The St. Olaf Center
Clemens Matthew Granskou Complex
The St. Olaf Center, the main component of the Clemens Matthew Granskou Complex, has been one of St. Olaf's most important buildings since it was dedicated in 1960. Designed and constructed to provide a home place for generations of Oles, it is one of a series of distinctive buildings designed for St. Olaf by Edward Sovik, '39, and his Northfield architectural firm. Sovik, in addition to being a fellow of the American Institute of Architects and recipient of the Gold Medal from the Minnesota Society, is professor emeritus of art at St. Olaf, having started the architectural training of many Oles, including several of his partners.
The uniqueness of Sovik's work for St. Olaf comes from the way in which it responds to the culture, history, and setting of the College, all the while looking forward. As Joseph Shaw wrote in his book, Dear Old Hill, "Honoring St. Olaf's tradition, Sovik's buildings invite the community to embrace the present and the future. They are bold and clear in purpose, using space, color and light to affirm beauty and freedom." The St. Olaf Center certainly embodies these ideas.
All who work with these buildings as part of the support that makes the College mission possible recognize that they are wonderfully detailed and drawn, built to be maintainable and renewable, and adaptable. They have set a standard for quality of design, materials, and systems that make St. Olaf one of America's most distinctive campuses.
Sovik wrote this about the St. Olaf Center, "Our concern was that the building be as new as 1960 and still be respectful of the other buildings; that it be vigorous, sturdy, and yet elegant; dignified and yet fresh; straightforward and simple yet exciting, and that it be generous and of quality, but without luxury; that it be human in scale but not cute or pretty."
There is no question that these goals were met. The building was unique on campus at the time. This uniqueness was manifested in two primary ways. The transparency that provided its people spectacular views of the countryside and campus while also giving the campus glimpses of people and activity, confirmed it as one of the centers of campus life. It was also unique at the time because it was the first major building that responded to the people and program, rather than forcing the programs to respond to the structure.
All of these qualities set the structure up for its renewal as the Dittmann Center, which will fittingly house the departments of art and dance. The Dittmann Center has been named in honor of professor of art emeritus Reidar Dittmann, '47, who served the College for many years in a variety of roles, including director galleries during the time that the Steensland Library was renovated to house the permanent collection of the College and serve as its primary gallery space.
The Minneapolis firm Hammel, Green and Abrahamson, was selected to plan and design the renovation, and Loren Ahles, was named the lead designer. Ahles says that he believes the St. Olaf Center was wonderfully planned, almost as if it was conceived of as a future home for dancers and artists.