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Headhouse competition
St. Paul, 2002
Dayton won a competition sponsored by the St. Paul Riverfront Corporation to transform a portion of the Mississippi River riverfront with a mix of retail, restaurants, and an indoor market. Actual construction is uncertain.

Vacation house
Madeline Island, Wisconsin, 2001
The forms of the cottage, overlooking Lake Superior, relate to the agrarian architecture of northern Wisconsin—recalling farm outbuildings and barns.

Farley Loft
Minneapolis, 2002
Dayton designed a contemporary loft—a home for a client who collects Asian antiques—in a former utility building of the General Mills plant in downtown.

Crowne Plaza Hotel
suburban Minneapolis, 2004
Currently in design development, a former Holiday Inn will be fully transformed into a more contemporary, 256-room Crowne Plaza business hotel with a new entrance and metal exterior finishes.

Photography © James Dayton Design; Farley Loft photography © Scott Elofson/James Dayton Design

Minneapolis architect Jim Dayton, AIA, is from one of the best-known Minnesota families, but he downplays his family connections and does not plan to do much work for relatives. “That’s a slippery slope,” he says, cautiously.

Dayton’s father’s cousin is U.S. Senator Mark Dayton (D-Minn.), and the architect is the great-great-grandson of George Draper Dayton, who in 1902 opened Goodfellow’s Dry Goods, which became Dayton’s department stores. The Daytons started Target as a discount retailer in the 1960s, and the Dayton Hudson Corporation was recently renamed Target Corporation. Dayton’s father was the last of the Daytons to work for the retailer.

While Jim Dayton had no interest in working for the retail company, he was considering a career in advertising before earning his B.A. in Architecture from Yale, in 1987, and M.Arch. from the University of Virginia, in 1991. “I think there are some real connections between architecture, retail, and advertising,” Dayton says. “Part of the business of architecture is to convince someone, if you want to do something in your own language of design. You have to convince them that these leaps of faith are worth taking, as in retail and advertising.”

Upon graduation in 1991, Dayton headed west to Los Angeles and interviewed with Frank Gehry, who had just received the commission for the Guggenheim Bilbao and needed to add employees to his 30-person office. “I was a warm body showing up with a portfolio,” says Dayton. “But it was an incredible opportunity and experience to be part of [Gehry’s] professional success. He’s basically like a father figure to me.
I talk to him all the time. I feel quite fortunate that I do have this relationship with him.”

After five years working on projects including Disney Concert Hall, Jim and his wife, Megan, also an architect, moved to Minneapolis because they wanted to raise a family there rather than in Los Angeles (they now have two children). Dayton also wanted the chance to start his own practice, James Dayton Design, which he did in 1997, after a year with Meyer, Scherer & Rockcastle. Before he even had his own staff and computers, Dayton was given the commission to design a new home for the Minnetonka Arts Center in Wayzata, Minnesota (page 144). “I couldn’t ask for a better project,” Dayton says of the $5.8 million building for the nonprofit organization that provides courses in the visual arts and crafts. He also curated the first art exhibition in the new building.

Gehry definitely made an impression on Dayton, and it’s apparent in the Minnesota architect’s work. Dayton explores the manipulation of forms and curves, and the juxtaposition of materials, including woods and metals, in his projects. He says he finds Gehry’s urban work to be “a complex collage of elements. I find that very intriguing. I think of it as a language—of looking at materiality, plasticity, and industrial materials in new ways.”

Dayton, who now has a six-person practice, employed a number of the lessons he gained from Gehry in his first completed house—a vacation cottage on Madeline Island, Wisconsin—and in a competition-winning entry for the St. Paul waterfront (both on previous page). He is now beginning design on his most ambitious project, converting a 1916 five-story Minneapolis warehouse building across from his current office into 46 loft condos. The project, three times larger than the arts center in square footage, may include a new, larger office for Dayton.

By John E. Czarnecki, Assoc. AIA


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