For all of us, 2020 has been a year of momentous and painful changes. It’s been a year of especially successive losses in the Twin Cities architecture community, including Lars Peterssen, Michaela Mahady and John Idstrom. As their respective families, friends, clients and colleagues mourn their passing, we pay tribute to their incredible passion and contributions to design as well as the legacies they leave behind.
Lars Peterssen, 68, cofounder of Peterssen/Keller Architecture, died November 3, at his home of complications of frontotemporal degeneration. Husband R.D. Zimmerman was at his side.
Born in Long Island, New York, Peterssen came to Minnesota to attend Carleton College as a physics major. He earned a master’s degree in architecture at the University of Minnesota and later taught at the school. He launched Domain and, in 2009, cofounded Peterssen/Keller Architecture with Gabriel Keller. His passion was residential architecture — he loved forming relationships with clients (becoming friends with many) and designing homes that made their lives better.
“Lars was a giant in the industry because he touched so many people in so many different ways,” says Keller. “He had an attitude, a gentleness and a lack of ego that really defined a new way of working with clients and staff.”
“He had a wonderful way with clients,” adds Kristine Anderson, managing principal at Peterssen/Keller. “Lars cultivated a work culture that allowed all to develop and be creative in the design process.”
Peterssen’s architectural prowess, reflected in his body of award-winning work, demonstrated his mastery of modern and traditional design. Earlier this year, AIA Minnesota recognized him with the 2020 Special Award for his contributions to architectural education, advancement of technology and mentorship to architecture professionals. “This was somebody people didn’t just respect — they loved him,” notes Keller.
Michaela Mahady, 68, longtime principal at SALA Architects, died October 22, of acute myeloid leukemia. She was a gifted creator of art and architecture as well as partner with husband John Pietras in Pegasus, the architectural art glass studio in Stillwater.
Mahady grew up in North Dakota and Minnesota, graduating from Macalester College with a bachelor’s in studio art and later attending the University of Minnesota to earn a master’s in architecture. She joined Dale Mulfinger and Sarah Susanka at their firm in 1987, soon becoming a partner in Mulfinger, Susanka and Mahady Architects, which later became SALA Architects.
She designed award-winning projects that reflected her desire to create homes that make us feel welcome, protected and happy. Her 2010 book, Welcoming Home: Creating a House that Says Hello, examines designs and details that make a house with “open arms.”
Mahady was a mentor to many, inspiring younger architects with her design and interpersonal skills. “SALA has many staff members with multiple talents,” says Mulfinger. “Michaela stood out as a watercolorist, stained-glass designer, fabric artist and architect.” The Phipps Center for the Arts is hosting an exhibit of her work through January 10.
John Idstrom, 78, passed away April 4, after a long illness. He was one of the founders of Partners 4, Design, a firm that started out in an attic cedar closet designing kitchen and bath projects and grew into an award-winning firm in a showroom at International Market Square. He turned his love of great design into his life’s work, graduating from the University of Minnesota School of Architecture as well as earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology and business administration from Gustavus Adolphus College.
At Partners 4, Design, Idstrom was known as the “idea man.” He believed the idea started with a relationship, and he worked to find a common language with clients to translate concepts into designs — that was where the magic happened. His process worked so well that succeeding generations of clients often returned to the firm for their projects. During his four-decade career, he received numerous design awards, including the National Kitchen and Bath Association Lifetime Achievement Award in 2017.
Idstrom leaves behind a legacy: his design work, his dedication to Partners 4, Design and its employees and clients, and his 40-year career — many of those years with lifelong friend and founding partner David Ostreim. His smile, quick wit and kindness affected all who knew him.