Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Twin Cities Must Have Book

I was reminded this morning, as my friend leafed through my copy of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Guide to the Twin Cities, that I needed to share with the world how excellent this book is.

The guide is written by architectural critic Larry Millett, who authored the lovely but depressing, Lost Twin Cities and Twin Cities Then and Now books that chronicle the demise of some of our wonderful architectural treasures and some of the heinousness erected in their place. Millett's familiarity of the turf is evident and I think that I read somewhere that he walked almost every street in the Twin Cities to write this book (which at 665 pages means some serious walking). The book is divided into neighborhoods, each with its own overview that gives you some historic context and a sense for what the place is like today. Then with maps and photos, Millett introduces you to scads of mostly historic and many unique buildings and places in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Millett's writing style is what seals the deal when it comes to this book's greatness. He's engaging, he's snarky, and he doesn't hold back when it comes to the ugly and the profane. For instance, here is his view on the Malcolm Moos Health Sciences tower on Washington Avenue on the U of M campus:
"The architectural equivalent of a Hummer, the idea apparently to show just how big and bad a building can be....With their crushing scale and ominously overhanging upper floors, they certainly convey a sense of the power of modern medicine, albeit in a thoroughly unpleasant way."
Millett also cracks me up when he talks about the streets in downtown Saint Paul.
"Over the years, streets have been widened, straightened, or even eliminated, and downtown St. Paul is a model of clarity compared to what it once was. Even so, navigation can still prove perplexing to visitors from such exotic locales as Minneapolis."
I could go on..this book is full of writing gems, but more importantly it's the best guide book, history book, map, and photo album for the Twin Cities.

Images: MHS Press and University of Minnesota Medical School.

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