Mission & History


Mission Statement


Our Vision

After a century of wastefulness, in which Americans wasted energy, water, land, and human beings, among many other resources, the 21st century has begun to turn that on its head, seeking more efficient and effective ways of leveraging the unnecessary waste, the underutilized assets, and the untapped human potential in our communities. The Minnesota Design Center’s work revolves around that flip, helping organizations and municipalities identify and develop their assets, deploying design thinking to help people think more creatively about possibilities, and using our design skills to enable communities to envision a better future. We want our state and region to thrive in the midst of the technological, environmental, social, and economic disruptions of the 21st century, and everything we do has that as its goal.


Our Strategy

We go about this by turning the traditional design fields on their head as well. Rather than define design in terms of its outcomes – architects design buildings, landscape architects, parks, etc. – we see design as a way of thinking and working, with broad applications to many organizations and systems. Design has value, primarily, as an empathetic, creative and community based process rather than as a path to a pre-determined outcome. As a result of that strategic shift, the Minnesota Design Center engages in a broad spectrum of work, from community based approaches to the redesign of transportation, infrastructure, environmental, and housing systems to the re-imagining of organizational relationships and public policies to the re-visioning of land uses, physical assets, and open space. We work in urban and rural settings and mainly with the public and non-profit sectors, and we see this work as what 21st century design is in the process of becoming.


Our History

The Minnesota Design Center (MDC), a teaching, research and outreach center in the College of Design (CDES) at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, began in 1986, with a generous endowment by the Dayton Hudson Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the Dayton Hudson (now Target) Corporation. The gift came at the behest of the revered philanthropist and former CEO of the Dayton Hudson Corporation, Kenneth Dayton (1922-2003), known for his generous patronage of the arts and his keen interest in civic issues and the quality of life in the Twin Cities. In a 1980 speech Dayton stated, “It is immoral for a company to take profit out of a community without putting something back in,” and the MDC continues Ken Dayton’s legacy by “putting something back in” the communities we serve. In 1988, the center – then called the Design Center for American Urban Landscape – received its first directors, William Morrish and Catherine Brown (1988-2001). Its second director, Ann Forsyth (2002-2007) changed the name to the Metropolitan Design Center, which continued through the tenure of an interim director Lance Neckar (2007-2009) and its third director, Ignacio San Martin (2009-2014). After another interim director, Mic Johnson (2014-15), Thomas Fisher, the former dean of the college, became the fourth director in July, 2015, changing the name of the center to the Minnesota Design Center to reflect the statewide nature of its work. Occupying studio space in the lower level of the 2002 Steven Holl-designed expansion of Rapson Hall, the MDC has a number of senior research fellows and affiliate professionals as well as graduate and undergraduate students working in the center, all to help this region achieve a more sustainable, equitable, livable, and resilient future.

Minnesota Design Center

89 Church St SE

1 Rapson Hall (directions and maps)