Lucy Hewett

A commission is a commission, but some ambitious architecture firms might be less than inclined to build a practice around “underdog building types,” as Matthew Kreilich, FAIA, calls them. Yet that’s exactly what Minneapolis-based Snow Krelich Architects, the winner of the Architecture Firm Award, has done. “We think it’s very rewarding,” says Kreilich, co-principal of the firm with Julie Snow, FAIA, “to elevate these pragmatic buildings to a higher level and give them the attention they deserve.”

The most utilitarian structure, adds Snow, can be aspirational, even “sexy.”

Take the Straight River Rest Area, located 7 miles south of Owatonna, Minn., on Interstate 35. Working with the Minnesota Department of Transportation, Snow Kreilich designed a low-slung box with dark-masonry walls and canted stainless-steel panels that direct visitors to the entrance. The project has all the usual rest stop amenities, but the architects also took advantage of the site by adding a terrace to the back of the building, which overlooks a wooded ravine. Weary travelers can now spend a few minutes communing with nature before getting back on the highway. Mimi Hoang, AIA, one of the jurors who selected the project for an AIA Minnesota Honor Award in 2017, calls it “the most exquisite rest-area building I’ve ever seen. The only problem is that it would be a very long time before I got back into my car.”

Snow Kreilich's U.S. Land Port of Entry in Van Buren, Maine
Paul Crosby Snow Kreilich's U.S. Land Port of Entry in Van Buren, Maine

For a new land port of entry in Warroad, Minn., at the U.S.–Canada border, Snow Kreilich embraced the area’s wood-harvesting culture (Marvin windows and doors are manufactured nearby) by designing a visually striking facility clad in sustainably harvested cedar siding. “Most ports of entry are intimidating,” Kreilich says. “Our hope was that the building would calm people as they enter, and that it would represent not only a gateway to our country, but a gateway to the local community.”

Snow, who grew up in Michigan, founded Julie Snow Architects in 1995. When Kreilich became a partner, in 2014, the firm was rebranded as Snow Kreilich Architects. Today, about half of the firm’s 30 employees are women and minorities. “Our culture is highly collaborative,” Kreilich says. “Not a lot of egos, which is really unusual in a design firm.”

Snow and Krelich in the office
Lucy Hewett Snow and Krelich in the office

Thomas Fisher, Assoc. AIA, director of the Minnesota Design Center at the University of Minnesota’s College of Design and an ARCHITECT contributing editor, calls Snow Kreilich’s work “sensible, straightforward, and no-nonsense, yet beautiful and thought-provoking.”

“The firm,” he says, “is a model of how architects can work against the perception that we’re these elites who only do work for rich people. In fact, we have something to contribute to the most ordinary kinds of buildings.”

Other 2018 AIA Honor Awards: