Minnehaha Academy Brings Nature Indoors with ASI Architectural

Cuningham Group Selects Custom ASI Ceiling Grids for School’s State-of-the-Art Facilities

MINNEAPOLIS, JANUARY 28, 2020 Custom ceiling solutions from ASI Architectural were recently installed in the lobby and services areas of the Minnehaha Academy Upper School. Led by the Cuningham Group’s Minneapolis-based architectural office, the installation focused on the importance of space and ambiance, with an emphasis on bringing nature into the buildings. ASI Architectural has highlighted this project through a video interview with project architect, Chad Clow.

Though the main goal of the Minnehaha Academy design was to bring nature indoors, the original project brief was, first and foremost, the replacement of two of the school’s original, century-old buildings, which were lost in a tragic explosion in 2017. With the loss of vital facilities that were housed in the buildings, such as classrooms, science/technology labs and the school’s food service area, the Cuningham Group faced a strict 18-month deadline to get students back into the school.

“From the first meeting, it was clear that this was about more than just replacing a school and classrooms… it was really about recreating a new vision for the school,” says Clow. Minnehaha Academy “is so much more than a school, so we approached it from that point of view.  The second part was that we recognized there’s a long history of this school and its relationship to the Mississippi River… we wanted to make sure we took advantage of the nature and the relationships to that [history].”

Clow wanted the space to feel warm and welcoming, which influenced the materials chosen for the project. In the Academy’s main lobby, Clow and his team selected customized grille ceiling panels from ASI Architectural in a sophisticated diagonal pattern with a skylight in the center to let in natural light. Custom ceiling panels were also placed in stairwells throughout the buildings.

“The spaces are meant to flow in and be ambiguous to have space for many types of social activities and conversations, as well as connecting the two wings,” he explains. “We believe that schools don’t have to be cold and impersonal, they can have warmth and hospitality. So, we chose materials that represent that. One of the most important decisions we made was to embrace the landscape. We wanted to create an element on the inside that brought the outside in.”

ASI Architectural’s advanced grille, made of hemlock wood, features an acoustical backer, which helps to control the sound in the highly trafficked main entrance. Having worked frequently in the educational space, Clow has an understanding of the benefits of ceiling surface products in these environments. “One of the best ways to mitigate sound is through the ceiling, especially when you have hard surfaces on the floor,” he explains. “Choosing the diagonal design for the layout, however, was a bit more difficult. We also preferred to see the wood baffles on their side, versus looking down the ends. It was a technical challenge, as well as an aesthetic one, but it [worked nicely] and plays into the vastness of nature.”

Clow also opted to continue the ASI Grille Panels into the skylight cutouts. “In this case, we wanted to celebrate the angles and geometry [of the space] … it’s just one of those details that’s a little unexpected and unique. I think, with the ceiling in particular, people don’t realize how much equipment – duct work, fire sprinklers, data – all of the complexity that’s up there and the effort to make [it all work].”

Additionally, Clow says, Minnehaha Academy is especially thrilled with the final result. “One of the first things they commented on was just how beautiful and unexpected it is in a school. Without the wood ceiling, I’m not sure that we would have captured the same ambiance. As an architect, it’s really rewarding to see people using this space.”

In addition to the video interview with Chad Clow, ASI has also produced a brief YouTube video highlighting the detailed work and improvement of Minnehaha Academy.