Jeff Koons didn’t always want a yurt.
Like many Minnesotans, he dreamed for years about owning a cabin on a lake. But after he and his wife, Tara, secured a 7-acre piece of property about 1.5 hours north of the Twin Cities, Jeff realized something.
“I wanted something different,” he says. “Something that made people look and go, ‘What the hell are they thinking?’”
So, the couple explored several outside-the-box options, including straw bale homes, cob houses, pole barns and silo homes. Eventually, they landed on a yurt — a large, round tent used for centuries in Mongolia and other nations, and recently popularized in the U.S. for “glamping” and other adventures.
Renderings depict what life in the yurt will look like.Jeff and Tara picked out a yurt kit from Seattle-based Rainier Outdoor. They considered simply throwing the tent on a slab and perhaps adding a basic deck alongside it. But soon, their plans grew more ambitious. They envisioned a screen porch; a mudroom; even a basement. That’s when they decided they could use some help.
A team effort
Jeff and Tara began researching architects online. When they learned about Shelter, they felt our compact size and collaborative process would be a great fit. Project architect Greg Elsner and designer Jen Wojtysiak dove in, soaking up information about yurts in general, and about what specifically Jeff and Tara wanted to achieve with theirs.
“A residential project like this is very personal,” Jen notes. “We always want to work closely with the client.”
Jeff and Tara Koons worked with project architect Greg Elsner and other Shelter team members to ensure the couple’s yurt was designed to fit their family’s everyday life.The yurt work provided our team with ample opportunities to craft innovative solutions for small spaces — a longtime Shelter specialty — and to expand on ideas that Jeff and Tara brought to the table. For example, we designed an airy three-season screen porch to let in lots of natural light.
“Greg came up with a high-angle roof, which is really cool,” Jeff says. “I also like what they did with the bathroom. They made it so efficient in a very tight space.”
Floor plan and cross-section view of the yurt and its surrounding structures.In all, the Koons’ yurt complex will include a bedroom, a kitchen, a living room, a bathroom, a mudroom, a screen porch and wrap-around decking, all situated above an octagonal basement. Amenities will include insulation, in-floor heating, a wood-burning stove and running water. A solar array will deliver electricity, and high-speed internet service will arrive by satellite. When complete, the dwelling will include about 1,900 square feet of usable space — nearly twice as much as Jeff, Tara and their kids have in their current city house. When the yurt is move-in ready, the family plans to make it their permanent residence.
Construction on the project won’t start until next year, but Jeff and Tara recently got to “walk through” their yurt via virtual reality, a service we offer to many of our clients. At REM5 in St. Louis Park (another Shelter client), the couple got a sense of the yurt’s size and how it will feel to live and move around within it.
Tara and Jeff Koons got an inside look at their future home, courtesy of virtual reality.“ The VR experience was great,” Jeff says. “It gave a good impression of the layout and flow of the building. They even programmed in the surrounding terrain, so we were able to see what our views will be like.”
As their dream home comes closer to becoming a reality, Jeff and Tara are pleased that they didn’t attempt an entirely DIY approach to its design. They’re confident that they’ll love living in their yurt, and that their visitors — even the skeptics — will walk away impressed.
“Everybody at Shelter has been so supportive and excited,” Jeff says. “They came up with really elegant ideas to make the space work and flow. It’s turned into something pretty nifty and unique and special. It was a no-brainer to bring an architect on board.”
Slap on a pair of goggles and get ready to enter another reality, far from our physical one. Except you won't leave the Twin Cities, or even go outside. Instead, you'll see virtual realities created by six artists.
Friday at REM5, a VR laboratory and event space based in St. Louis Park, Twin Cities artists will race against the clock and their own creativity in Tilt Brush Battle, a 30-minute timed VR-art creation challenge.
A live audience will decide who moves on to Round 2, and who's crowned the winner.
The format — competitive reality TV show meets VR — is the brainchild of REM5 Studios director Brian Skalak, who is also an artist working in VR.
REM5 has had artists-in-residence who took 10 hours to create a VR piece, but Skalak wanted to shorten the time and make it into an event.
"The artists need to be strategic, "asking: What can I get done quick enough and what is going to look good?" he said.
Despite its virtual nature, the event is in-person only and won't be livestreamed, though there will be video content at a later date.
Artists will work in Tilt Brush, which Skalak calls the "O.G. of three-dimensional painting" — a Google product that's a code word for "forever-ago" in tech time.
