Nelson Cultural Center by HGA Architects and Engineers

Headquartered in Minneapolis’ historic Phillips West neighborhood, the American Swedish Institute (ASI) watched for decades as the area around it transformed from one of the city’s most prestigious residential neighborhoods to one marked by economic inequality and an increasingly transient population. But while many organizations might have used that as an excuse to relocate, ASI saw it as an opportunity to put its community ideals into action.

The Institute’s new Nelson Cultural Center, designed by HGA Architects and Engineers (HGA), offers a stunning new destination for gatherings and brings a touch of modern design to a neighborhood in transition.

The sleek and angular building embodies traditional Swedish values of craft, community and connection to nature, with HGA going as far as inviting Swedish artists and architects to critique its design. “Drawing inspiration from Swedish architecture and landscapes, and working with Swedish designers has been a tremendous aspect of this project,” says E. Tim Carl, AIA, lead architect and vice president at HGA. “At the same time, we were excited to incorporate Swedish attitudes toward the environment and sustainable living into our design concepts to create a sense of place in the neighborhood.”

Architectural details convey themes from both Swedish and local culture, including porcelain tiles and leather handrail wraps created by local craftsmen, a large-format trompe-l’oeil textile commissioned for the lobby, and a nautical-themed wood ceiling inspired by the timber roof in Stockholm City Hall. White walls, oak tongue-and-groove paneling and large expanses of glass further capture Swedes’ romantic sensibility toward domestic life.

Sustainable additions like a vegetated roof and geothermal system make the building eligible for LEED Gold certification. Upon approval, it will become the first museum in Minnesota to reach that status—a powerful example of how design can act as a catalyst for community change.