An independent day school serving grades K-12 | St. Paul, MN

Upper School renovation wins award for design excellence from the American Institute of Architects Minnesota

SPA’s redesigned Upper School is among seven architectural projects awarded a 2020 Honor Award by the American Institute of Architects Minnesota (AIA).  

The award recognizes Minneapolis architecture and engineering firm HGA for its design work on two projects on the school’s Randolph Campus: the new Schilling Center for Math and Science (completed in fall 2018) and the renovation of Old Main and the Humanities Wing (completed in spring 2019). This is the second time in five years that HGA has won the award for its work with SPA; in 2017, the HGA-designed Huss Center for the Performing Arts was also honored with an AIA Honor Award. 

“This is the second such award for HGA’s work with SPA—an impressive accomplishment and one that affirms, in the most important ways, their extraordinary work and vision,” says Bryn Roberts, SPA’s Head of School. Roberts notes that the many challenges of the Upper School project, especially the integration of the multiple architectural styles of the century-old Randolph Campus, makes this award “particularly gratifying for all who worked on it.” 

“We take great pride in these projects and this award,” says HGA Associate Vice President Jim Moore, “and congratulations are also due to SPA’s leadership and faculty for the exceptional vision and program that served as the unquestionable foundation for the award-winning qualities of this work.” 

Established by the American Institute of Architects Minnesota in 1954, the Honor Awards recognize outstanding built projects by AIA Minnesota members, or firms that are owned by AIA Minnesota members, that practice professionally in Minnesota. Submissions were evaluated according to the AIA Framework for Design Excellence, in alignment with AIA National Architecture Awards. Achievement within the Framework for Design Excellence requires a holistic approach to design, addressing the interdependence among people, buildings, infrastructure, and the environment. In honoring the Schilling Center and Upper School renovation, the AIA judges noted HGA’s “timeless yet modern” approach, its focus on reusing and renovating existing spaces, and how the new spaces allow the school flexibility for future use. 

Moore, who served as the project lead for the Upper School renovation and also worked on the Huss Center project, says that HGA’s six-year collaboration with the school has provided the firm with enormous opportunity for design innovation, particularly given the Randolph Campus’ location and footprint.  “What has always struck us in our work with SPA is how sensitively the Randolph Campus sits within a very dense residential and commercial neighborhood,” Moore says. “Because everything around the campus has a small footprint, our designs needed to break the buildings’ masses down into smaller parts that allow for light and visual connection between the interiors and surrounding neighborhood.”

The Schilling Center includes almost 40,000 square feet of classroom, laboratory, and collaborative space for SPA’s science, math, engineering, computer science, and robotics programs. In its submission for the AIA award, HGA noted that the building “Afford[s] all the functionality of a sophisticated lab building…this design breaks down the typical scale and opacity of traditional lab construction, integrating SPA’s unique curriculum into an intimate neighborhood setting.” The renovation of Old Main and the Humanities Wing involved 38,000 square feet and 20 classrooms, designed around discussion, small-group work, and technology in a design that “restores and represents the original elegance” of the space, according to HGA’s submission. 

“Ultimately, our ability to do excellent work stems from the excellence of our clients,” Moore says. “Strong design cannot be created in the ether.  In this case, it comes from the strength of SPA’s pedagogy, curriculum, and especially the strength of the relationships between the students and their teachers. That is what makes the school successful and what has made these projects successful.”