Target Center in Minneapolis is home to basketball teams the Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Lynx. The Center (though nobody really refers to this as “The Center”) recently underwent a major renovation, which became an opportunity for design and fabrication firm Dimensional Innovations (Overland Park, Kan.) to score big.
The Target Center has been an important Minneapolis landmark since 1990. But, until recent renovations, it has not lived up to its full potential. The Minnesota NBA and WNBA teams, the City of Minneapolis and operator Anschutz Entertainment Group believed the building needed a dramatic update to stay relevant and compete in the sports and entertainment event realm.
Their $155 million remodeling proposal included a complete overhaul of the interiors that was purely cosmetic in some areas of the building and down-to-the-foundation in others. The original entry and ticketing areas were transformed into a premium Lexus-branded club, while the big glass-façade entry atrium was new construction on the site where a portion of the existing building had been removed.
The stakeholder group also wanted the venue to connect with the surrounding community, and the team, in ways that extend beyond commuters passing through the pedestrian Skyway system that links to the building. The design team identified specific areas or "moments" throughout the building to tell these stories.
They also wanted to subtly evoke the feeling of the downtown Minneapolis streetscape in the concourses, conceptually linking to the outside community and highlighting the remarkable views of the city that would be available from the atrium space when it was complete. A big, bold beacon to shine through the glass front was decidedly on their wish list.
As the project team began to form, Dimensional Innovations was the client group’s choice for signage and environmental graphics partner. The architectural design partners on the team were Alliiance Architecture and Perkins + Will (Sink Combs Dethlefs at the time). Icon Venue Group and Tegra Group served as client representatives and altogether, though a large group, there was an open collaborative and collegial atmosphere.
DI’s scope included interior and exterior signage, wayfinding, branding activations and a major sculptural placemaking element for the atrium. The main framework for their work was developing a fully functional wayfinding system for the venue, to include digital directories and gates. They had previously completed work for the Timberwolves’ offices and training center, which served as a positive reference point for the look and feel but they performed visual listening exercises with the client group to deeply understand their design expectations.
The overall solution had to reflect a unified brand, representative of not only the Timberwolves and Lynx, but of AEG and the many events hosted at Target Center. Dedicated implementation of brand color, consistent wayfinding elements and a concerted effort to maintain a "Target Center" aesthetic, which was representative of each entity without being specific to any single one, emerged as the solution to DI’s design team.
For all of the sponsored areas, the DI team had to coordinate with the corporate branding departments to ensure all branded elements were exactly to their specifications and brand and build standards. Complicating things further, one of their clients underwent a rebranding during the project.
“The Timberwolves and Lynx rebranded three-quarters of the way through the project,” remembers Rick Smith, executive creative director at Dimensional Innovations. “While we were one of the very few who knew about the rebrand in advance, it forced us to make performance and graphic implementation decisions on some of these items in real time.”
He credits the trust and collaboration of the internal and larger project teams with the success of the incredibly detailed project over three years and the continued work with sponsors. “Working with such a large group we learned a lot from the coordination and management perspective,” says Smith. “For us internally, it was critical to have an assigned team that knew all the ins and outs of the project and really ‘owned’ it.”
DI’s team worked not only on wayfinding throughout the 160,000-square-foot arena, but also on a number of experiences intended to encourage visitors to explore the clubs, concessions and fan areas the building has to offer throughout its four levels.
One of the key moments is in the Skyway leading to the digitally signed gates where visitors queue for event security. Previously, the hallway had been a drab cinder block wall with backlit advertising panels. The DI team, in concert with the architectural design team, felt that the wall was the perfect place to tell three vital Target Center stories: the Minnesota teams’ histories, the Center’s relationship to the community (including concerts and events) and the teams’ support of high school basketball initiatives.
The original concept was a digital interactive, but the amount of movement through the space lent itself more to glass-enclosed exhibit cases that span almost the entire length of the Skyway. Inside, there are Target Center legacy items: team artifacts like championship rings and event memorabilia such as one of Prince’s guitars.
Of the sponsorship branding activations, the standout is inside the Lexus club. The Lexus logomark “L” has been rendered using layers of solid clear acrylic spheres suspended on aircraft cable, which has been mounted to the ceiling and lit from above and behind. The reflective hanging balls look rich and hint at—in the most restrained way—the visual language of the basketball and net. The cables are crimped on at top and bottom of the spheres so they do not penetrate the spheres.
“Lexus is a premium brand and this is a premium space in the building, so we wanted to present something that looked super expensive, even if it wasn’t,” recounts Smith. “The location was a key focal point in the space, so we knew something special needed to happen there and also, that in the event of sponsorship changes, it could be removed.”
Other custom solutions were created in the locker rooms, where the design team was asked to bring the spaces up to current NBA standards. The DI team was challenged to design and build a nearly 10-foot-wide circular ceiling-suspended backlit version of the Timberwolves’ new logo. In the Lynx locker room, the illuminated team signage was designed to toggle quickly to a generic NBA graphic for when the room hosts visiting teams playing the Timberwolves.
Nothing But Net
The big show-stopping beacon the client team wanted to connect the upper and lower levels of the atrium and the interior to the exterior cityscape manifested in the form of a ball and net. “The ball and the net were born from many different sculptural ideas, but really we were trying to distill basketball to its essence,” says Smith. “The shape of the ball is a stylized representation of the black rubber lines on a basketball.”
The design team worked with their architectural partners to find a way to bring the giant ball and net together, which ultimately meant cutting a hole between floors, so visitors can look up or down through the net. The idea of this view, combined with the view from the outside of the building, sold the idea to the client group.
Fabricating the sculptural elements, however, were a “herculean effort.” The “lines” of the ball where made using powder coated aluminum tubing that has been rolled into circles, then sawed to create a flat opening for LED lighting and an acrylic face. Two of the circles needed to have additional bends on different axes to make the design work, which presented a dangerous prospect because of the tremendous amount of kinetic energy employed: if the cuts weren’t executed correctly, the pipes could break forcefully.
The upper-level area where the ball would go was to be a flexible event space, so the ball was hung on a hoist that can lift it out of the way or lower it for maintenance. Below, building the net was less of a structural feat, but a challenge nonetheless: The shape is formed by two layers of cut metal with a hand-made custom white LED curtain below.
Project Name: Target Center Renovation
Clients: Minnesota Timberwolves, Minnesota Lynx, City of Minneapolis, AEG
Open Date: October 2017
Project Area: 160,000 sq ft
Experiential Graphics Budget: $2,900,000
Overall Budget: $145,000,000
Architects: Alliiance Architecture, Perkins + Will
Experiential Graphic Design: Dimensional Innovations
Design Team: Rick Smith (executive creative director), Ashley Siebert (lead designer), Jennifer Fitzpatrick (senior designer)
Fabrication/Digital Integration: Dimensional Innovations
Collaborators: Mortenson Construction (general contractor), Tegra Group (project management)
Photos: Alex Grigsby, Dimensional Innovations