Environmental graphics are an important story-building component in a building that is in itself a landmark; it’s the first all-timber building of seven stories to be built in the United States in over 100 years. T3, named for the design metaphor of fusing building elements of timber with technology and encouraging employees to use environmentally friendly transit, carries that vision into custom graphics that blend a sense of history with a clean approach to the future of work environments.
The design challenge for the RSP Architects Environmental Graphics Group started with restoring and embellishing historic images into large-scale scenes from small, damaged printed photos and glass negatives, while maintaining a realistic photographic style to the graphics. Creating landscape scenes from a small portrait of the forest was a creative challenge for RSP Architects that needed to be pushed from a memento to a design metaphor that tells the design story with a sense of historic reverence and clean modernity.
The main staircase visually builds the story of the forest with black ink graphics printed directly on to custom wood panels, allowing visitors to climb through the forest canopy as they ascend. The forest mural image was adapted and created from a 1922 glass plate negative portrait of the northern Minnesota timber forest before logging. The image was meticulously restored and collaged into an entire forest scene allowing the graphics to merge with the architecture and create a sense of place.
Historic imagery of the timber industry was also printed directly onto custom wood benches that were constructed from scrap timber. Each piece of furniture was designed specifically for the space and each image was carefully selected and restored to carry the exact feeling of the staircase into the lounge. Black ink was printed directly onto the finished pieces (with surfaces varying up to a quarter inch), creating an exact match of the image, uninterrupted, across the varied surfaces.
The graphic story was a vital part of the solution from RSP Architects, as was an intense amount of hand-crafted precision and coordination from design to manufacturing. Creating a story to describe the experience of the staircase was vital to translating a portrait of the forest into a full-scale experience. This concept guided the design solution to create a scene that would match the angle and elevation of the staircase. The staircase graphic was then mapped, panel by panel, allowing contractors to install the staircase like a gigantic puzzle with exact placement.
The biggest challenge for RSP Architects was coordinating multiple teams to create unique pieces that allowed for only one chance at printing and assembly without errors. This was the first time that several of the groups had worked together, and the first time the groups had produced this type of graphics on these materials.
The project is a tremendous success that shows how the art of story and graphics are a vital collaboration in creating architecture with personality. The unique vibe has received a tremendous amount of local and national attention, and the quality of materials and hand-crafted precision are inspiring a new approach to workplace design.
Derek McCallum (principal in charge), Heather Novak-Peterson (creative director and designer)
Michael Green Architecture Team: Michael Green (architect in charge), Candace Nichol (design architect)
DLR Group Minneapolis (architect of record); Intereum (furniture); O’Keefee (wood); 1st Impression Group, Bolger, Art Partners Group (secondary printers of additional wallcoverings)
"Wood? Check. Concrete? Check. Big numbers? Check."
"There is nothing better than bringing together great design and a sense of 'history of place' in a simple but elegant way. I love the subtlety of the horizontal lines, the color palette and use of texture and material. I wish I worked here."