Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Crazy Architecture in Dubai

When I was a kid I read as much science fiction as I could get my hands on by authors such as Robert Heinlein, Arthur C. Clark, Andre Norton, etc.  At the same time, real life magazines like Popular Science, which I consumed like candy, promised a future filled with flying cars, personal robots,  and fantastic architecture.
Magazines like Popular Science were big on modern
architecture and the inventions that went with it.
The covers of pulp science fiction often featured
architectural extravaganzas in futuristic mode.
I also devoured sic-fi movies like The Day the Earth Stood Still and Forbidden Planet (the best movie ever made).  It didn't help that my fourth grade teacher, Mr. Karp, predicted all sorts of inventions that would come about by the time I grew up. Specifically, he said it was all but certain a transporter machine the size of a telephone booth would whisk human beings from one place to another in the same manner a conversation traveled through phone wires.  I am still waiting for this invention to materialize.
Sci-fi movies then and now featured futuristic design. A set from Forbidden Planet, above. 
In other respects, it seems that the science fiction of yesterday is the reality of today.  I marvel that we actually seem to be living in the world of tomorrow. Hand-held computers, personal robots (I have a Rumba that cleans my floors every day), and other stuff of the future is here now.  Even our architecture resembles the cover of a science fiction novel from 1955. Not everywhere, but in many places.  Especially in Dubai with the Burj Kalifa tower, the Burj Al Arab Jumeirah hotel, and the Palm Islands. Now an upcoming project in Dubai continues the science fiction esthetic: Aladdin City. It's a little bit crazy and a lot of fun. The total cost of the project has not been announced. It will have air-conditioned bridges with a moving floor to connect the structures.  The highest of three towers is thirty-four stories.
The three towers of Aladdin City, Dubai. 
Aerial view of Aladdin City. 
A YouTube video about the project can be found here: Aladdin City.  The project will include offices and a hotel. So, you'll have a place to stay if you want to travel to the future.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

To the Student in Architecture (Part Three)

Last summer I was invited to a promotional tour sponsored by Anderson Windows. Our group of about twenty architects came from different states, all specializing in residential design. During one of our social events the conversation turned to zoning codes and the increasing difficulty in getting anything done under a labyrinth of rules and regulations. This is a common subject amongst architects. All cities everywhere are making things harder instead of easier. The time and cost of implementing new rules delays projects and drives up costs.  I threw in my usual complaint about how these evolving rules are my greatest frustration. “It is the one thing,” I said, “ that makes me want to leave the profession and go on to something else. I want to spend my days creating architecture, not jumping through bureaucratic hoops.” I was exaggerating the degree of my frustration, but a young architect from Houston immediately countered, “Oh, no. It’s what makes my job interesting.  I love figuring out the puzzle of codes and arriving at a solution that makes a project work.”  Obviously a more optimistic thinker than myself!
Frank Lloyd Wright surrounded by his students.
The Houston architect's response did make me think more broadly about the profession of architecture. For me, design was the main draw to the field and is what keeps me interested to this day. However, the student in architecture should know that there are many other aspects to a career in architecture and many ways to practice as a professional. One of the wonderful things about an architectural education is how broad-based it is. Architects are the last of the generalists. (We know a little about a lot of things, but not much about anything in particular!) An architectural education can be great preparation for many different career paths. As an architect, design is not the only way to practice.  The young Houston architect made me realize there are other passions. Problem solving is more than design solutions and architects are, by general training, problem solvers. The various types of jobs in a large office should make this clear. Among the many permutations of architectural practice there are...
  • Specifications writers
  • Presentation artists
  • Client relations experts
  • CAD technicians
  • Community planners
  • Program writers
  • Project managers
Yale school of architecture designed by Paul Rudolph.
The list could go on. Many credentialed architects don't specifically practice architectural design.  They may even find careers outside of architectural firms in such things as law, building administration, education, construction management, community development, code writing,  and industry consulting.  The point is that, as generalists, architects are eminently qualified to take on a broad array of tasks that indirectly affect the design of the built environment. Taking this a step further: if a student were able to couple an architecture degree with an MBA or an engineering or law degree, then you have a commodity in extremely rare supply (and in high demand) on the job market.
Student exhibition from a class taught by the author at the University of Oklahoma.

Student work at the University of Oklahoma by Wm. Devine.

