We’ve been reminiscing a lot this year.  Between moving offices, prepping for our tenth anniversary party, and launching a new website, we have come across a lot of memories tucked into old filing cabinets and stored on old computer servers.  We discovered, for instance, watercolor sketches for the Light Rail Transit Stations at Franklin Avenue and Government Plaza and a SketchUp model for The Nicollet, a residential skyscraper in downtown Minneapolis. These were some of the first projects we worked on together — projects at the beginning of what were to be become lifelong partnerships. We decided to look back at the origins of the firm and share the tale of how Shelter Architecture came to be.

Shelter’s Founding Partners Kurt Gough and Jackie Millea met at Barbour/LaDouceur Design Group in the late 1990’s. Just finishing their Master of Architecture Degrees at the University of Minnesota, both Jackie & Kurt were starting second careers. Jackie had practiced Interior Design and Kurt had worked as a theater designer and prop master before enrolling at the U. Under the mentorship of award winning architects John Barbour and Janis LaDouceur they honed their skills as architecture interns on projects such as the Hotel Donaldson, Science House and Dodge Nature Preschool.

In 2004 Barbour/LaDouceur was growing, both in staff size and the size of projects coming into the office. Kurt and Jackie felt the entrepreneurial itch and the desire to focus on smaller scaled, sustainably-geared projects. Partnering with classmate John Dwyer they set out to form just such a practice. In October of 2004 Shelter Architecture set up shop in a 3rd floor Minneapolis studio just south of Loring Park .

From the beginning, the guiding belief at Shelter has been that design is a powerful tool that can make people’s lives better. That core belief led us to lending our skills to groups like Habitat for Humanity and a close association with Architecture for Humanity. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, we sent Founding Partner John Dwyer to New Orleans to establish a Shelter office — which was the first architecture office ever to be set up in the Lower Ninth Ward. John Dwyer worked with neighborhood organizations to assist in the massive rebuilding efforts. Meanwhile in the North Country, Kurt and Jackie continued to focus an ever growing studio on sustainable design practices.

In 2008, Shelter moved to a larger studio on Harriet Avenue in Minneapolis’ Uptown neighborhood. By then Shelter had become known for designing award-winning, environmentally sensitive homes. We had been an early adopter of LEED criteria and designed the first LEED-H Platinum certified home in Minnesota, dubbed 5ive based on the project’s single digit house number. Shelter continued to explore environmentally sensitive design practices and began to expand the firm’s focus to a limited range of commercial projects. As the economic pressures of the recession began to force many Architecture firms to downsize Shelter stayed the course, maintaining a slow but steady roster of renovations and remodels.

Back at Barbour/LaDouceur, the residential skyscraper project called The Nicollet was tabled indefinitely due in no small part to the economic downturn. Barbour/LaDouceur reorganized and John Barbour founded Barbour Architects. In 2010 Shelter and John Barbour begun discussing opportunities to collaborate on projects. By the end of that year Founding Partner John Dwyer departed from Shelter to take over his family’s construction business and eventually opened a solo residential practice. The time seemed right to “get the band back together” and John Barbour became a Partner at Shelter Architecture.

Since 2010 Shelter has expanded its focus.  We have incorporated our love of entrepreneurship and the design of experiences outside the home. Along with sustainably designed residential work, our recent projects include a range of commercial ventures. We relish opportunities to work with other like minded entrepreneurs who are passionate about what they do.  These kindred spirits include the founders of Icehouse MPLS, Bauhaus Brew Labs, Hot Indian Foods, Steel Toe Brewing, and a soon to be announced boutique hotel project – just to name a few. We continue to ground all of our pursuits in sustainable building science practices, creating environments that are as comfortable and beautiful as they are functional, healthy, and good to the earth.

2014 finds us in a new location in NE Minneapolis that we are certain will be home base for many years to come.  The space reflects our creative, enterprising culture more so than any other space that we have occupied.  We are passionate about what we do; our enthusiasm is evident from our first project to our last. It is a joy to work with the amazing people we have in the studio and our partners both on and offsite. That’s our story as we end out 2014. Stay tuned for the next chapter, or better yet, help us write it.

Cheers from your friends at Shelter.

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