Northwestern National Life Building, 20 Washington Avenue South, Minneapolis, Minnesota

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Northwestern National Life Building (now ING Reliastar Building)

Address: 20 Washington Avenue S
Neighborhood/s: Downtown, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Gateway District, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Minneapolis, Minnesota
Hennepin County, Minnesota
State/province: Minnesota
Country: United States
Year built: 1964
Primary Style: Modern
Historic Function: Office
Current Function: Office
Architect or source of design: Minoru Yamasaki & Associates, BWBR Architects
Material of Exterior Wall Covering: Concrete
Material of Foundation: Concrete
First Owner: Northwestern National Life Insurance Co.
Part of the Site: ING Reliastar Complex

Downtown, Gateway District Minneapolis Hennepin County

Northwestern National Life Building, 20 Washington Avenue South, Minneapolis, Minnesota
(44.981983° N, 93.267586° WLatitude: 44°58′55.139″N
Longitude: 93°16′3.31″W

The Northwestern National Life Building, now known as the ING Reliastar Building, can be found at 20 Washington Avenue South in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Built in 1964 by Minoru Yamasaki and Associates, it is a fine example of the modernist architecture of the time. At its most basic form it is a rectangular office block. Its open floor plan was designed to maintain simplicity and to enhance the functionality of the building. It is part of a three-building complex designed by Minoru Yamasaki & Associates. The complex includes two other Yamasaki buildings, the 22 story ING 100 Building (1981) and the ING Reliastar 111 Building (1987). All three structures demonstrate Yamasaki’s use of simplified Gothic forms, grand plazas and water features, but the ING Reliastar building was given the most attention. It was to be the centerpiece of newly renovated Gateway District, where 17 square blocks of aging structures were leveled in the early 1960s to make way for a cleaner, more modern downtown.



The ING Reliastar building’s prominent location at the junction of Hennepin and Nicollet Avenues was a point of debate amongst the design team. Several other ideas were considered, including a tower and a much more stern modern structure on stilts, or piloti. In the end, the simplicity and emphasis on functionality won out, and the present temple structure with its portico and high, lofty arches is what stands today. It provides a better transition to the surrounding park which, coupled with the water feature and plaza, sets the building up as both a place of business and relaxation.

This structure and its setting give off an aura of order and rationality, something important to both the client and the new community. When viewed from the park, the high columns and water feature give it an almost neoclassical feel. The columns taper out at the top generating simplified gothic arches, a signature Yamasaki form. There are 63 columns in total standing at 80 feet tall. The columns are made of pre-cast, quartz-aggregate concrete which appears white. Between the columns are vertically aligned slabs of Verde Antique green marble which help insulate the building. Between the marble and the columns are slivers of grey solar glass set in aluminum frames. The limited fenestration also helps with heating costs.

The building has seven stories all together. Two are underground and the other five have relatively similar floor plans. Once through the portico, the first level opens up into a large marble-sheathed lobby. “Sunlit Straw”, a sculpture by Harry Bertoia, as well as several other works of art populate the room. As you go up the remaining floors are relatively uniform. The floor plan was kept open to allow maximum flexibility with working conditions and all major utilities are huddled in the core of the structure.

The entire structure was renovated in the early 1990s by BWBR Architects. They replaced worn wooden inserts and other surfaces on the interior and repaired weather damages to the marble on the exterior. The lack of proper water-proofing technology in the 60s led to seepage behind the marble and into the support structure. They also repaired the mechanics for the water features and added exterior flood lights to illuminate the structure at night. The water feature mechanics were renovated again in 2008 by Short Elliott and Hendrickson Architects.

Despite these renovations the building still stands prominently as the symbol of the new Gateway District. Yamasaki, perhaps most well known for his design of the World Trade Center towers in New York, wanted the building to live up to the history of its location. At the time of this building’s inception, the point made by Nicollet and Hennepin Avenues had been a public destination for nearly 100 years. The exact location of the ING Reliastar building was once the site of Minneapolis’ first city hall.

Memories and stories


65}px This place is part of the
Minnesota Modernism Tour
64px}px This place is part of
the ARCH5670 Class Project

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Details and Plans courtesy of: "Office Buildings." Architectural Record Dec. 1965: 139-62. Print.

Lobby image courtesy of: Kudalis, Eric. "Corporate Life: A Modernist Classic Is Updated." Architecture Minnesota Sept.-Oct. 1994: 24-[25], 49. Print.

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