also influenced architectural design. Today, with computer-aided-design and structural simulations, it seems that nearly anything imagined can be built.

Knutson Construction has been in business since 1911 and is one of the country's longest continuously operating construction firms. Currently, their offices are in St. Louis Park, but in 1969, their corporate headquarters were unveiled at the corner of Washington & 1st avenues north. The building - now home to Miller Meester Public Relations - was assembled in just 120 days with 299 panels of precast concrete. Most precast concrete buildings at the time had panels that were placed within a steel frame. Here, steel plates were cast right into the panels, then they were welded together on-site. The building went up in half the time of traditional construction and required only a third of the on-site workers. According to the building's architect Harry E. Gerrish, this technique was the first of its kind - and it proved to be a good showpiece for a construction company.

In the late 1950s through early '70s, "Brutalist"-style architecture gained popularity for its rejection of glass and steel construction as well as its innovative building techniques and low costs. The term was derived from bton brut, French for unfinished concrete. Partly inspired by Le Corbusier's blocky, geometric shapes, Brutalist buildings are often a celebration of concrete. The material could be poured on-site to any shape or curve or could be prefabricated in a factory then assembled on-site. Concrete could also take on the texture of a mold - such as wood grain.

LUNCH TIP: Cross 1st Avenue North for hot wings at Runyon's.

For addresses for any or these other buildings, e-mail thelunchtimetourist@hotmail.com.