From Finance & Commerce (Minneapolis, Minn.), August 6, 2011
By Elizabeth Millard, Special to Finance & Commerce
As the space next to the American Swedish Institute (ASI) transforms from parking lot to sleek new cultural center, the organization has looked for ways to keep donors informed about construction progress, generate interest among the public, and provide information about the new building and grounds to supporters.
The result is an approach as modern as the $21.5 million building being constructed: a mobile app.
ASI’s contractor, Minneapolis-based Adolfson & Peterson Construction, developed the application after the institute’s director, Bruce Karstadt, asked if there was a way to generate more interest around the project. Adolfson team members took on the challenge as a side project, working evenings and weekends to develop a mobile application that would tell ASI’s story and give construction updates, said Andra Adolfson, the company’s director of business development.
“There was so much excitement around using technology in a new way,” she says. “They saw this as a great way to communicate everything that we’re doing, and to also give people a better idea of what ASI is all about.”
The app —available for free on iTunes and called the American Swedish Institute App—features a minimalist look that pairs well with the ASI’s planned building, the Nelson Cultural Center. Unlike its existing Turnblad Mansion on Park Avenue, the new building is contemporary Swedish design, with plenty of airy, open spaces, light-wood décor and Cubist-type elements.
Users can take a virtual tour of the space, including a walk-through of different areas. Plans from the project’s architect, HGA, provide a wealth of information about how the finished building should look, from the event spaces and offices down to the mechanical room.
Bill Blotske, lead estimator for Adolfson, says that having the information in an app instead of just on a website creates an opportunity for greater reach. For example, Karstadt recently took his iPad to several communities in northern Minnesota and did a bit of “show and tell” at campgrounds and picnic areas.
The app can also be updated more frequently than a website, which allows Adolfson to add more features like web-cam feeds of the construction site. “This is a perfect way to get real-time updates,” Blotske says. “Also, you can zoom into an area on the screen with this app in a way that you wouldn’t be able to do on a website.”
To demonstrate that capability, Blotske navigated the blueprints available on the app and did the standard “pinch and expand” action that lets a user get more detail. He focused on the geothermal heating first, before broadening out to show where that equipment resides in the building. In several areas on the blueprints, zooming in also brings up information on that particular space. For example, smaller event rooms call up information on the types of classes and gatherings regularly hosted by the ASI.
The app helps to keep interest rolling during the long construction project. The Turnblad Mansion will reopen in November, but the Nelson Cultural Center won’t be open until June 2012. Since donors are located across the world, with many in Sweden, the frequent updates help to keep them involved in the construction process.
“With the growing importance of social media and the way that technology is evolving, people expect more when it comes to online content and technology use,” says Jenn Stromberg, the ASI’s communications and marketing coordinator. “This is a way to stay true to our mission of ‘linking generations, linking communities.’ ”
During a pilot run of the app, iPads were placed in the Turnblad Mansion lobby before the space was closed for renovation, she said. Teenagers and children made the iPads their first stop and called their parents and grandparents over to take a look at the interactive blueprints.
Another advantage to the app is its ability to provide information on the ASI’s programs, mission and volunteer/donor opportunities, Stromberg says. “We do so much here, in terms of cultural programming, that it’s nice to highlight that we’re not just a museum.”
Even after the cultural center is completed, she says, the app will continue to be updated with blog postings, events, photos and videos. Already, Adolfson & Peterson developers are thinking about what to put in the next version.
“It’s been so much fun to put this together that we can’t wait to see what we can do with it next,” Blotske says.