Pillsbury Hall Rehabilitation, Minnesota

Originally constructed in 1889, Pillsbury Hall is the second-oldest building on the University of Minnesota campus. The building was fully rehabilitated to house the English Department.

Bringing history to life with modern structural integrity.

Location: University of Minnesota campus        

Client:  Architectural Advantage

Service:  Structural & Restoration

Awards:  Minneapolis Preservation Award in the category of Historic Restoration, Rehabilitation or Adaptive Reuse

Finance & Commerce Top Projects of 2021 Pillsbury Hall Rehabilitation 

Engineering News Record Midwest Award of Merit 

ACEC/MN's 2023 Engineering Excellence Awards - Grand Award Recipient


BKBM served as the Structural Engineer of Record for the historic rehabilitation of Pillsbury Hall at the University of Minnesota. This iconic stone building is the second oldest on the University’s campus and served as the home of the Geology Department and other science disciplines for 111 years. The rehabilitation saw the conversion of over 60,000 square feet of obsolete science labs into multipurpose seminar rooms, offices, and collaborative spaces suited for modern use by the English Department and its Creative Writing Program and the Liberal Arts Engagement Hub.

The building previously sat over a defunct crawlspace, which was excavated to create a full-height basement to link Pillsbury Hall to the University’s system of pedestrian tunnels. This added approximately 2,500 square feet of utility space for upgraded mechanical equipment. The excavation required extensive shoring and underpinning to support deeper foundation systems and micro piles were required to provide additional shoring until the permanent underpinning system was installed. On the first floor, existing wood floor joists and cast-iron columns were replaced over the new basement area with new steel framing and a composite deck floor. Columns were replaced in their exact locations to maintain the same structural grid patterns to support existing wood posts remaining on the levels above.

At grade, the building’s primary entrances were shifted from two arched second-level entryways to a new ground-level plaza. Existing stone-arched window openings were cut down to grade to create the new entrance doors, which blend seamlessly into the building’s historic masonry facade.

The building’s iconic stone tower—which was previously disconnected from an unused attic storage space—was opened up to unite all levels of the building via a new grand sculptural stair element. Existing plaster and gypsum-board walls were removed at the landings as well as on the exterior walls of the tower to reveal heavily rusticated stone patterns. Horizontal and vertical steel tubes were installed along the perimeter to reinforce the masonry walls and provide a structural framework for the new stairs. Extending the staircase allowed the attic to become a reimagined classroom space with exposed heavy-timber roof framing members as structural showpieces.

The project was a years-long undertaking. BKBM’s team was first engaged in August 2015 to complete the predesign phase, which included the evaluation of existing floor capacities and an assessment of the exterior masonry. This work helped guide design and budgeting decisions when the design restarted in late 2018. Construction got underway in early 2020, and the rehabilitation was completed in August 2021, just in time to greet a new generation of students who will call Pillsbury Hall their academic home for years to come.