Minnesota State Capitol, Campus Renovation

History as a Guide

From the beginning, Cass Gilbert championed the connection of the State Capitol and its grounds to the greater City of St. Paul. His ideas evolved over time and responded to new opportunities available early in the century. Subsequent plans have sometimes built upon his vision and other times obliterated its potential, but the spirit of Gilbert’s idea remains alive to guide future projects including this one involving “Minnesota’s front lawn.”

HGA’s landscape architects devised a plan to restore the Capitol Grounds based upon historical research that respected the building’s historic importance while returning the site back to the grandeur the architect Cass Gilbert originally envisioned. During the research for this project, they located a historic letter from Gilbert to the building’s committee Chairman regarding landscape and its relationship with architecture. In the 1905 letter he remarked – “The whole planting is a matter of design not of whim and must relate to the architecture or it will be worse than useless and a waste of money.”

They took these remarks to heart and used them to guide the re-envisioned plans for the grounds around the Capitol with the mission to simultaneously preserve and protect a national landmark, safeguarding it for the next century while making it a modern complex for all to enjoy and cherish. To recall Gilbert’s grand visions and create better connections to the community and public transit, the team implemented several design directives. The first directive stemmed from the goal of removing parking and vehicle access from the immediate building perimeter to improve aesthetic and security/functional issues. To that end, Aurora Avenue was permanently closed and transformed into a promenade for pedestrians. Because the Capitol is a major destination, especially for the scores of grade school students each year, the second directive was how to improve the visitor’s experience.  These two directives led to the creation of two new outdoor spaces on the Capitol Mall – the Aurora Promenade and a new civic gathering space at the foot of the grand south stair, the Capitol Plaza.

To continue the goal of removing parking from around the building the site was re-envisioned to be made up of quads based off the four cardinal points – NW Quad, NE Quad, SE Quad, and SW Quad.  This design move created a new outdoor gathering space known as the NE Quad, through the removal of what was once a parking lot. This green space offers a lawn bordered by walks and benches, making it a highly adaptable space for hosting gatherings and celebrations. To address the large groups of visiting students and tour groups, the team developed a bus drop-off along the SE Quad at the East Entry Gate to the Aurora Promenade. This accessible drop-off and route make for a vastly improved means for all to enjoy our restored public treasure – Minnesota’s People’s House.

The Minnesota State Capitol and Grounds is a civic treasure and Cass Gilbert’s masterpiece is noted as one of the most beautiful of the 50 State Capitol buildings. It serves as the seat of state government with grand legislative chambers for the State Senate, House of Representatives, and the State Supreme Court. Constructed from 1898-1904, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972. The design team restored the buildings stonework, systems, and site so it will function beautifully for another 100 years.


St. Paul, MN

Building Type

Government, State Capital


  • 2017 AIA Minnesota Honor Award
  • 2017 Preservation Alliance of Minnesota Honor Award

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