Frogtown Community Center
When the design team put their heads together to imagine the new Frogtown Community Center, they explored with the City of St. Paul, Minn. where best to allocate one percent of capital funds for art, as ordained by the city. Early on, they agreed upon an artist-designed terrazzo floor for the center’s public spaces, which opened in September 2019.
Agreed upon also were several goals for the artwork: the floor design should be unforgettable while honoring the center’s diverse, vibrant population. They also needed it to be durable and easily maintained. The terrazzo floor beautifully accomplished these goals.
“As architects, our team loves the durability of terrazzo for this type of building, and we knew that the impact of the brightly colored floor would last for years and years,” said Fred Pomroy, JLG Architects of Minneapolis. “From very early in the design process, we knew that the terrazzo floor would be the focal point of the building.”
Mr. Pomroy saw the project as a “once-in-a-generation chance” to have a hand in affecting such a powerful impact on the community. As they engaged community members in developing the design concept, they discovered that Frogtown had long been home to first- and second-generation Hmong and East African immigrants. They wanted to create an inviting space where generations of neighborhood children could grow up and feel at home.
The city reached out to a group of local artists, Megan Faith, Tou Yia Xiong, and Myc Dazzle, to collaborate on the design. Their vision of a whimsical depiction of frogs, lily pads, flowers, and bubbles in a pond reflects how this center is a place that celebrates differences.
Hmong artist Tou Yia Xiong explained that the artists choose a frog pond to playfully represent the neighborhood’s geography and diversity. His favorite feature in the design is the rippling waves. Constructed of waterjet-cut curved metal strips, the ripples greet visitors at each entranceway and provide way-finding cues throughout the facility. The ripples overlap as they approach the central lotus flower. Mirror chips lend shimmer to the water in a range of shades of blue.
“I think it’s beautiful way of showing the idea of coming together,” said Mr. Xiong, also an award-winning toy designer.
Another engaging element of the design is in the east/west hallway, where art mirrors the building’s function. The floor maps the lifecycle of a frog, from egg to tadpole to adult, pointing the way from the youngest children’s rooms through to the teens’.
The 2,350-square-foot floor in epoxy thin-set terrazzo incorporates aggregates of glass, mother-of-pearl, mirror, and marble. Waterjet-cut brass and zinc divider strips serve to separate the 24 different colors and outline the figures.
The floor was installed in a “terrazzo by numbers” method by Terrazzo Design of Menomonie, WI. Crews poured six to eight colors each day over five weeks. Some of the colors had as little as one gallon of mix. For others, up to six wheelbarrows of mix were dispersed in designated sections throughout the floor.
“It was a special privilege to install such a diverse floor in such a diverse community, “said Laura Kvistberg, the owner of Terrazzo Design. It was built to be used by this community, and we felt privileged to be a part of it.”
She reported that the project attracted a great deal of interest from the area residents, with much peeking in windows during the floor’s construction.
The Frogtown park and community center is a vital social hub in the growing neighborhood. This installation has quickly become one of the favorite art pieces in the city.