Another student project from an exhibition at
the University of Oklahoma. 
To the student in architecture I must amend my initial rush to caution. I've previously implied that unless you truly have a passion for design, forget about architecture.  However, there are other passions to be found in architecture that I may be immune to. So, my amended advice is to discover what architecture is, or can be, for you. See if your talents coincide with some aspect of architecture, and look at what part of this broad field might be of interest to you.

To the student in architecture: you may discover a world of architecture that goes beyond the common conceptions of what an architect ought to be. That can be exciting in itself and may nourish a career over a lifetime. Best wishes in discovering your passion!
Drafting room and "classroom" at Wright's Taliesin West studio.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

To the Student in Architecture (Part Two)

On June 9th in 1900 the great architect Louis Sullivan gave a lecture in Chicago entitled The Young Man in Architecture.  He outlined architectural ideals and inspired young architects like Walter Burley Griffin who was present in the audience. Sullivan later published a book on the subject, The Young Man in Architecture (1939). Frank Lloyd Wright gave a similar lecture in 1931. Exploring the same themes, it was entitled To the Young Man in Architecture. In it Wright said, "...beauty is no less the true purpose of rational modern architectural endeavor than ever, just as beauty remains the essential characteristic of architecture itself."  However, in both Sullivan's and Wright's manifestos you will note the male pronoun. It was assumed that only males could become architects or would want to. Architecture was not a woman’s profession.
Louis Sullivan.

Frank Lloyd Wright
As recently as 1959 a brochure aimed at high school students asked Should You Be an Architect? It was written by architect Pietro Belluschi and was provided as a public service by the New York Life Insurance Company. It also bore the imprimatur of the American Institute of Architects. The leaflet repeatedly used the male pronoun. “A few boys… pick architecture while they still are very young.” “Most boys… have had an opportunity to weigh various careers.” “After a boy has finished college, he still must get three years’ training…” (Emphasis added.) And so on. The concluding paragraph gets more specific:
You’ve noticed, I suppose, that I’ve directed my remarks to boys. I cannot, in whole conscience, recommend architecture as a profession for girls. I know some women who have done well at it, but the obstacles are so great that it takes an exceptional girl to make a go of it. If she insists on becoming an architect, I would try to dissuade her. If she still insists, she may be that exceptional one.
Brochure from 1959.
Today we find such assertions inappropriate at best and insulting at worst. But this misogyny continued for decades. When I was in architectural school, the number of female students could be counted on one hand. A good friend, Elaine, was explicitly told by a counseling professor to leave the school. It’s not a place for women; get out. She ignored the advice, graduated, and went on to enjoy a successful career in architecture. Elaine was in the vanguard. The situation for women is somewhat better today. According to AIA membership statistics, 17% of all members are female compared to only 9% in 2000. The picture appears even better when looking at the percentage of women in architecture school: 43%. (According to the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture.)

However, when you look at the statistics for women advancing in architecture to licensing, employment, professorships, and principals, the percentages steadily diminish. The “glass ceiling” starts to take its toll, apparently.

To the student in architecture: your gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, or politics shouldn’t matter.  For the most part, it does not today. A more interesting question is what happens as people graduate and go on to careers in architecture. It is a question that could be asked about many fields formerly dominated by white males:  physicians, air traffic controllers, police officers, chefs.
Can you tell whether the architect of this structure is a man or a woman?
Ms. Zaha Hadid, architect for the above building.

The bottom line, then, is the motivation of the individual. If you really want to practice architecture you will feel it inside and nothing will stop you. To that young person in architecture I wish them luck.  However, what is needed more is persistence. If you are in high school or younger and you are thinking about pursuing architecture, your counselors will tell you two things: you need to know math and you should have artistic talent. The former is only somewhat true and the later is only qualitatively true. Regarding math skills: a sense of geometry is absolutely necessary because architecture is described by geometry. However, higher math skills - like calculus - are more

How many architects remember integral or differential calculus?
appropriate for engineers.  For architects, higher math is a hurdle to leap over and, for some, an insurmountable obstacle.  It shouldn't be. I don't know any architects who use calculus in their work routine. Once learned, quickly forgotten.  A talent for art is a little more subjective.  Undoubtedly, architecture is an art. However, if an individual is particularly good at painting or music or sculpture, does that mean he or she would make a good architect? Decidedly not. Conversely, if a person had no obvious talent in the fine arts, does that me he or she would not make a good architect?  No. Architecture is a unique art.  It combines practical considerations (the clients program, budget, etc.) with the need for beauty and originality.  An understanding of the art in architecture is certainly a prerequisite for a good architect... but I have no idea how you measure that ability. I think a person would have to know it inside.

