Designs for Nelson Cultural Center and Turnblad Mansion Renovation by HGA Architects

Press Release:
The American Swedish Institute, a museum and cultural center with an international reputation on historic Park Avenue in the heart of South Minneapolis, today unveiled designs for the Nelson Cultural Center, a building to be constructed adjacent to the iconic Turnblad Mansion to accommodate growing programs and audiences. In addition, the organization announced plans to renovate and improve accessibility to the mansion, and landscape the campus grounds. HGA Architects and Engineers, Minneapolis, designed the building and landscaping to reflect contemporary and traditional Swedish aesthetics and landscape, and developed plans for the mansion renovation. To date, the American Swedish Institute has received $11 million in gifts and pledges toward a fundraising goal of $21.5 million for these projects, the final phase of the Linking Generations, Linking Communities capital campaign.

Founded in 1929 and located at 2600 Park Avenue, the American Swedish Institute is the foremost Swedish-American organization in the United States with a national audience and international exhibition program. The historic house, museum and cultural center celebrate Swedish, Swedish-American and Nordic cultures. Each year, more than 75,000 people of all ages visit the museum and its exhibitions, and attend classes, programs and events. The organization has approximately 5,000 household members in 46 states and five countries.

“This is a pivotal moment for the American Swedish Institute, and we want to thank our many donors for their generosity,” said Bruce Karstadt, American Swedish Institute president and chief executive officer. “The Nelson Cultural Center, along with renovation and landscaping plans, has been thoroughly designed to support our mission and keep pace with our growing programs and audiences, especially with other Nordic community partners. The contemporary design of the Nelson Cultural Center embraces Swedish and Nordic values, particularly respect for innovative design, nature and quality materials, and the environment, through energy conservation and sustainable building practices. The American Swedish Institute campus will become a vibrant gathering place. We are continuing the tradition of Swedish immigrants who founded organizations and constructed buildings for the community good.”

Linking Generations, Linking Communities Capital Campaign Announces $21.5 Million Goal
As noted above, the current phase of the Linking Generations, Linking Communities Capital Campaign has a goal of $21.5 million, and major gifts toward this final phase total $11 million.

“Leadership gifts have come from the Twin Cities, across the nation and Sweden,” said Jan Ledin Michaletz, chair of the American Swedish Institute Board of Trustees. “We are deeply appreciative of our donors’ commitment to the American Swedish Institute. While current pledges give us the resources and confidence to begin construction, we need additional support to achieve our $21.5 million goal. We could not proceed without the generous gifts to the first phase of the campaign.”

Between 2001 and 2008, the American Swedish Institute completed many capital projects under the first phase of the Linking Generations, Linking Communities campaign. These include restoring significant portions of the Turnblad Mansion and acquiring property for the entire block at 2600 Park Avenue. Gifts to the first phase totaled $19 million.

Building Addition and Campus Plans Reflect Swedish and Nordic Traditions
Named after benefactors Carl and Leslie Nelson, construction of the 34,000-square-foot addition is scheduled to begin in early 2011 and be completed in mid-2012. The building is designed for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold certification. The Nelson Cultural Center will also house Twin Cities outreach for St. Peter, Minn.-based Gustavus Adolphus College, which will use the space for admission, alumni relations and educational programming. The Turnblad Mansion, which has housed the American Swedish Institute for 80 years, will be renovated to preserve original rooms, open more spaces to the public, improve accessibility, and create additional classrooms and community meeting spaces. Landscaping of the entire campus will provide grounds for community festivals, enhance the visitor entrance and complement the buildings.

The Nelson Cultural Center will have an open, welcoming layout; handcrafted, Swedish-inspired detailing; and environmentally sustainable solutions. Primary features include a(n):

  • Glass-enclosed reception lobby
  • Museum shop and cafe
  • Art gallery for traveling and locally originated exhibitions
  • Large studio and crafts workshop
  • Space for offices, including partner organizations
  • Storage area for collections
  • Flexible event space seating 325 for a lecture or concert, 200 for dinner

The event space will have wood ceiling elements, reminiscent of the timber roof of the Stockholm City Hall.
“Drawing inspiration from Swedish architecture and landscapes, and working with Swedish designers has been an exciting aspect of this project,” said E. Tim Carl, AIA, lead architect and vice president at HGA Architects and Engineers. “Our team carefully selected materials, such as various woods, glass and blue-stone pavers, for their sustainable qualities and low maintenance. We also identified perennials and trees, including birch, which thrive in both Minnesota and Sweden. Nordic respect for the environment has been top of mind, and we designed the building to achieve LEED Gold certification.”

Several features reflect traditional Swedish aesthetics and focus on the environment. A courtyard between the Nelson Cultural Center and mansion is reminiscent of rural and urban courtyards in Sweden. A 7,000-square-foot sloping green roof, typical of traditional Swedish structures, will reduce energy cost and rain run-off. Other environmentally sustainable features are a geothermal heating system to tap heat from the earth and an underground storage system to capture rain water for irrigation.

The new construction will complement the familiar view of the castle-like Turnblad Mansion from Park Avenue. The center will be located south of the mansion, and its dark exterior will offset the light limestone of the mansion. From the interior entrance of the addition, two-story windows will frame spectacular views of the mansion.

The campus expansion project will also accommodate offices of the Minneapolis Honorary Swedish Consulate General and Swedish Council of America, an umbrella for nearly 300 Swedish-American organizations. Both organizations currently have offices at the American Swedish Institute.
Gustavus Adolphus College has made a long-term commitment to establish a Twin Cities office in the Nelson Cultural Center. “This Twin Cities presence will greatly enhance and support the many and diverse activities that engage our Twin Cities area constituents,” said Jack R. Ohle, president of Gustavus Adolphus College. “With this partnership, the college and the institute are excited to build on a long-standing relationship based upon common Swedish heritage and mutual passion for excellence, education and service.”

Plans Call for Renovation, Preservation of Turnblad Mansion
The Turnblad Mansion, which has housed the American Swedish Institute since its founding, will remain a centerpiece of the campus. Karstadt added, “The Turnblad Mansion has been an icon of the American Swedish Institute for decades but was not built for its current level of use. Physical stress has been taking a toll on its condition. The new addition will allow us to move many activities out of the mansion and preserve this historic treasure for future generations. We are especially excited about the addition of an elevator tower to facilitate full access to all floors of the mansion.”

Renovation plans include repurposing 10,000 square feet in the mansion’s lower level for meetings rooms and classrooms, as well as storage for various collections. A reading room and archived materials will be available to the public.

About The American Swedish Institute
Founded in 1929 by Swedish immigrant newspaper publisher Swan J. Turnblad, the American Swedish Institute is a historic house, museum and cultural center that serves as a gathering place for people to share stories and experiences around universal themes of tradition, migration, craft and the arts, all informed by enduring ties to Sweden. The American Swedish Institute offers a variety of programs designed to celebrate Swedish, Swedish-American and Nordic cultures, and is housed in the 1908 Turnblad Mansion, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. For more information, visit

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