A Custom Sculpture for a Playful Retreat - UMN Institute of Child Development with RSP Architects

Custom sculpture for UMN

Located on the historic Knoll Campus of the University of Minnesota, this new project with design partner RSP Architects sought to blend historical elements with future thinking. The UMN Institute for Child Development (ICD) overlooks the Mississippi River and downtown Minneapolis. For this project, the RSP team was inspired by the oak trees surrounding the building and sought a design to ground a four-level glass tower known as the “Treehouse,” which features a grand staircase with 180-degree views at the top.

Seeking to reflect both the gravitas of a research institute and the experiences of children, RSP took a design approach that was playful but not childish. Movement, pattern, and light (all research-based sensory experiences) became vital elements to inspire the space.

Custom Sculpture for UMN

Yellow Goat Design was chosen as a unique partner for the task of creating a sculpture that linked the main entrance with the grand stairwell. Inspired by YGD’s “Fragmented Illusion” fixture, our team designed and fabricated a nearly 30-foot tall sculpture comprised of 124 vibrant laser-cut abstract butterflies in lavender and violet colorways.

Each element was printed strategically using a custom-created pattern and heat formed into a unique shape by our team of artisans to create movement and a sense of flight. The backlit perforated panels cast dappled shadows that mimic sunlight filtered through a canopy of trees, a nod to the historic oak trees that have been on the site for hundreds of years. The grand staircase climbs the entire building, utilizing the sculpture as a connection point through the third spaces and connective retreats on each floor for students.

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A sense of connection, inspiration, and whimsy all brought a historic 1913 building into the present. By utilizing a sense of design that relied on sensory experience and an idea of retreat, RSP spoke not only to the critical work that ICD is doing but also to the core elements that the natural world can offer.


Cat Gilbert is the Marketing Director for Yellow Goat Design. She has worked for over 10 years in the Marketing, Publishing, and Hospitality industry with a focus creative and unusual luxury design. To contact please reach out here.