James Dayton, Minneapolis architect, dies at 53

Architect James Dayton
James Dayton in the MacPhail Center for Music in 2008.
Marianne Combs | MPR News 2008

The Minneapolis architect known for buildings including the MacPhail Center for Music and the addition to Westminster Presbyterian Church has died.

James Dayton, 53, passed away unexpectedly Tuesday night. A staff member at his firm, James Dayton Design, did not specify a cause of death but said it was unexpected.

Dayton worked with renowned architect Frank Gehry in Los Angeles before striking out on his own in 1997.

With its angled exterior walls made of galvanized steel, Gehry's influence is evident in the MacPhail building on Second Street in downtown Minneapolis.

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At its grand opening in 2008, Dayton told MPR News that his goal for the project was to put music front and center.

"We always said this through the design process: We wanted the UPS guy to come through here and experience music from the minute he came through the front door."

Tom Fisher, a University of Minnesota professor and director of the Minnesota Design Center, said Dayton brought a whimsical dynamism to the Twin Cities.

"His buildings were very lively, and almost had a sense of humor to them," Fisher said. "He was really a breath of fresh air to the sometimes sober architecture that we generate in this cold climate."

Fisher said Dayton loved working in the Twin Cities and was civic-minded. He served on the board of the Walker Art Center as well as the state commission that oversaw the $309.7 million renovation of the Minnesota State Capitol.

Dayton was a great-great-grandson of department store pioneer George Draper Dayton.