Local architects add one-of-a-kind patio to one of Minnesota’s most unique taprooms

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A culvert cut in half forms a shelter and feeds a rain garden on Bang Brewing’s patio // Photo courtesy of Alchemy Architects

Bang Brewing in St. Paul, Minnesota, is built on environmental stewardship—both in a physical and philosophical sense. These ethos are evident in their energy-efficient brewhouse and their commitment to using only organic ingredients in their beer. Their new patio is a visual and experiential extension of that sustainable spirit.

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A fire pit will soon be installed in the middle of the stone circle on Bang Brewing’s patio // Photo courtesy of Alchemy Architects

Located in St. Paul just down the road from Bang (856 Raymond Avenue), Alchemy Architects prides itself on unique designs that emphasize sustainability and draw on a diverse range of influences such as art, literature, and history. In 2003, Alchemy Architects founder Geoffrey Warner captured the design world’s attention with the weeHouse, a modular prefabricated housing system that was originally built as an inexpensive cabin. The unit can now be developed for use across a variety of applications, including houses, offices, and multi-unit developments.

“Much of what we do pulls directly from our midwestern vernacular and the practical, can-do agrarian mentality we grew up with,” says Alchemy designer Andrew Blaisdell. “We want to create spaces that are customized for each user, while tapping into a shared consensus on what makes a healthy, happy, and fun place to live.

These design principles led Bang owners Sandy and Jay Boss Febbo to approach Alchemy in late 2012 to design their brewhouse. The first 100% organic brewery in the Midwest was fittingly built inside of a prefabricated grain bin, and the intimate taproom can only hold around 50 people. To provide more space and complete the company’s original vision for the space, Bang went back to Alchemy in spring 2016 to design a stand-out patio space.

“We sat down with them and talked about their idea for a ‘beer hall’ space outside,” Blaisdell says. “They liked the idea of a sort of pavilion with a long hall in the middle and rooms off to the side.”

Related post Brewer Profile: Bang Brewing’s Jay and Sandy Boss Febbo

Alchemy came up with an idea that hints at a traditional Gothic church layout, with one long nave (or hall) and three picnic-table sized sections shooting out from under the pavilion on each side. On one end of hall sits a circle of repurposed granite cobble stones that were originally used in Minneapolis streets, with a firepit to soon be installed in the middle of the circle. On the other end sits a rain garden, fed by two long channels that empty into the garden of marsh plant life.

“The granite is a nod to the neighborhood,” Blaisdell says. “Also, the walkway is crushed granite and the rain garden is another local stone. It’s all about what’s under the space and how do we bring it to the surface. The stones were more a nod to the industrialization of the area 100 years ago whereas everything else is all about bring it back 500 years ago.”

Prairie grass shoots were planted between each section of the hall with the idea that in one to two years the grass would grow to nearly four feet tall and create privacy walls between each space. More than that, the deep growing roots of the prairie grass will help break apart the ground outside the brewery.

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Bang Brewing owners and brewers Sandy and Jay Boss Febbo // Photo by Aaron Davidson, The Growler

Located in a historically industrial section of St. Paul (2320 Capp Road), the space outside of the brewery was heavily packed down dirt and broken concrete from decades of trucks rolling through the space. The space needed to be entirely re-graded to direct all water into the rain garden. To construct the pavilion covering, the architect had a Wisconsin-based culvert company cut a culvert (typically used under a county road to divert rain water) in half and mount it on supports to create the bulk of the structure.

“The entire structure was made of aluminum,” Blaisdell says, “which should allow it to hold up to the elements and age really nicely.”

Alchemy has designed many other residential and commercial projects. One particularly exciting project, lightHouse, is a 20-foot shipping container that was converted into a mobile hotel room. The container has its own water supply and is designed to be energy efficient. Described as a “beacon for ecotourism,” lightHouse can be installed for events. It has already spent time at the Minneapolis Institute of Art and Northern Spark and will soon visit the Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival and the Minnesota State Fair Eco Experience.

“We want to offer people the benefits of design without pretense or being cost-prohibitive,” Blaisdell says. “We’re people-focused and Earth-focused, which means we walk a line between how a person might want to live and how to reside most sensitively on a site, which don’t have to be at odds.”

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The Bang Brewing patio while it was under construction // Photo courtesy of Alchemy Architects

Now, with the patio newly opened, Bang is considering expanding seasonal hours. Not only that, but couples are choosing the space as the location for their wedding ceremonies. In fact, the church-inspired design of the space was no coincidence.

“They had couples that wanted to get married on the site, but it wasn’t conducive to the idea,” Blaisdell says. “The space isn’t only a beer garden. It can become a sacred place for those who get married in this space.”

With one wedding already hosted — and several more planned — the new patio will certainly be a place for plenty of cherished moments for years to come, whether a ceremony or an al fresco pint of one of Bang’s organic beers.

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