St. Anthony Falls Hydro Lab will be renovated


It’s like drifting toward a waterfall, you’re captivated by the rainbow in the mist, but you know the danger ahead…that’s how tour guide Ben Erickson characterized the upcoming building renovation at the St. Anthony Falls Hydraulic Laboratory (SAFL). Led by John Stark of Perkins & Will, the renovation will add elevators, new bathrooms and bring other issues up to code.

People interested in preservation toured the building Sept. 26 in the Preserve Minneapolis “Happy Hour with a Preservationist” series.

Built with “the same limestone that built this city,” the lab sits on Hennepin Island with a main river channel running through the heart of the building (lower right corner photo). The lab accommodates physical model studies of fluid dynamics as it applies to water and sand, and to wind. The top floor, added in the mid-1980s, houses a huge wind tunnel which is particularly good at simulating what happens in “boundary air,” very near-earth atmospheric conditions, changing from hot to cold, changes in moisture.

There is also an outdoor stream lab, pictured below.

The lab does applied research for corporate and government entities such as NASA, NIH, NSF and NOAH. Because of demand and projects already in the works, they won’t shut down the lab during renovation.

The lab came about in the 1930s “when Dr. Lorenz Straub (shown in black and white photo at right), a University of Minnesota professor of Civil Engineering, imagined a laboratory that could address the river engineering challenges of his day.” It was an abandoned city pumping station on Hennepin Island. Funds from the Works Progress Administration and the University of Minnesota made his vision real, and the SAFL was dedicated Nov. 17, 1938.

Erickson said, “He died at his desk. He’s still here, late at night.”