I said persistence is what is needed when building a career in architecture. That applies at every level. Persistence in getting though math, even though you will scant need it. Persistence in finding your own definition of the art in architecture. Persistence in getting through more than half a decade of university, serving an apprenticeship (internship), and studying for the licensing exam. Remember, most don't pass the entire thing the first time around, so just taking the exam can eat up several years! 

Still want to be an architect? Than I assume you are a persistent personality and you certainly must have a passion for architecture. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

To the Student in Architecture (Part One)

Over the years I have had contact with aspiring young architects from grammar school to university.  Student groups of all ages have come through my office, I have given talks at career days, and I have counseled young people thinking about a career in architecture at every invitation.  For a few years I taught architectural design at the college level and even taught architectural drafting at a trade school. Whenever these young students ask me what I think of their contemplated career choice in architecture, my answer is always the same: run in the opposite direction as fast as you can!   Most people have deep misconceptions about what an architect does - how he or she spends a typical day and, especially, what they earn. Architecture is viewed favorably among professions, with few negative connotations. That’s because it is perceived as something far more glamorous and financially rewarding than the reality.

Of course, my usual follow-up when discouraging a career in architecture is, unless you truly have a passion for it. That would be true with most jobs. However, it seems to me to be especially true of architecture because the path to obtaining a license is very long and the remuneration rather dicey.  Is there enough reward for the investment? Some careers might be a logical choice because the money and benefits are so great you can put up with a lot of BS and some degree of delayed gratification (early retirement, for example).  That’s probably not going to happen with most architecture-related jobs.  Unless you are a star architect working internationally (think Gehry, Liebskind, or Hadid) the hours will be long, the pay meager, and the opportunities for creativity few. Think, young student in architecture, if six years of college, an extended internship, and low pass rates in the professional exam are worth the time and expense.  Career paths in law and medicine are much faster and more lucrative. Or get an MBA and open doors in business and finance. Perhaps go into construction or development where the decision-making power in architecture truly resides.  Anything but architecture itself!

And yet, do I regret my own choice of career? No. Because I didn’t have a choice. I had to be an architect. The kind of passion I had for architecture drove me to get the education and experience I needed to become an architect. It sustained me in seeking out clients to support that ambition.  So, if you truly have a passion for it, nothing will stop you from becoming an architect. These next couple of  blog entries are addressed to that young student in architecture.

Monday, November 16, 2015

An Architect's Screensaver

Every day I find myself smiling when I look at the screensaver on my iPhone. It’s an image of Santiago Calatrava’s Milwaukee Art Museum. The main space, which serves as a lobby and an event center, is a cathedral to art. It is pure space, uninterrupted by superfluous furnishings or ornamentation. The photograph (taken by the late Rob Munger) captures the building with people to give it scale. Light shimmers on the highly polished floor surface. The structure soars to great height and seems to hover above lake Michigan, seen through the arc of windows. Of all the iconic museums designed by famous architects in recent years (Gehry’s in Bilbao, Liebskind’s in Denver, Renzo Piano’s in Chicago, etc.) the Milwaukee museum is, in my opinion, the best. I could (and sometime probably will) spend some words on analyzing why this is so. For now, please allow me to share my current screensaver. 
The lobby of Santiago Calatrava's Milwaukee Art Museum.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Is Dr. Ben Carson an Architect?

This blog is about exploring architecture in all its facets. It says so right on the masthead. Architecture is my area of expertise and I am pretty scrupulous about limiting my observations to just that subject. Sometimes other realms overlap this singular intent, as when I felt compelled to write about Donald Trump being “classy.” (The architecture he espouses is distinctly not classy.)  Now it happens again: politics intrudes into the world of architecture with Republican candidate Dr. Ben Carson's assertion that the ancient Egyptian pyramids were built to store grain. In 1998 at Andrews University he said “when you look at the way the pyramids were made…. My own personal theory is that Joseph built the pyramids in order to store grain.” On November 4, 2015 Dr. Carson confirmed his original statement when questioned by reporters. The subject has become entwined with 2015 presidential politics.

