University of Minnesota Alumni Association

Alumni Stories

The People's Architect

Richard Gilyard believes in the power of good ideas.

Photo by Jayme Halbritter

Richard "Dick" Gilyard believes in the transformative power of good ideas. The 77-year-old architect has spent decades spearheading projects that are ambitious and modern, yet human-centric. He worked on Cook County’s Lighthouse Keepers Museum, for example, and a design for an extension of I-35 near Duluth that saved historic buildings.

Gilyard (B.A. ’61, B.Arch. ’64) is retired, but you’d hardly know it from the long days he spends emailing, calling, and meeting people to discuss a variety of projects. Partly that’s just the nature of the profession. “Architects don’t retire,” he says, “they just move to a different drafting board.” But it’s also because Gilyard is passionate about what he does.

One initiative in particular has been his focus for more than a decade: Prospect Park 2020. That’s an effort to redefine the look and feel of one of the city’s most iconic neighborhoods, where Gilyard lives, which is located near the U’s Minneapolis campus and close to the St. Paul border. Gilyard is the president and architect of the nonprofit looking to transform what is now an underutilized industrial area of Prospect Park into a vibrant, innovative development for residents and businesses, while making the most of its proximity to the Green Line light rail corridor. Funding has come from sources like the McKnight Foundation and Funders Collaborative.

“We’ve said 2,500 housing units, and let’s stack ‘em up,” says Gilyard. “We want to see maker spaces, libraries, and a variety of design styles. It could be a living laboratory of 21st -century, sustainable, regenerative development.”

Gilyard’s dedication to this and other visionary projects is a testament to his inquisitive, forward-thinking nature. A graduate of Minneapolis’s North High School, he always enjoyed drawing, but entered the U as a journalism student where he wrote for The Minnesota Daily. He switched to architecture after a brief talk with late, legendary Minneapolis architect Ralph Rapson, who was then dean of the School of Architecture.

Over time, Gilyard developed what he calls a modernist style marked by a cleanliness of line and an eye for contemporary touches. His signature projects have included the Demontreville Jesuit Retreat Center in Lake Elmo and the U’s Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, along with a number of residential, corporate, and institutional buildings. Work he did for the U.S. Courthouse Construction Program between 2005 and 2008 earned him honors from the American Institute of Architects for his leadership in advancing design excellence in federal architecture. 

And though Prospect Park 2020 involves working with a daunting number of stakeholders, including the U, the city of Minneapolis, Hennepin County, and about 7,700 area residents, Gilyard’s faith in the project is unrelenting. “This neighborhood is eclectic, everything from Carpenter Gothic to Frank Lloyd Wright and contemporary work,” he says. 

In the end, what keeps Gilyard glued to his drafting chair is an abiding passion for design and how it can enhance and define the areas where people live. 

“The enduring question for me on any given project is, ‘What do we really want to have happen here?’” he says. “Development is going to happen. Is it going to happen to us, or are we going to help shape it?”

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