Bridger's comments to focus on architects who serve as mayors here in Minnesota (see "Architect as Mayor in Curitiba, Brazil" below) urged us at Activist Architects to investigate some of our local "archipoliticians." Jeff Kagermeier, an architect with KOH Architects, has served as mayor of Mankato, MN since 2000. Jeff is involved with a variety of community organizations, many of which are listed on the city of Mankato's website. Jeff was awarded the National AIA Young Architects Award in 2001 partly because of his committment to the community and political involvement. Jeff truly serves as a role model for those of us wishing to combine professional lives as architects with community activism and participation.
We at Activist Architects were going to contact Jeff for an interview, but then we found an Architecture Minnesota article from the July-August 2001 issue that asked Jeff many of the questions we had in mind. We've reprinted some of the conversation here (emphasis added by Activist Architects).
Architecture MN: What unique skills can architects contribute to the political arena?
Kagermeier: Three skills, in particular, are common to both architecture and politics. The first is assimiliation. Architects can absorb a great deal of information and make sense out of it. The second is sythesis. We can relate pieces of information to each other and then use them to develop an action plan. Our minds are geared toward finding solutions. Finally, there's facilitation. Architects are used to building consensus. We lead and facilitate group discussions as a regular part of the design process.
These skills complement the abilities of others involved in the political process. For example, I've found that most planners have backgrounds in finance, so they tend to focus on how many tax dollars will be generated by specific districts. As an architect and a contextualist, I'm interested in how buildings can bind a community together. Architects can balance the perspectives of planners by addressing how to weave buildings into neighborhoods and neighborhoods into districts to create an interesting urban fabric.
Architecture MN: How do you balance your public, professional and personal roles?
Kagermeier: I prioritize. I'm a husband and parent first; an architect, second; a teacher, third; and a facilitator of the public interest, next. I don't have any political aspirations. The Republicans and the Democrats both asked me to run for mayor, but I ran as an independent candidate. Being busy forces me to make decisions efficiently. There's no "back burner" anymore. I've reached a point where a sort of basal instinct guides me. And I'm banking on a great nap after I die.
Architecture MN: How has Mankato's built environment changed since an architect's been in charge?
Kagermeier: We've established urban-design standards that strive to achieve a positive image for the city through improvement of the public realm and streetscape. These standards address signage, landscaping and building designs while providing flexibility for creativity. It took a while to write and refine them, but I endorse them. They are listed on the city's website for anyone who's interested in learning more.
Architecture MN: How has being a mayor changed your architectural practice?
Kagermeier: It's broadened my knowledge about the public factors that shape a city and it's expanded my definition of creativity. I understand more about the political process and how various groups - developers, community organizations, business owners and others - have an impact on the built environment. I also fully appreciate the creativity it takes to make such a range of stakeholders work together in the same direction.
Architecture MN: How would you describe the legacy that you would like to create as mayor of Mankato?
Kagermeier: The most important thing you can do is leave a place better than you found it. My goal for Mankato is to create a welcoming city that still feels like home while providing those who grow up, live and work here with the same opportunities they would have anywhere else in the world. While many students move away to other places shortly after they've graduated, we've found that they return because of the great quality of life we have here.