Is Ben Carson an architect? Or an archaeologist? No on both counts. So on what authority does Dr. Carson make this ridiculous claim?  He knows the pyramids aren’t hollow, doesn’t he? A grade-school-level of knowledge tells us the pyramids are mostly solid rock with a few small chambers and tunnels. Egyptian writings tell us their purpose: for royal entombment.  The pyramids also happen to predate the biblical Joseph. Furthermore, the Bible itself provides no corroboration for this empty idea. Dr. Ben Carson has no training in architecture; he had best stay away from the subject altogether and stick to something he knows, like politics. Oh, wait. He has no experience in politics either…
Pyramid at Giza.  Mostly solid.
Dr. Ben Carson.  Mostly hollow. 
For a detailed analysis of the pyramids-as-granaries idea, read Jason Colavito’s November 6th blog: The Long Strange History of the Pyramids as the Granaries of Joseph.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Lantz Architecture Blog

In this blog I have written about the architectural work of LaVerne Lantz . Now another writer, Maureen Brock, is devoting a new blog to Lantz's work. Brock is a marketing professional specializing in the design of websites and social media strategies. Her blog is a labor of love featuring original photography of Lantz projects.  It also reproduces old photographs and drawings from the Lantz archives. You can find Ms. Brock's blog at LaVerne Lantz: An American Architect. 
Wurster residence by LaVerne Lantz.
LaVerne Lantz's own residence in Delafield, Wisconsin was opened by Molly Lantz for a recent tour of Wright-influenced homes. This was in addition to a hugely successful "Wright and Like" home tour in 2014 which included six of Lantz's projects.  This activity reflects a growing interest in Lantz's work and mid-century modern architecture in general. There is even a Facebook page devoted to current and former home owners, friends, and fans of LaVerne Lantz's architectural legacy, The LaVerne Lantz Homeowners Group. I ran across the Facebook page while writing this entry and found, to my surprise, a photo of one of my own designs identified as a "little gem by former Lantz apprecntice, Denver architect Michael Knorr." (In fact, I was only eighteen years of age when it was designed and Lantz was instrumental in helping land my very first client.)
Wurster residence.
For those interested in my previous Lantz blog entries, here are the links:

Part I.
Part II.
Part III.

Images: George Hall

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Donald Trump and Classy Architecture

A focus group of Donald Trump fans was recently interviewed on MSNBC. One question caught my attention:
Q. How do you envision a Donald Trump presidency?
A. It would be classy. 
Seriously?  Donald Trump is classy?  Regardless of what one may think of Trump's political ideas (or lack of them) the adjective classy doesn't belong in the same sentence as Trump. That's my opinion, but, obviously, to some people Trump does connote class. The conversation reveals a huge rift in agreement on what classy even consists of. 
This isn't a blog about politics, it's about architecture. So my comments come from a specific perspective. The first time I ever saw a Trump building, Trump Tower in New York, the adjective that came to mind wasn't classy. Gauche, perhaps. Or, less kindly (in Trump's world it seems OK to be unkind), cheap, pretentious, megalomanic, delusional....
Trump Tower is like most of Trump's real estate. The color "gold" is slathered over everything, either as brass, anodized aluminum, or gold paint. None of it is really gold. That doesn't matter; pour on enough of the gaudy, shiny stuff and people get the point: this is rich man's territory. There are also plenty of mirrored surfaces, suggesting infinite amounts of wealth. It is a triumph of glitz over style. Strip away the surface decoration and there is very little architecture left and zero originality. The lobby is just a suburban mall turned vertical.

Trump's penthouse apartment in the same building is even worse. It is a shameless display of gaudy decoration, impressive by its opulence, but not by its good design. All the trappings of a rich man are strewn about, but there is no architecture and no sense of style.  It is such a cartoonish interpretation of what a rich man's home should look like, it might as well be the apartment of Thurston Howell III or Scrooge McDuck. That this can be construed as classy is discouraging.

