Minnesota state fair redesign goes beyond the corn dog

Architecture Midwest Preservation
The Blue Barn restaurant (Cunincgham Grou)

The Blue Barn restaurant (Wheelock Photography)

Almost 2 million Minnesotans poured through the gates of St. Paul‘s state fair grounds this year, and many are attributing that record-breaking attendance number to a redesigned West End Market. Local designers at Cuningham Group Architecture led the largest Fair expansion since the 1930s, replacing an array of nondescript vendor booths with 15 new buildings. 

Minnesota State Fair History and Heritage Center (Cuningham Group)

Minnesota State Fair History and Heritage Center (Wheelock Photography)

The booths were built in 1964 and were meant to be temporary. In addition to restaurants and vendor pavilions, the firm carved out space for two rain gardens and a transit hub for the more than 700,000 people who arrive each year by bus. The centerpiece of the West End Market redesign was the History and Heritage Center, which is home to a collection of artifacts curated by the Minnesota Historical Society.

Cuningham is no stranger to injecting modern design knowledge into aging, rural settings. Their work includes Madison, Wisconsin healthcare software developer Epic Systems’ bucolic headquarters, a high-tech barn amid rolling green hills.

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