The Lunchtime Tourist

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April 28, 2003 // UPDATED 10:50 am - April 30, 2007
By: ReliaStar Financial building: Part I
ReliaStar Financial building: Part I

20 Washington Ave. S.

This graceful, elegant building was the crown jewel of the Gateway District's revitalization in the 1960s. More than 25 blocks were leveled during the nation's first federally funded urban renewal project. Northwestern National Life Insurance Company wanted to be a part of the new and modern Downtown Minneapolis and chose a prominent site on the corner of Washington and Hennepin avenues.

After considering more than 30 architects for the job, the insurance company chose award-winning architect Minoru Yamasaki (1913-1986). The building's most distinctive features are the six-story arched columns that were poured on site and lifted into place. The concrete was mixed with white quartz chips for extra brightness and a bit of sparkle. A massive entrance portico soars to the full height of the building. It's one of the most grand, important spaces in Minneapolis.

Between the columns on the building's sides are panels of green marble from Vermont, cut and opened like a book to reveal symmetrical veining patterns. The simple and elegant lines of the building are reminiscent of the architect's now infamous World Trade Center towers in New York City that were designed ten years after this project.

In 1980, Yamasaki was brought back to Minneapolis to design the company's second building, 100 Washington Square, next door. He also designed three buildings at Carleton College, where his daughter went to school.

Inside the building, the lobby is sparse and understated and probably close to how the architect originally envisioned it in 1964. Warm teak wood panels surrounding a small lounge break up the white expanse of marble floors and walls. Black leather furniture provides high contrast to the austere, monochromatic lobby.

Next week, the Lunchtime Tourist will revisit the ING Reliastar Financial building to examine the art of well-known sculptor Harry Bertoia and sculptor Masayuki Nagare.

Lunchtime tip: Venture into Origami, 30 N. 1st St., for visually stunning and elegant sushi.

Do you know of a lunchtime destination? Send your tips to