Artists Sherstin Schwartz (@Lifeofapaintbrush), Linnea Maas (@insidetherobot), Philip Noyed (@philipnoyed), Matt Semke (@catswilleatyou_art), Ross Auger (@rossauger), and Alex Narva have mixed experience with VR. Some have up to five years' experience, while others are newer to the program. All will be compensated, and the winner takes home a hip championship fanny pack with the icon of a gold medal on the front.
Maas, a painter and illustrator, started making three-dimensional art using Tilt Brush in 2016, the year Google introduced it. She felt intrigued by the opportunity to create an entire world rather than just an object. She started out with an audio-reactive brush that glows with the beat of the music she's listening to.
Noyed and Schwartz also have experience in VR, but that's not the point. It's really about playing the game, strategizing to ensure that a fantastic VR artwork can be completed in 30 minutes.
Skalak felt inspired by the competitive TV show "The Shot," which pits photographers against each other, as well as tattoo and body painting competitions.
The in-person audience — REM5's first since the pandemic — will be able to mingle, eat, drink and listen to live music while watching the artists create in their individual VR pods. After the artists are done, audience members can "pop on the headset and step directly into that world" created by the artists, said Skalak.
During the contest, he'll function like a sports commentator: "I'll be like, 'She's bringing in the sparkle brush, what's she gonna do?!?' "
The audience will up the ante.
"It's like 'Fight Club,' " said Skalak. "It's underground, you've got to be in the know, and it seems like it would only be happening in a movie, but it's here in the Twin Cities."
Nic Zabel ’21 and Erica Schultz ’21 just graduated into an economy where technological disruption is not the exception but the rule. A technology-focused marketing course, MKTG 430 – Marketing Management, aims to better prepare students like Zabel and Schultz for this reality via real-world experience consulting with local tech firms.
The course is one example of the University of St. Thomas Business in a Digital World (BDW) initiative in action. The initiative is a holistic approach to equipping students with competencies in emerging technologies essential to all future professionals. For marketing majors like Zabel and Schultz, this learning came in the form of a semester-long capstone project pairing teams with local tech entrepreneurs. Zabel and his team consulted with REM5, a Minneapolis-based virtual reality lab and event space. Shultz and her team focused on ReMember, a first-of-its-kind restaurant loyalty mobile app platform designed by Matty O’Reilly ’19 MBA, a 28-year veteran of the restaurant and hospitality industry.
Marketing Professor Gino Giovannelli teaches the capstone course. Being an engineer by training and having founded his own digital marketing consulting firm, Giovannelli is uniquely qualified to guide students through this hands-on experience. For Giovannelli, there is no magic involved in the emerging tech space. “It’s about recognizing that while the technologies may be new, the key is to not be intimidated by the unknown. And it is important for students to really dig in and understand the business first and the technology second, and to not cut corners in the process of understanding the business,” Giovannelli said. “These students couldn’t cut corners because the products were foreign to them.”
Lisa Abendroth, director of the Business in a Digital World initiative, explained that the students are responsible for knowing the bounds of their technological competency. The impetus is on the university to provide a psychological environment where students feel safe enough to admit what they don’t know. “[As a student] I have to have the humility to say, ‘I don’t know some of this stuff and now I need a safe space to be able to explore it.’ We provide students with that psychological safety,” Abendroth said.
The class had a significant impact on the students and business owners alike. Over the course of the semester, the students developed a comprehensive marketing strategy for their business partners and presented it via Zoom. For some, it was their first experience serving as consultants. “This is the first time I’ve ever collaborated with a company. I felt like I was making a difference and getting real-life working experience as a professional,” Zabel said.
REM5 co-founder Amir Berenjian was impressed with both students and the work they produced. “We had an extremely productive and mutually beneficial engagement with the St. Thomas students,” said Berenjian. “For us, it was a great way to get raw insight and perspective from the demographic that is on the doorstep of driving digital innovation for decades to come. For the students, it was valuable exposure to disruptive technologies like VR and AR and also an exciting look behind the curtain of entrepreneurship and start-ups. Programs like this really help bridge the gap between textbooks and the real world, so kudos to St. Thomas and the students for driving this initiative forward.”
O’Reilly was equally impressed by the students and their presentation for ReMember. He came away from the experience with some key considerations about prioritizing the onboarding of restaurants over end users. “Very thorough and really well done … Awesome job all around,” said O’Reilly.
As important as it was for the students to immerse themselves in their chosen technology, Giovannelli explained that whether the product is tech-based or not, the success or failure of the effort will come down to relationships. “It’s about an ability to work effectively in teams with a client … Once you get past [the technology], it’s just marketing, and it’s just working with people,” said Giovannelli.
