Photos courtesy Nguyen Architects
After George Floyd’s murder on May 25, protestors and rioters took to the streets in an uprising that brought international attention to police brutality and racism across the globe. In the Twin Cities, businesses and neighborhoods were destroyed or threatened, particularly in North Minneapolis and South Minneapolis. The Ivy Building was one of them, home to an array of makers, artists, and creatives.
According to fire marshals, ashes from the burning Hexagon Bar across the street landed on the rooftop. Directly below was the office of Tan Nguyen, principal and founder of Nguyen Architects. The firm, which specializes in contemporary residential design, has won numerous awards for its work, including for its sustainable and landscape design.
“Apparently a janitor and several tenants in the building tried to put out the roof fire, but couldn’t,” says Nguyen. “The fire department didn’t come until the early morning. By that time, everything was gone. I’d left the day before with my laptop and that’s pretty much all I have left.”
The design community, however, responded swiftly. Offers of free desk space, computers, and more came in from colleagues and former classmates from the University of Minnesota School of Architecture. The Minnesota chapter of the American Institute of Architects put out a call in its newsletter, “and people responded right away,” he says. Nguyen’s sister also set up a Go Fund Me fundraiser, which raised almost $26,000.
“I’m working through the insurance claim right now,” he says, “which is a bit of an uphill battle as I’m claiming things unique to an architecture office, such as the marketing materials we use to give to potential clients and to hand out at shows.” Because he backed up all of his information, “the digital files are okay. It’s the physical stuff that’s gone, which you take for granted. I’ll reach around for a stapler, and then realize I need to buy a new one.”
Nguyen is currently working from home, but entertaining several office possibilities with friends in St. Paul and Minneapolis. Projects that were put on hold during the early onset of the pandemic, are starting up again. “After the fire, I wasn’t sure how to react and have been letting everything sink in for a while,” he says. Because he lives in South Minneapolis, he was also part of a neighborhood watch taking shifts through the night until the riots ended.
Nonetheless, he says, “My outlook is great! I’m an immigrant. I came from Vietnam in the 1980s with nothing. When you lose everything, it’s dramatic, but if you’ve experienced it before, you realize everything will be okay. I’m going to be more than fine with all the support I have from my design colleagues, former classmates, and the AIA community. My outlook is positive because of the support system now in place.”