I’ve always had a strong sense of whether a space is “working” or not. But I’ve never been able to identify or articulate exactly why, until I met Max Musicant. Max is earning a name for himself around town as “the-guy-behind-the-last-really-awesome-thing-you-discovered-in-the-Twin-Cities.” He helps folks translate events, spaces, and ideas with potential into experiences that make 612 the place to be and grow. Max works with big organizations as well as small community groups (much of his success lies in his ability to connect the two). In fact, he was one of the very first members of The 612 Sauna Society. He came over for a sauna when I had The Firehouse parked behind my apartment in the Phillips neighborhood, and he’s been an enthusiastic supporter ever since. Everyone loves the idea of a free, public sauna, but Max was the first person to step up and help us launch this winter’s pilot project. I’ve learned a lot working with him and his team these last few weeks, and it’s an honor to feature him as the first guest post on the blog! 

Without further preamble, I present Max Musicann’s 3 Ingredients for transforming spaces into places…

The need and desire for human connection is fundamental to our daily happiness.

Unfortunately, through the spread of suburban land use patterns and the many
elements of computer/mobile technology we as a society are getting fewer and
fewer organic and serendipitous opportunities to connect with each other as fellow
human beings.

In my work through The Musicant Group, our team thinks (and does!) a lot around
how to create physical environments that reverse these troubling trends. We’ve
found that there are a few critical factors that have a disproportionate impact on
whether a space is inviting, alive, and facilitates community:

User Choice

How much of the environment is in the user’s hands? Can they easily choose to be in
a public place vs. a private place? Can they sit in the sun or the shade? Can the move
things around so that they are “just right” for that given situation.

Dynamic Transitions and Borders

In the natural world, thick transitions between zones reinforce each side, bind them
together, and are also often dynamic places in of themselves. Think of the rich
ecology of the edge/marsh of a lake or river. A low sitting wall that lines a pathway
and protects an inner park or garden. Or our lips. Even life events such as birthdays,
bar/bat mitvas, and seasonal holidays create important and dynamic border
transitions for our lives and society.

public enjoying the Little Box Sauna

public enjoying the Little Box Sauna

Things to do

Why should someone be in a given space? Are there things to experience, eat, enjoy,
play, buy, go, etc. If there are a few good reasons for people to go and stay in a place,
than it stands that there will be a few people in the space.


The Sauna

The best saunas have each of these three elements.
There is a choice of where to sit, heat level, length of stay, view, etc.
There are clear and enjoyable transitions and borders: the outside, the changing/anteroom, the threshold of a doorway, the seat near the door, the upper bench spot. There are also the transitions of activity: arrival, changing, heat up and cool down cycles, dressing, and transitioning back to our everyday lives.
And, there are things to do: the sauna itself, but just as important: talking, eating, drinking, cooling down, sitting by the fire, etc.

The sauna experience inspires us on how we can shape our own environments and
daily routines to increase the sociability and happiness for ourselves and our

– Max Musicant

Max Musicant Head Shot

Max Musicant is the Founder and Principal of The Musicant Group – an award winning placemaking andpublic space firm dedicated to transforming underutilized spaces into great places where people want to be. He believes and has demonstrated through the work of his firm that our community and commercial interests all benefit from more humane, inviting, and lively places for people. Since founding The Musicant Group the firm has transformed places as varied as Class A office buildings to vacant lots, from urban main streets to suburban strip malls. Notable projects include, programming and managing the reimagined common area of the 1.4M square foot Capella Tower and transforming a derelict plaza Nicollet Mall into the “Piazza on the Mall”. Max holds an M.B.A. from the Yale School of Management and a B.A. from the University of Wisconsin – Madison.