Giovannelli is passionate about preparing his students for the reality of their world after graduation. “It’s like the dress rehearsal to the big show. This time it’s for a grade, soon it’s for real,” he said. But he is confident that his students will be successful because he sees in them a drive and a hunger to learn and grow. “This generation is the generation that just figures it out. They don’t need to be told how to do it. They just need to be told to do it, and they go out and get it done.”
Don't worry, you don't have to keep the kids bored in the house all summer. We have some ideas for how to keep them occupied with fun activities all across Minneapolis.
1. Virtual Reality/Gaming
Keep your video-game-loving kids active by exploring the world of virtual reality. REM5's state-of-the-art VR Lab is a hit for all ages and interests. Get your kids off the couch and transform them into Spiderman, a fruit ninja, a star quarterback and more.
If your kids missed out on field trips while everyone was trying out distanced learning, they'll be excited to hear about all the new exhibits happening at our museums. The Bakken, Walker Art Center, Science Museum, Mia, American Swedish Institute and The Bell Museum are all ready to welcome you back and expand your knowledge.
3. Cooking Classes
Have an aspiring chef experimenting in your kitchen? Get them some professional training with Cooks of Crocus Hill's Kids Camps. Classes range from global cuisine to baking to recreating popular restaurant dishes.
4. Solve a Puzzle
Get your kids thinking creatively by trying to solve their way out of an escape room at Trapped Puzzle Rooms. Race against the clock while finding clues in "Diagonal Alley", uncover secrets in a supervillain's lair or travel back in time and help save a kingdom.
5. Beaches and Parks
Do your kids need some place to release their energy? Minneapolis is full of parks and beaches where you can run and swim, and still keep your distance.
Beaches are open during regular park hours, from 6 a.m. to midnight daily. Check individual beaches to see when lifeguards will be on duty.
If you don't feel like swimming, why not take a picnic to the park? With so many takeout options, and plenty of green space to spread out, social distancing suddenly doesn't seem so bad. Grab your favorite food, bring a blanket, and enjoy some outdoor time with the kids!
6. Water Taxi
If your kids enjoy being out on the water then they'll love the Minneapolis Water Taxi experience. This hour-long boat ride can accommodate a family of 6 and takes you on a trip up and down the Mississippi River. The whole family will get to take in incredible views of the city and appreciate some nice relaxing time on the river.
7. Patio Dining
The whole family can enjoy a mix of food and sunshine, by going out to lunch at one of the many patios that are now open. It's the perfect way introduce your kids to your favorite restaurant spots around the city.
8. Go Out for Ice Cream
What could be better on a hot summer day than a scoop or two...or three of ice cream? Many Minneapolis ice cream shops serve up plenty of unique flavors that are sure to put a smile on your kid's face.
9. Minnesota Zoo
Visit our animal friends again at the Minnesota Zoo. Take a stroll through the tropical rain forest enjoying natural waterfalls and exotic wildlife. Afterwards, wander around Discovery Bay and marvel over the serene aquariums and marine wildlife. Or learn about what's in our own backyard at the Minnesota Trail. Whichever road you take you'll find endless learning opportunities.
10. Twins Game
Get your kids cheering for the home team at a Minnesota Twins game. Target Field provides a beautiful outdoor atmosphere, delicious and kid-friendly food options and a reason to dance, sing and sometimes even yell and shout in public.
What to know about the upcoming partnership between REM5 Virtual Reality Laboratory and The Twin Cities Film Fest (TCFF):
“Storytellers have been innovating with technology for decades, and VR/AR technology is the next generation of tools for their craft. We’re extremely excited to partner with TCFF to showcase these powerful new mediums and highlight some of the true pioneers in the space.”
For more information about REM5 and TCFF, read the release below. Also, don’t miss our interview with REM5 CEO Amir Berenjian on The tech.mn Podcast!
REM5 is a virtual reality laboratory in St. Louis Park. Like everyone else, they have had to adjust during this pandemic. TCL photographer, Drew Schingen takes us to a truly virtual reality comedy show.
Join hosts Andrew Wegleitner and Rebecca Wilson for three comedians in a “social webxr” experience right from your internet browser. There will be mature themes so 18+ is advised.
REM5’s next Truly Virtual Comedy Show is Wednesday, January 13, 2021. This is an online event that takes place in a virtual environment created by REM5 VR LAB. For more information, click here.