One of America’s most highly acclaimed theaters strikes an impressive pose on the banks of the Mississippi River in Minneapolis. Jutting out over an old stone arch bridge and a dam, and sitting beside the newest river bridge replacing the Interstate 35 bridge that collapased two years ago, the Guthrie Theater pays homage to the natural power and beauty of the Mississippi River by projecting its own modern architectural and theatrical version of strength and culture.
Designed by Jean Nouvel and built in 2006, the renowned theater has transformed a backwater area of the River from a dying industrial wasteland to a vibrant recreational, residential and commercial district. This big blue block of building is not without its critics, but for lovers of the River, it presents a unique perspective both visually and culturally. Of course it is home to some of America’s best theater. But it also presents — through its unique architectual design — the opportunity to see isolated pictures of the River as well as a panoramic schematic of the River’s drama. The beauty of nature and the beauty of performing and architectural art intersect here to underscore the values each offers the people who live within their visual reach.
This recent development on the banks of the Mississippi reminds us that the River is not just a source of water and transportation. Its size, hydro power and commercial transportation capacity are not its only large attributes. More and more, the Mississippi River is being used as a focal point for community development that is more ecologically sound than the industrial economic development of the last century. A number of communities have recognized the potential of waterfront development on the River banks that already exist in their communities. Slowly and deliberately, they are reclaiming access to the River in noninvasive ways — such as the development in Minneapolis — where parks, walkways, theaters and museums form the core of a new neighborhood and new retail and restaurants. It’s an example being emulated in small towns and urban centers all along the Mississippi River. The drama of the Guthrie Theater is not replicable in all communities, but each River town has a way to capitalize on their culture and development in relation to America’s Waterway. Minneapolis offers just one of many models. We’d love to hear how your community is doing their community development around your town’s relationship to the Mississippi River. Leave a comment.