By Jordan Gerard
Editor, The Caledonia Argus
Restaurants, bars, coffee shops and establishments are set to begin working toward full capacity with the next phase of Minnesota’s re-opening plan, however re-occupancy comes with a lot of expectations.
That’s where local architectural designer Miranda Moen and the Minnesota chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) steps up.
The chapter is offering one-hour consultations with licensed architects to help businesses through the process of re-opening. Moen is partnering with Katie Kangas, an architect who just started her own practice in Minneapolis and is interested in helping small towns and businesses, Moen told the Argus.
“I think it is important to lend a hand ... facilitation is assurance to businesses at this time,” she explained. “[That] what they’re thinking is on the right path. They’re not in this alone.”
She added planning is 90% of an architect’s job and with that experience, a one-hour consultation can help businesses understand how to space tables, how to create one-way paths, sanitation stations, physical barriers and other guidelines given by the Center for Disease and Control (CDC) and the State of Minnesota.
And while business owners are certainly inventive and creative about business solutions, sometimes a limited budget and overwhelming amount of information can get in the way of effectively re-opening.
“The goal is to have a designer help facilitate. If you are stuck, feeling overwhelmed, if it’s too much to take on,” Moen said. “It’s an additional tool to have just in case.”
The one-hour consultation applies to any business in Minnesota. There is a $50 administrative fee for the hour, but within that hour the business owner will have a conversation with the architect about ideas, goals and issues and a walk-through of the space.
In Caledonia and the surrounding area, strategies might involve space planning, physical barriers, use of sidewalk space, distancing tables, curbside pick-up and establishing walk-ways.
A few local businesses have already implemented different ways to keep a social distance of six feet, such as the Caledonia Bakery and Wired Rooster.
The other part of the consultation is also having another set of eyes reading through the guidelines and understanding it. Moen said the architects have been trained on how to implement the guidelines, which for a busy business owner, can be a lifesaver.
“It’s a lot of mental work ... if you’re feeling overwhelmed, you can get really helpful input,” she said.
It’s also another way to help introduce small towns to architects and designers in a world where the mentality is commonly do-it-yourself. Hiring an architect doesn’t have to be about spending money or conducting a multi-year project, Moen explained.
“Designers are also project managers, communication people. They’re a huge part of the architecture process,” she said. “In construction phases our role is organization, understanding what things are in play and how to move through a process. A lot of it is facilitation.”
Before the consultation begins, business owners should have an idea of the biggest issues they face, what they’re most concerned about and any initial ideas they have.
If the owner wants or needs additional assistance from the team after the one-hour consultation, that would require a new contract for services, but there is no expectation the consultation will lead to additional services.
Moen said feedback would be the biggest benefit for business owners, as the team can validate any ideas, go through a checklist of guidelines and map out the next steps. It assures the business owner they’re on the right path, she added.
“We want it to be the most effective strategy for the business owner,” Moen said.
As businesses continue working toward more capacity, the space can be refigured to get more people in and still be certain that six feet is still being met.
“We want people to take six feet seriously,” she added. “My goal is how do you clearly do a six-foot implementation without people accidentally getting close?”
The AIA has set up a website for more information: https://www.aia-mn.org/architect-consultation-service-covid-19/.