flexiblefullpage -
billboard - default
interstitial1 - interstitial
catfish1 - bottom
Currently Reading

Platinum Award: Monumentally Hip Hotel Conversion

Platinum Award: Monumentally Hip Hotel Conversion

Built as an homage to the Washington Monument, Minneapolis's funky Foshay Tower becomes the even funkier W Hotel.


By By Jay W. Schneider, Senior Editor | August 11, 2010
This article first appeared in the 200909 issue of BD+C.
Built as an homage to the Washington Monument, Minneapolis’s funky Foshay
Tower becomes the even funkier W Hotel.

At one time the tallest building west of the Mississippi, the Foshay Tower has stood proudly on the Minneapolis skyline since 1929. Built by Wilbur Foshay as a tribute to the Washington Monument, the 30-story obelisk served as an office building—and cultural icon—for more than 70 years before the Ryan Companies and co-developer RWB Holdings partnered with Starwood Hotels & Resorts to convert the registered landmark into, of all things, a hip W Hotel.

Adaptive reuse projects are always tricky, but the building's distinctive obelisk shape complicated matters to the extent that when architects Elness Swenson Graham completed the design, there were 57 unique room configurations within the 230-room hotel. The tower loses half its floor area between the second floor and the 30th floor, dropping from 6,000 sf on the second floor to less than 3,000 sf at the top. The complex floor plates also threw MEP contractors Horwitz Inc. and Egan Companies a curve because there was no way to stack plumbing and mechanical systems. Their solution was to break the hotel into flooring groups and then make transitions between each floor set.

The Building Team also faced the high-stakes task of preserving and restoring the building's historic Art Deco lobby ceiling, marble walls, and terrazzo floors. These elements were integrated into the W's modern design aesthetic by interior design team Munge Leung Design Associates.

The building’s tapered shape required interior designers to commission
adjustable furniture that fits the hotel’s 57 different room configurations.

On top of everything else, there was no wiggle room on the opening date, August 2008, because the Republican National Convention was being hosted in the twin city of St. Paul the following month and Starwood needed the guest rooms.

Using design-build delivery, Ryan Companies redeveloped the 268,000-sf Foshay Tower at a construction cost of $56 million. The project's final cost was $61 million after the Building Team assumed responsibility for the hotel's restaurant and retail components from the tenants.

Working in the Building Team's favor was the fact that the landmark building was structurally sound and in good shape for its age—that is, unless you ignore the fact that it was packed with asbestos. A tight timeline required asbestos remediation to begin while some office tenants were still in the building. This dictated a more complicated than usual containment system: partition systems, dedicated elevators, night work, and coordinated adjacencies. Tenants were provided generous move-out packages to expedite their exit.

Complications also arose around the building's old windows. Almost 750 units needed to be replaced, which disappointed the National Park Service, since the Foshay Tower is on the National Register of Historic Places. After considerable negotiations, the two sides agreed that replacement could proceed using custom, historically accurate, high-efficiency aluminum units.

The project greatly impressed BD+C's Reconstruction Awards judges, who appreciated the difficulties associated with adaptive reuse projects. “It is really challenging to convert an office building into a hotel,” says Lucien Lagrange, principal of Lucien Lagrange Architects, Chicago. “The Foshay project says something about adaptive reuse and the importance of saving a beautiful existing building.”

                           Lobby of the W Minneapolis—The Foshay.

Related Stories

Hospital Design Trends | Feb 14, 2024

Plans for a massive research hospital in Dallas anticipates need for child healthcare

Children’s Health and the UT Southwestern Medical Center have unveiled their plans for a new $5 billion pediatric health campus and research hospital on more than 33 acres within Dallas’ Southwestern Medical District. 

Sponsored | BD+C University Course | Jan 17, 2024

Waterproofing deep foundations for new construction

This continuing education course, by Walter P Moore's Amos Chan, P.E., BECxP, CxA+BE, covers design considerations for below-grade waterproofing for new construction, the types of below-grade systems available, and specific concerns associated with waterproofing deep foundations.

Giants 400 | Jan 15, 2024

Top 90 Hospital Facility Construction Firms for 2023

Turner Construction, Brasfield & Gorrie, JE Dunn Construction, McCarthy Holdings, and STO Building Group top BD+C's ranking of the nation's largest hospital facility general contractors and construction management (CM) firms for 2023, as reported in the 2023 Giants 400 Report.

Giants 400 | Jan 15, 2024

Top 80 Hospital Facility Engineering Firms for 2023

Jacobs, WSP, BR+A, IMEG, and AECOM head BD+C's ranking of the nation's largest hospital facility engineering and engineering/architecture (EA) firms for 2023, as reported in the 2023 Giants 400 Report.

Giants 400 | Jan 15, 2024

Top 130 Hospital Facility Architecture Firms for 2023

HKS, HDR, Stantec, CannonDesign, and Page Southerland Page top BD+C's ranking of the nation's largest hospital facility architecture and architecture engineering (AE) firms for 2023, as reported in the 2023 Giants 400 Report.

Designers | Jan 3, 2024

Designing better built environments for a neurodiverse world

For most of human history, design has mostly considered “typical users” who are fully able-bodied without clinical or emotional disabilities. The problem with this approach is that it offers a limited perspective on how space can positively or negatively influence someone based on their physical, mental, and sensory abilities.

Healthcare Facilities | Dec 19, 2023

A new hospital in Duluth, Minn., is now the region’s largest healthcare facility

In Duluth, Minn., the new St. Mary’s Medical Center, designed by EwingCole, is now the largest healthcare facility in the region. The hospital consolidates Essentia Health’s healthcare services under one roof. At about 1 million sf spanning two city blocks, St. Mary’s overlooks Lake Superior, providing views on almost every floor of the world’s largest freshwater lake.

Healthcare Facilities | Nov 3, 2023

The University of Chicago Medicine is building its city’s first freestanding cancer center with inpatient and outpatient services

The University of Chicago Medicine (UChicago Medicine) is building Chicago’s first freestanding cancer center with inpatient and outpatient services. Aiming to bridge longstanding health disparities on Chicago’s South Side, the $815 million project will consolidate care and about 200 team members currently spread across at least five buildings. The new facility, which broke ground in September, is expected to open to patients in spring 2027.

Healthcare Facilities | Oct 11, 2023

Leveraging land and light to enhance patient care

GBBN interior designer Kristin Greeley shares insights from the firm's latest project: a cancer center in Santa Fe, N.M.

Healthcare Facilities | Oct 9, 2023

Design solutions for mental health as a secondary diagnosis

Rachel Vedder, RA, LEED AP, Senior Architect, Design Collaborative, shares two design solutions for hospitals treating behavioral health patients.

boombox1 - default
boombox2 -
native1 -

More In Category



Giants 400

Top 90 Hospital Facility Construction Firms for 2023

Turner Construction, Brasfield & Gorrie, JE Dunn Construction, McCarthy Holdings, and STO Building Group top BD+C's ranking of the nation's largest hospital facility general contractors and construction management (CM) firms for 2023, as reported in the 2023 Giants 400 Report.


halfpage1 -

Most Popular Content

  1. 2021 Giants 400 Report
  2. Top 150 Architecture Firms for 2019
  3. 13 projects that represent the future of affordable housing
  4. Sagrada Familia completion date pushed back due to coronavirus
  5. Top 160 Architecture Firms 2021