Fiber cement panels bridge historic and modern at Minneapolis apartment complex

The design team for the Third North apartment complex specified Nichiha’s Illumination Series architectural panels in a blend of six colors—divided into swaths of reds and swaths of grays—that combine with a rectilinear shape to complement nearby brick.

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June 04, 2014 |
The panels have rectangular dimensions, with shades of red and gray to mirror th

Minneapolis’ North Loop neighborhood, like many close-in urban environments, is a community in transition. Over the past decade, property owners and developers have gradually blended and adapted historic buildings and warehouses with new residential blocks and modern amenities.

Respecting those existing aesthetics while addressing the wishes and needs of a younger generation were key goals for the developers of Third North, a 204-unit apartment complex completed in December 2013. The resulting six-story building manages to pay homage to existing structures without feeling dated.

A warehouse-like massing and the structure’s position abutting the sidewalk on three sides reflect the frontage of nearby warehouses, many of which have been adapted into office space or condos. The building’s U shape conceals residential features, including green space, a dog run, and pool—in the center and rear.

Create a modern-feeling façade without contrasting too much with the surrounding neighborhood.

Nichiha’s Illumination series in a blend of six colors offers a shape and pattern reminiscent of nearby historic brick buildings and warehouses.

Third North complements the varying elevations and façades of the neighborhood while bringing a fresh look to the streetscape.

Cladding selection also played a key role. The designers specified Nichiha’s 18”-by-6’ Illumination Series architectural wall panels in a blend of six colors—divided into swaths of reds and swaths of grays—that combine with a rectilinear shape to complementnearby brick. Simultaneously, the panels’ large, smooth scale and nod to metal help the overall look tilt toward the contemporary. 

“The panels have rectangular dimensions, and we have shades of red and gray,” says Maureen Michalski, senior project manager for Schafer Richardson, developer of Third North. “It mirrors the colors of the brick and concrete on nearby historic buildings, but is a fresh, modern take off of it. The use of stacked bond also helps in this regard.”

Moving forward with the material wasn’t completely straightforward, however, prior to the Third North project, the city of Minneapolis didn’t allow fiber cement to cover more than 30% of a building’s façade. The architects submitted for an exception, and Illumination Series’ commercial look, aided by its hidden fastening system and the performance brought by an integrated rainscreen that creates an airspace to allow water to drain away, helped it receive an allowance. In the end, the city and the community were equally pleased with the finished product, potentially paving the way for similar applications in the future.

Along with its eye-catching aesthetics, the market-rate apartments offer a host of interior and exterior features attractive to the young renters flocking to the walkable, transit-oriented North Loop. In keeping with the active mindset that proliferates Minneapolis, the complex includes extensive fitness facilities along with the pool and outdoor green space, as well as a bicycle maintenance room for two-wheeled commuters. 

In addition to the outdoor off-leash area, a dog grooming room caters to resident pet owners. A rentable guest suite, a club room, and outdoor seating round out the extensive list of communal comforts.

The units themselves boast open floor plans and feature stainless steel Energy Star appliances and efficient lighting, with several finish level options from which to choose.

With its lengthy list of amenities, an ideal location, and eye-catching aesthetics, Third North has been a welcome addition to the neighborhood—one that’s likely to fill up fast. 

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