Maybe it's my conservative Lutheran upbringing. My childhood was imbued with the idea that a display of wealth was not polite.  Certainly no one has an exclusive claim on what is good or bad in the world of design. I'm aware that criticizing another person's idea of classy contains its own snobbish arrogance. Who am I to set the standard? Nevertheless, the qualities of good design may be debated, but it should not be a battle of opinions. It should be a debate about principles. I can't see any sturdy design principles behind Donald Trump's self-created potentate trappings. It's not classy.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Architecture Big and Small

The Denver Post recently ran an article about the popularity of "tiny houses" while mentioning in passing the prevalence of "McMansions."  I wrote the following letter to the newspaper, published two days later.
Rebekah Paulson is building a Tiny Home for herself in
Fort Collins. The home is 20 feet long by 8 feet wide and 13'6" tall.
(Cyrus McCrimmon, The Denver Post)
Re: "Colorado woman's tiny house lets her live large on less," July 7 news story.

Your article about recent widespread interest in tiny houses contrasted them to so-called McMansions. These two phenomena are often compared, but important points about both tend to be obscured. 

Tiny houses are fun experiments in using resources wisely. However, a large part of their popularity comes from the fact that our economy is too broken to support home ownership for many who crave it. Increasingly, only the well-off can consider building a full-size home. 

Regarding McMansions, this term originally meant very large tract houses that pretend to be grander than their vapid finishes should allow. They are mass-produced like hamburgers with no understanding of taste or style.  Now McMansion has morphed into any big house no matter its utility or architectural worth. A funny criticism has turned into a spiteful slur. 

Contrasting tiny homes with McMansions conflates two unrelated issues and sets up a straw man for the advocates of tiny houses to attack. There is plenty to be said about tiny houses and much to criticize in awkward tract houses, but abusing metaphors only confuses both subjects. 

Michael Knorr, Architect

Friday, July 3, 2015

The Architecture of Two Cathedrals

Minneapolis and St. Paul are fun to compare (see previous blog entry) and nowhere is the temptation to compare more compelling than in their two major cathedrals. The Basilica of St. Mary is adjacent to the central business district of Minneapolis; the Cathedral of St. Paul sits on a promontory on the west edge of St. Paul. Both buildings have been hailed as among the finest examples of ecclesiastical architecture anywhere in the United States. The St. Mary cathedral opened in 1914 and was designed by architect Emmanuel Louis Masqueray. St. Paul cathedral opened a year later and was also designed by Masqueray. That's right: two spectacular edifices by the same architect at the same time in neighboring locations. What architect today would not salivate over such opportunities? Masqueray did not squander his professional good fortune, producing two masterful examples of beaux-arts architecture. They compare favorably to just about any European example of spectacular church design.

The arrangement of St. Mary's is straightforward. A truncated transept rapidly forces attention on the altar, bathed in light from above. Heavenly aspirations pull the viewer/audience/supplicant forward to glorious resolution. Light floods the space with heavenly grace.
1. The barrel-vaulted nave of St. Mary's focuses attention on the alter.
2. Hints of light. 
3. The dome above the alter at St. Mary's. 
4. The alter at St. Mary's. 
5. Exterior, Basilica of St. Mary's in Minneapolis.
Nobody does it better than the Catholics, of course, in manipulating emotions through architecture. They learned long ago that modulating space on a grandiose scale induces awe.

Across the river at the Cathedral of St. Paul, manipulation of interior volume is more obviously thematic with a hypnotic repetition of circles, arcs, and domes. If anything, it is even more spectacular than its sister in Minneapolis. The ambulatory unfolds with a stunning series of chapels, resplendent with monumental statues and some of the richest marble floor designs found anywhere. All culminates in a magnificent dome full center in the space.  Here the main upward thrust is over the nave, not the altar (though the altar is celebrated by a baldachin that rivals the Vatican's). The effect is uplifting - the spirit soars with the crescendo of the architecture. Man seems exalted - a theater-in-the round with the audience in the middle, blessed by glorious light.
6. The great dome over the nave of St. Paul's Cathedral.
7. Rose window at St. Paul's.
8. Central dome over the nave; secondary apse over the alter at St. Paul's. 
9. The benediction of heavenly light.
10. Space unfolding. 
11. Exterior, St. Paul's Cathedral in St. Paul.
12. Floor plan, St. Paul's.
The tale of two architectures at Minneapolis and St. Paul is a story of one architect squeezing as much theatrical energy out of classical forms as is humanly possible. Both are worthy of visits the next time you venture near the Twin Cities.

