November 2014 – Minneapolis, Minn. – I can thankfully say there are a lot of rewarding aspects to my profession, but one of the most fulfilling for me is the relationships that have formed with colleagues and clients over the past 41 years. Many of these individuals have not only become lasting clients or business partners but also friends. Rosemary McMonigal of McMonigal Architects is one of these individuals with whom I’ve had the pleasure of sharing the majority of my career with. She is a talented and hardworking entrepreneur who was kind enough to sit down over breakfast at one of our usual spots and take a look back on it all.
Jim Krech: Let’s go all the way back to the very beginning at Cenex…
Rosemary McMonigal: It was 1978 when you came to Cenex and we began working together – so one could say that I am one of KOMA’s most long-standing clients! That was my first job in architecture and it was one of the best things that happened – for both of us. We were the first service group to make a profit and as a result we learned to market, write contracts, and follow through on projects; it really was excellent business training.
JK: Cenex certainly prepped both of us for the entrepreneurial road ahead. Where did you go from there?
RM: After I left Cenex I spent some time in Finland at an architecture firm and then worked for Chuck Levin. In 1984 I started McMonigal Architects. Wow, has it been that long?!
JK: It’s hard to believe – are we really that old?! Tell me a little bit about your firm – was it always your intention to do both residential and commercial architecture?
RM: We are a 5 person architecture firm located in the Crown Building in Northeast Minneapolis. Initially, I never had any intention of doing houses, but one of my commercial clients asked me to do their own house. With their project, I fell in love with doing houses and made residential architecture the firm’s focus. At that time, the market for houses was dominated by contractors and McMansions were spreading across the fringe suburbs. Homes that had an architect were high end exclusive homes – the everyday person was not hiring an architect. Along with a handful of other architects, I promoted sensible, often small, distinctive and affordable houses.
JK: I have done structural engineering for you on some pretty interesting projects over the years, what are some that still stand out to you as unique or challenging?
RM: We have done structures on remote sites including islands. Those are challenging because you have to design for the practicality of how to move materials onto the site in the very short building season. Together we have done some unique and historic work. The Chamberlain barn in LeSueur was one of those. This two story stone barn from the 1800’s was built by a group of German immigrant stone masons. The owner wanted to preserve it and use it for his farming equipment and shop. The wood framing was infested by powderpost beetles, the foundation was crumbling in places, and the entire building needed tuckpointing. It was a really challenging project – and who would have thought that the masons would end up being from the same town as your ancestors Jim!
JK: (laughs) That’s right – what a small world! A lot of work you do is in regard to preservation as well as energy conservation, is that a focus of yours?
RM: Yes, you could even call me an energy nerd! Conservation is important to me in many aspects. We test most of our houses during and after construction for temperature, moisture flow and air leaks. The tests are a standard part of the process and are used for quality control and tuning. Minnesota is a leader in developing healthy living and building science products which and are known world-wide. There are also numerous local resources for reclaimed products. I’ve also been given the opportunity to partner with places like the University of Minnesota to do research, which is always an honor to be a part of.
JK: Any challenging projects stand out where you used your knowledge of technology and energy efficiencies?
RM: There are so many, but I’ll share one of my favorite. The client has high sensitivity to off-gassing and VOCs. Over 3 years, I tested every material that went into the house with the owner and her physician to find solutions free of harmful chemicals. The garage was detached to ensure no fumes entered the home. We found an appliance distributor to run the dishwasher and refrigerator in their showroom for 3 months to off-gas the wire coatings on the baskets. The mechanical contractor washed all the ductwork at a carwash to clean off oil residue from manufacturing, and then did a final rinse with vinegar. The client also has a degenerative joint disease so we added an elevator, entrances with sloped walks and no stairs, and cabinets that can be easily modified for wheelchair access. There was a learning curve to this 5 year project but it increased my knowledge of healthy materials and even better, the client’s health improved after moving in. This project has been published many times and has won awards – not for high design at first glance, but for innovation in design for people with special needs.
JK: Thanks for your time Rosemary, it was great to take a look back – remember about 20 years ago we were joking about quitting our professions and starting a bakery together? It’s good we didn’t, I would have eaten all the profits!
RM: Is that why you spent so much time at one of my first office spaces?! It was next to Edy’s ice cream, and here I thought you came to see me…