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Modern plazas present a number of key design features that impede accessibility, including wide terraced steps that serve as both seating and vertical circulation; sunken plazas that function as primary gathering spaces; water features that are meant to be traversed; and concrete and aggregate surfaces that, through both design and erosion, do not provide a smooth and even means of travel. In 2018-19, Peavey Plaza was successfully revitalized by the City of Minneapolis to improve safety, sustainability, and maintenance; and to provide permanent accessibility for people of varied levels of mobility.


This self-guided tour will walk you through the history, key design features, and the accessibility upgrades that were sensitively introduced to Peavey Plaza.


Click to view the full walking tour

1. History

  • Peavey Plaza was designed by M. Paul Friedberg and Associates, which was one of the cutting-edge landscape architecture firms in the United States after World War II.
  • Paul Friedberg was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1931. He graduated from the School of Agriculture at Cornell University in 1954. He opened his own landscape architecture office in 1958. Friedberg’s designs reflect his unconventional views challenging traditional design approaches. The Jacob Riis Plaza, located in New York and inaugurated in 1965, gave international prominence to Friedberg’s work.
  • The City of Minneapolis approved the final plans for Peavey Plaza in May 1974. The construction of the plaza was completed and dedicated in June 1975. The north corner of the plaza remained unfinished by the end of the construction phase. In 1979, M. Paul Friedberg and Associates was retained by the Orchestra Association to develop a design for the extension of the plaza at the north corner. The construction of the plaza extension was completed in 1980.
  • Peavey Plaza was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2013 under Criterion C for its significance in Landscape Architecture, given the national importance of its Modernist landscape, designed by M. Paul Friedberg and Associates.

2. Original Design

  • Peavey Plaza is a significant example of a designed urban park plaza in the Modernist style. The hard-edged urban landscapes created by Friedberg and Associates differed radically from the previous designs of traditional urban spaces. At Peavey Plaza, Friedberg created a public space that combines the typical American green square with the European hard space.
  • Peavey Plaza consists of a variety of well-organized, rectilinear, interconnected spaces. The plaza features landscaped terraces set at multiple levels around a 140-foot by 200-foot reflecting pool that is recessed 10 feet below street level. As the main organizing feature of the plaza, the lower pool serves both as a water feature and a gathering space when drained.
  • The multilevel site hosted a variety of events, and became an urban oasis thanks to its large reflecting pool and burbling fountains during non-programmed times

3. Rehabilitation Project

  • Peavey Plaza was rehabilitated in 2018-19. The City’s rehabilitation goals for the plaza included refurbishing the fountains and reflecting basin, concrete repairs, and utility upgrades. 
  • The plaza was also updated to comply with current safety and accessibility requirements, in order to make it a safe, inclusive, and welcoming plaza and civic space for all people.
  • Peavey Plaza was rehabilitated in accordance with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties and the Guidelines for the Treatment of Cultural Landscapes. 
  • The groundbreaking took place in May 2018. The rehabilitation work was complete in August 2019.

4. Concrete Materials and Ramps

  • Exposed concrete is the dominant material throughout the plaza. Concrete features include stairs, bleachers, planter retaining walls, weirs, coping, bridges, and runnels. 
  • Three new ramps and safety changes that respect the geometry of Peavey Plaza were sensitively introduce while also providing an equal experience to all users, ensuring that Peavey Plaza will remain a vibrant community gathering place for years to come. 
  • Three new ramps were sensitively introduced to provide accessibility. New ramps consist of cast-in-place concrete walkways and board-formed walls matching the historic, and stainless steels railings and handrails. 
  • The ramp configuration and multiple terrace entry points provide an accessible route from Nicollet Mall in a similar circulation pattern to the original paths of stairs and terraces. A concrete ramp sequence was also provided at the north corner of the site and around the west corner of Orchestra Hall.

5. Reflecting Pool

  • The level of the lower pool was raised to the level of the immediately surrounding and historic coping in order to provide permanent, consistent, and safe access for small and large organized events as well as informal visitors. 
  • Brick pavers were selectively removed for the installation of a new pool drainage system and the construction of an elevated accessible concrete platform. 
  • The concrete platform is supported by short concrete walls and finished with granite pavers.

6. Vegetation, Site Furnishing, and Lighting

  • The most prominent vegetative characteristic of Peavey Plaza is the designed simplicity of the plantings. Vegetation and plantings include Honey Locust, Triumph Elm and Glenleven Linden trees, seeded turf, Andorra Juniper shrub, and sedge. 
  • Site furnishings include seating, free-standing railings and wall-mounted handrails, banner light poles, flagpoles, signage, and concrete bollards and trash receptacles. Seating includes freestanding wood seat blocks as well as wall-hung wood benches. 
  • Multiple lighting systems are present within the plaza including pendant tree lights, banner pole lights, concrete and metal bollard lights, fountain lights, niche lights, and landscape lights.

7. Water Features

  • Water is a prominent and fundamental element of the plaza’s design. The original water functions ceased operations by 2011. 
  • The concrete fountains with vertical stainless-steel canisters, multi-level concrete weir pools and stairs, and concrete runnels constitute a complex water feature cascading water down to the lower pool elevation. 
  • The Main Fountain is located at the west corner of Peavey Plaza, bounded by Nicollet Mall and South 12th street. The Main Fountain is one of the most significant and symbolic features of the plaza. 
  • Water features and associated mechanical systems were restored, rehabilitated, or replaced as part of the 2018-19 rehabilitation project. Fountains were restored and canisters were cleaned. The bottom of the runnels was raised to increase safety. 
  • New mechanical equipment and electrical systems were integrated into the existing feature to improve sustainability and efficiency. New piping, pumps, mechanical and electrical equipment was installed in the mechanical room located along South 12th street.