1-11. MJK
12. Minneapolis Star Tribune

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

A Tale of Two Architectures

I recently visited Minnesota at the invitation of Anderson Windows. The Anderson manufacturing and research facility (sixty-five acres under one roof!) is located in Bayport along the St. Croix river. Anderson was a gracious host and I learned a lot about their products. Afterwards I took a few extra days to reacquaint myself with nearby Minneapolis/St. Paul.  It has been over a decade since I've visited the Twin Cities. Changes to the metroplex were significant. Minneapolis and St. Paul may be twins, but they are not identical twins. The architecture of each city is very different and there are lessons to be learned from the differences.
Downtown Minneapolis posing as Houston.
New Minnesota Vikings stadium rising on the southern edge of downtown Minneapolis. 
Minneapolis seems like a combination of at least four cities:  Houston (enormous downtown buildings), Denver (a young and energetic demographic), Seattle (a sense of being on the creative edge), and Milwaukee (residential neighborhoods of wood frame construction).  In this melange Minneapolis has many attractions. An extensive network of designated trails, including a crosstown bike "freeway" with multiple lanes, makes it friendly to cyclists. It has the requisite number of professional sports teams for a major city. It is a center of commerce and industry with a highly qualified workforce. It has a coffee culture, live music, good restaurants. Its greatest asset is, perhaps, the string of lakes that grace the city with greenery, recreational opportunities, and natural beauty. However, if we are to judge the architectural bones of the city by its central business district, Minneapolis has some problems. Decades ago, the city began to mandate a skywalk system that links together all major downtown structures. The IDS center was an early example of this, creating a new sort of town square with shops, offices, and restaurants enclosed in a beautiful modern galleria (dubbed the Crystal Court). Architecturally it was a triumph and it still looks good today. (Phillip Johnson was lead architect in 1967.)  The skywalk system and IDS coincided with another major turn in the city: the creation of the Nicollet mall, converting the main downtown street into a pedestrian-friendly artery. This was part of a nationwide trend intending to attract people to urban centers in response to competing suburban development. This was executed with varying degrees of success in Kalamazoo, Michigan, Denver, Colorado, and even Las Vegas, Nevada on Freemont Street. In Minneapolis the effect was mixed. Businesses abandoned the streets as they moved up a level to the skywalks. Nicollet mall ended up as somewhat of a no-man's land. The whole downtown was turning inward, away from the streets and towards a network of bridges and hallways. The streets were left to street people, in the meanest sense of the phrase. To this day, there is a somewhat unsavory, almost menacing, air to downtown Minneapolis, despite the obvious success of the many climate controlled downtown gallerias that have since joined the IDS Crystal Court. Though these new climate-controlled urban spaces are lively, they are, intentionally or not, hardly inclusive. They repel non-shoppers and non-spenders by subtle design cues and are securely locked after 9 p.m. There are few alternatives, even for window shopping, on the streets. In a way, downtown has been turned into a gated community.
House designed by Purcell & Elmslie in Minneapolis.

The architecture of St. Paul is very different. Kinder and gentler, perhaps. The signs of a vibrant city are there: a renovated Union Station, a thriving farmers market, trendy restaurants, rail connections to the metroplex. At the same time St. Paul has managed to maintain a human scale to its downtown district.  Old buildings are preserved, even as shiny new ones fit between them. Brick facades, sidewalk cafes, and green space add texture. It possesses a friendliness that Minneapolis somehow lacks. It is not difficult to explore the streets of St. Paul. You do not feel you have to enter an air-conditioned mall to experience the city. St. Paul does have skywalks, for the same obvious reason as Minneapolis: the cold winter weather.  But in St. Paul they have not sucked the life out of the ground level. What is the difference?  Obviously, the scale of the two cities has something to do with it. St. Paul is a small town compared to its big brother. But there must be more to it than that. It must have something to do with the texture of the buildings. The architecture is simply softer in St. Paul. The materials, shapes, and scale are user-friendly.  Minneapolis has adopted an almost brutal architecture; facades tend to be featureless, the scale overwhelming. Not so in St. Paul. There are lessons to be learned here about the importance of human scale in architecture and urban planning.
St. Paul's refurbished Union Station.
Mickey's Diner, downtown St. Paul.
Street life in St. Paul.
Architectural texture in St. Paul. 
As a final word, it should be emphasized that two central business districts are being compared here. Outside of the downtown area, Minneapolis is every bit as pleasant as St. Paul, with inviting neighborhoods, parks, and entertainment. However, where the architectural rubber hits the road - downtown - St. Paul offers an easier ride.

All images MJK.