For the past two decades, Minneapolis-based Snow Kreilich Architects has developed a remarkable body of work investigating what its principals call “architecture’s capacity to transform experience.” Through a wide range of building types—from ballparks to private homes to border stations—the firm has emerged as a critical practice that is making meaningful strides in advancing the practice of architecture. The firm’s work has been recognized with three AIA Honor Awards for Architecture, an AIA/COTE Top Ten Award, and four GSA Design Excellence Awards, and has received wide praise in the pages of Architect Magazine, I.D., and Progressive Architecture.
“This is an architecture of use and convenience, permanence, and beauty, deeply rooted to its place, and constructed of materials choreographed in an emotive way, with poetic qualities that move us deeply,” Marlon Blackwell, FAIA, wrote in a letter supporting Snow Kreilich Architects’ nomination for the Architecture Firm Award. “Their body of work is distinguished by a restrained formal elegance and a refined minimal tectonic sensibility while avoiding the nostalgic and technological excesses of our discipline. Indeed, they see architecture as a material practice and a cultural act born of a sensual pragmatism.”
Snow Kreilich Architects’ studio leadership, helmed by founding principal Julie V. Snow, FAIA, and design principal Matthew Kreilich, AIA, pushes the practice to explore architecture’s transformative ability. Informed by its early work for manufacturing clients, the firm marries pragmatism and poetry to provide intelligent designs that provide a powerful aesthetic experience. More design laboratory than architecture studio, the firm mines each project for its potential for experiential and material innovation.
The firm’s advancements are evident along the U.S.-Canada border in Warroad, Minnesota, where the U.S. Land Port of Entry marries the design excellence aspirations of the General Service Administration with the strict needs of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Based conceptually on cut timber, the project’s dark shell anchors it to the landscape while warmer heartwoods welcome visitors to the country. A continuous canopy protects officers from the elements during outdoor inspections, while the building’s volumes are inflected to increase visual surveillance. Further east, in Schroder, Minnesota, the firm’s Weekend House on Lake Superior provides a serene connection to the rugged landscape of the Great Lake. Constructed with minimal disturbance of natural water movement, the project employs passive heating and cooling strategies to reduce BTU consumption per-square-foot by more than 47 percent.
“What I find so admirable about Snow Kreilich is the clarity and resoluteness of their work, no matter the scale or level of complexity,” wrote Steve Dumez, FAIA, in a letter supporting the firm’s nomination. “Their architecture is imbued with integrity and economy—powerful and profound. This careful and collaborative pursuit of solutions that are once pragmatic, environmentally responsive, and context-driven exemplifies the studio’s singular approach and represents the highest aspirations of American architecture.”
Snow Kreilich’s practice benefits greatly from the diversity and background of its studio members. Eschewing the demographic norms of many firms, 50 percent of the staff consists of women and minorities, strengthening the culture through holistic collaboration. Giving back to the communities of Minnesota and the profession are key initiatives beyond design excellence, and many studio members are involved in local architecture schools. In 2017, the firm provided $120,000 in pro bono services to outlets such as the Kibera Girls Soccer Academy in Kenya and the Leatherback Trust in Costa Rica. By shelving the idea of all-night charrettes and promoting a healthy work/life balance, Snow Kreilich has proven that important and award-winning architecture can be conceived during regular business hours.
“The Snow Kreilich studio is an ideal role model for our younger practitioners,” Neal E. Jones, AIA, wrote of the firm. “They prove great architecture includes a respect for the citizens of their great city as shown by their urban infill housing projects, the dignity of their country as shown by their award-winning Ports of Entry, the importance of their profession and their willingness to share with colleagues as shown by their voluntary support for higher education.”
Jonathan Penndorf, FAIA (Chair), Perkins + Will, Washington, DC
David Greenbaum, FAIA, SmithGroup JJR, Washington, DC
Alan Greenberger, FAIA, Drexel University, Philadelphia
Wendy Hillis, AIA, Tulane University, New Orleans
Thierry Paret, FAIA, KAUST, Mallow County Cork, Ireland
Karina Ruiz, AIA, Dull Olson Weekes - IBI Group Architects, Inc., Portland, Oregon
Moshe Safdie, FAIA, Safdie Architects, Somerville, Massachusetts
Takashi Yanai, FAIA, Ehrlich Yanai Rhee Chaney Architects, Culver City, California