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A marriage made in Asgard

The American Swedish Institute and Gustavus Adolphus College find common ground ... and build on it

Groundbreaking is scheduled soon on a major addition and renovation of existing space for the American Swedish Institute (ASI), Minneapolis. The new space will allow Gustavus Adolphus College, St. Peter, Minnesota, to establish a physical presence in the Twin Cities.

Gustavus Adolphus is making a long-term commitment on space in the new structure to be called the Nelson Cultural Center. Housed in the space will be college relations, admissions, and career planning/placement offices. Bruce Karstadt, president and CEO of ASI, anticipates that some educational programs for alumni will be developed and also utilize space at ASI.

The American Swedish Institute campus extension design for the Nelson Cultural Center and the Turnblad Mansion includes Twin Cities space for Gustavus Adolphus College. Graphic provided by the American Swedish Institute

The construction schedule calls for completion in time for dedication in the spring of 2012.

Gustavus Adolphus President Dr. Jack Ohle said, “We look forward to establishing in the Twin Cities a base for outreach to Gustavus alumni, prospective students and their parents, friends of the college, and in the neighborhood surrounding the American Swedish Institute. Having a permanent office space in the Institute’s new Nelson Cultural Center will be an exciting opportunity. There is simply no place we would rather be.

“As a college founded by Swedish Americans nearly 150 years ago, we honor our Swedish legacy, and we are very intentional about maintaining strong ties with Sweden to this day. We feel that our longstanding relationship with the American Swedish Institute and this new partnership are very positive ways to recognize our heritage.”

A place in the Twin Cities

The price tag on the current construction/renovation project will be about $21 million. Fundraising has reached $12 million and other financing is in place, according to Karstadt. An earlier capital campaign begun in May 2000 raised $19 million and resulted in restoration work on the historic Turnblad mansion which has been the home of ASI since its founding in 1929. It also provided for property expansion on the remainder of the 2600 block of Park Avenue, including the former Ebenezer Luther Hall building. Parking space was expanded to accommodate 150 cars and festival grounds.

The new construction will be immediately south of the Turnblad mansion and include 34,000 sq. ft. in the Nelson Cultural Center. A 10,000 sq. ft. renovation is scheduled for the lower level of the Turnblad mansion plus construction of an elevator tower and preservation of original rooms in the mansion.

Thirty-two organizations currently utilize ASI’s facilities. Many of them are finding temporary meeting space at the Lutheran Social Service’s Center for Changing Lives, two blocks north on Park Avenue, during the construction.

ASI is a global organization with a strong local presence. Its building houses the Honorary Swedish Consulate General and the Swedish Council of America. The construction program aims to expand ASI’s role as a gathering place for the immediate neighborhood as well as the Nordic-American community, embracing all of the Scandinavian countries. “Our project really embraces who we are,” said Nina Clark, director of programs and exhibits.

She added the new construction will provide space for programs, both indoors and outdoors. There will be new studio space for classes in traditional Swedish handicraft. A new library and archive space will improve care for valuable collections, including copies of the Svenska Amerikanska Posten (the newspaper published by Swan Turnblad), many of which exist only at ASI.

The new space will also include a café, museum shop, and two commercial kitchens for the café and for the event space which will seat 200 for dinner (or 325 for lectures and concerts).

The new look at ASI

The Nelson Cultural Center (named for benefactors Leslie and Carl Nelson) acknowledges the historic character of the Turnblad mansion while creating a distinct architectural presence that considers contemporary and traditional Swedish aesthetics and landscapes. The present auditorium, built in 1983, will become two classrooms and a community hall. What is now the Viking Room will become a library/archives room, replacing the current location which is not easily accessible.

The Nelson Center is designed to be an architectural companion to the existing building, allowing the Turnblad mansion to remain the site’s centerpiece in a symbiotic play of traditional and new architectural elements. The Center will occupy a vacant lot south of the existing mansion and carriage house, unfolding horizontally through a series of modular forms sheathed in dark slate tile and punctuated with large windows. Visitors will approach from the Park Avenue side along a landscaped path toward the entrance lobby.

The central courtyard and “green” roof are typical of Swedish farmsteads. Exterior vegetation is typical of Swedish landscapes.

Minneapolis architectural firm HGA has registered the Nelson Cultural Center for LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification with the U.S. Green Building Council. ASI continues on track to become the first museum in the Twin Cities with any LEED level status; ASI currently aims to be the first Minnesota museum to be certified at the LEED Gold level.

More information about the Swedish Institute and its programs is available by calling 612/871-4907 or visiting the Web site: www.american swedishinst.org.

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