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Gold Medal Design at Gold Medal Park
Landscape Architecture by oslund.and.assoc.


When the city of Minneapolis requested proposals for a new project to be located at the site of a city-owned parking lot, landscape architecture firm oslund.and.assoc. presented their design for Gold Medal Park. The 7.5-acre site was transformed from parking lot to park in just three months, and includes an observation mound, open lawn spaces, and professional sculptures.

Located in Minneapolis' historic Mill District, Gold Medal Park spans 7.5 acres immediately adjacent to the Mississippi River and Jean Nouvel's Guthrie Theatre. Landscape architecture firm oslund.and.assoc. worked with Nouvel to design more formal plantings on the plinth surrounding the new theatre, giving way to the more languid and organic forms that would eventually become Gold Medal Park. This original vision has now found its home in the seamless integration of the two neighboring sites, Guthrie Theatre and Gold Medal Park.

The space that is now home to Gold Medal Park originally hosted grain elevators, a railroad roundhouse, and repair facilities; it was most recently a city-owned parking lot. A request for proposals was issued by the city of Minneapolis to gather new designs for the site. Responses were varied, but most included residential development and some green space. This winning proposal for Gold Medal Park was the only one to recommend pure green space.



The 32-foot tall, 350-foot diameter observation mound, inspired by burial mounds of Dakota Indians, includes a spiral pathway to the top, framed with COR-TEN steel. The path is meant to be reminiscent of a meditative labyrinth. The hill itself is a manmade solution for onsite soil contamination due to the site's previous uses (including grain elevators, a railroad roundhouse, and repair facilities). The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency required that 4 to 6 feet of the existing topsoil be removed, remediated and replaced with clean fill. Oslund.and.assoc. chose a sustainable and cost effective solution: shaping the contaminated fill into the central mound, and placing 4 feet of clean topsoil over it.

The park was incredibly efficient in its construction timetable - from parking lot to park in just over 3 months. The design intention was to create an unprogrammed recreational space allowing myriad uses, including places for sitting in the sun or shade, eating lunch, throwing a football, or taking in the surrounding view. At the grand opening for the park on May 16, 2007, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak encapsulated the feeling of being in the space with this insight:

"It's one of the most wonderful experiences you can have in a city where you can walk 360 degrees around and look at something that you have known and loved all your life and see it in a dramatically different way."



The top of the hill hosts a calm seating area around a bosque, or formally planted grove, of trees. Atop the mound and across the park, there are a total of 20 sustainably harvested Ipe wood benches, designed by oslund.and.assoc. Almost 300 mature trees were chosen for the park, including maples, lindens, hackberries, honey locusts, oaks and catalpas.

This experience is enhanced by the contemporary interpretation of the river landscape. Paths curve through the park as an abstract representation of the dendritic pathways formed by water as it flows across a flat landscape toward the river channel. Individual straight pathways of varying lengths lead to custom-designed benches, juxtaposing an abstraction of the city grid onto open green space.

A sculptural observation mound is the focal point of the park - 32 feet in height and 350 feet in diameter with a bosque of trees and seating at the apex. A spiraling walkway, bound in COR-TEN steel, allows visitors to ascend the hill; a slow perambulation akin to walking a meditative labyrinth. The view from this height provides a great prospect over the nearby Stone Arch Bridge, the Mississippi River, and the Minneapolis skyline.





Gold Medal Park includes three sculptures on loan from the local Walker Art Center, as part of the city's efforts to tie visual arts to the land. The large red sculpture is "Molecule" by Mark di Suvero. The colorful dome supported by six white columns is "Prophecy of the Ancients" by Brower Hatcher. The third, pottery-like sculpture, is "Ordovician Pore" by Tony Cragg.

The observation mound was created as a solution for the on-site environmental remediation that had to occur during construction. Various past uses for the area had caused the soil to become contaminated. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) required 4 to 6 feet of the existing topsoil to be removed, remediated, and replaced with clean fill. The solution implemented by the landscape architect was to encapsulate the contaminated soil inside the observation mound. The mound was first shaped with the contaminated fill. Then, a 4-foot deep cap of clean fill was added to meet MPCA standards for public park space. This created a sustainable and cost-effective centerpiece for the park, reduced cost for importing/exporting soil, and creatively solved a remediation challenge.

Conscious of stormwater and its nearby outlet into the Mississippi, thought was also given to a collection system that pulls water from the spiral walkway and low areas, allowing infiltration and short term storage of that water. The original desire was to infiltrate as much water as possible, but due to MPCA regulations not wanting to infiltrate large amounts of water through the lower levels of remaining contaminated fill, it was decided to collect the stormwater instead. Using the collection system has led to a significant reduction in runoff from the 7.5-acre greenspace.



The great lawn surrounding the observation mound is meant to be an unprogrammed recreational space where visitors can have a picnic, play football, or just relax and enjoy the scenery. The ground level has curved paths representative of the nearby Mississippi River, as well as straight pathways leading to the custom benches, juxtaposing the straight lines of a city grid onto the open green space.

Plant materials in the park include close to 300 mature trees, all hand-chosen and between 6"-10" in diameter. The species include maples, lindens, hackberries, honey locusts, oaks, and catalpas: all plants indigenous to a riparian ecosystem.

The site furnishings - including benches, pedestrian lighting, utility screening, and trash receptacles - were custom-designed by the landscape architect for this project. Twenty sustainably harvested Ipe wood benches line the edges of the park and the top of the observation mound. Blue LED lights illuminate the benches from within during the evening, adding a unique ephemeral quality to the park throughout the night. The Ipe wood trash receptacles, as well as the screen for the utility services, are located strategically at the edges of the park. The pedestrian scale lighting was custom-fabricated out of "W" section beams, using fixtures designed to recall the historic industrial aesthetic of earlier eras.




Pedestrian scale lighting throughout the park was fabricated from "W" section beams, using fixtures designed to recall the site's industrial history. Blue LEDs illuminate the custom-designed Ipe benches from within during the evening.

One of the most notable achievements garnered by Gold Medal Park was its precedent-setting creation.

The park includes three significant pieces of sculpture on loan from the Walker Art Center, tying the cultural institution of visual arts with that of the performing arts in direct proximity to the Mississippi River.

Oslund.and.assoc. received a 2007 Design Merit Award for Gold Medal Park from the Minnesota Chapter ASLA - truly a gold medal design.

Team List
Landscape Architect/Designer
Thomas Oslund, FASLA, Principal Designer
Tadd Kreun, FASLA, Project Landscape Architect
David Motzenbecker, Project Manager
Civil Engineer
Pierce Pini & Associates
Environmental Consultant
Braun Intertec
General Contractor
Kraus-Anderson Midwest
Landscape Contractor
Windsor Companies
TC Treescapes
Irrigation donated by Toro Companies

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July 16, 2019, 12:22 pm PDT

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