Olson Campus Center, 1490 Fulham Street, Saint Paul, Minnesota

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Olson Campus Center

Olson Campus Center Exterior
Interior Worship Space
Address: 1490 Fulham Street
Neighborhood/s: Saint Anthony Park, Saint Paul, Minnesota
Saint Paul, Minnesota
State/province: Minnesota
Country: United States
Year built: 1984
Primary Style: Modern
Additions: 2011 renovation: basement smart classroom added, basement bookstore remodel, lobby ceiling remodel, 2nd floor meeting room remodel, enclosure of 2nd floor exterior terrace for coffee shop/study space.
Major Alterations: Intact
Historic Function: College/university
Current Function: College/university
Architect or source of design: Original building by HGA, 2011 renovation by MS&R
Builder: A&P Construction
Material of Exterior Wall Covering: Brick

Saint Anthony Park Saint Paul

Olson Campus Center, 1490 Fulham Street, Saint Paul, Minnesota
(44.985856° N, 93.1968478° WLatitude: 44°59′9.082″N
Longitude: 93°11′48.652″W


A Modernist Building

The Olson Campus Center exists as a modernist gem set in the traditional neighborhood scape that shapes the urban periphery of Saint Paul. The building design embodies modernist sensibility in terms of form following a multitude of program elements, as well as creating the feeling of interior openness through a flowing quality of space. Materials and the use of light allows for a unique human experience of the architecture. These design features are characteristic of the modernist movement of post World War II architecture, but what makes this building particularly valuable is its ability to speak to the human scale. The Olson Campus Center embodies its mission of outreach to the community as a building that is welcoming, which contrasts popular notions of modernist buildings existing on an overpowering, uninhabitable scale. Through exemplary design and humanistic sensibility, the Olson Campus Center stands as a testament to the functionality and uniqueness of the modernist movement.

Experiencing the Architecture

A low and long entrance creates a dramatic effect that seems to pull you in and through the tunnel-like space, anticipating entrance into the building. This lengthening is enhanced by a low-lying brick wall extending from the building to the sidewalk as a sort of retaining wall built within the hilly topography of the southwest entrance. The extension and compression of entrance then leads you to the lobby space, which continues to be low-lying, but allows for a horizontal spread of space. This releases some of the tension created through the entrance condition. The low-lying oak wood paneled lobby ceiling opens up to the west in a spacious double-height narthex. Six doors located at the point of the narthex pentagon signify a grand entrance into the chapel.

Focusing on form, the chapel is a unique worship space. Initial attention is drawn to a three-pronged beam structure suspended overhead. This form dictates the division of space on the ground plane, and allows for a series of ribbon windows to punch through the angular wooden ceiling. One can’t help but be drawn through the space with a desire to explore the various angles highlighted through the use of light and materials. Light is used in a clever way to play across various textural surfaces. Modernist architectural elements of glazing and positioning of windows create a connection to the natural landscape outside of the building as well. In this modern building, brick is also transformed from a massive, planar material, to a flowing form. This is seen in the chapel walls, where brick takes on an undulating form. The curving brick plays with light pouring out of the ribbon windows in a fantastic way, again drawing attention to qualities of light and material. Another unique use of brick is found in the screen-like wall behind the pulpit. The screen serves a functional purpose in creating hidden storage space, while maintaining uniformity of material and a planar wall surface. It is also important to note that the church pews and organ are uniquely designed to fit the modernist style, creating long lines and visually simplifying the organization of space.

Upon closer inspection, modern use of detail and human-scale design work come forth in a way that makes the Olson Campus Center truly unique. The chapel best demonstrates this focus on qualities of light and material, as these elements can transform into concepts of worship and connection with a higher power.


In addition to being an excellent example of developing modernist design, the Olson Campus Center represents the role of community center structures in creating thriving settlement through the enrichment of neighborhoods, and more specifically the Lutheran Church in Minnesota. The Olson Campus Center lies at the edge of Saint Anthony Park, a small neighborhood in Saint Paul that thrives on local business and a unique sense of character. This community uses the Olson Campus Center for various organizational and event purposes. A coffee shop was built into the study space addition with hopes of attracting all members of the community, not just students. Luther Seminary is a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which focuses on serving others and addressing social issues. Recent renovations reflect these traits and will continue to hold them valuable in a constantly changing future. This demonstrates that the Olson Campus Center in the Saint Anthony Park community provides an excellent model for the role of the church in modern society and its ability to transform to meet the current and future needs of a community.

Photo Gallery


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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