James Dayton

jimJames Dayton, whose personal and professional life was directed largely towards strengthening cultural and civic institutions in the Twin Cities, died on February 13th in his home in Long Lake, Minnesota. He was 53 years old.

As principal of the architecture firm he founded in 1997, James Dayton Design, Jim was responsible for designing a number of highly acclaimed buildings and public spaces that have greatly influenced the Twin Cities' architectural landscape. Not only did Jim leverage unique, non-traditional building materials to create visually stunning contemporary architecture and interiors, but his firm's projects were often transformative for the clients and organizations with whom he worked. Such projects include Minnetonka Center for the Arts, Highpoint Center for Printmaking, The Blake School, McPhail Center for Music, and most recently, Westminster Presbyterian Church in downtown Minneapolis.

One of the hallmarks of Jim's distinctive approach to architecture was conceptualizing public buildings in an appropriate context. In an interview, Jim stated that, "We should build new, but respect the old and respect the context and try to make a gesture that finds its way between the two of them." Ultimately, as Jim further explained in articulating his firm's philosophy, "Architecture is about people. It is about scale, feeling, and emotion. It is about a fundamental human experience, and therefore the design process and final building must afford this experience."

Jim received the Minnesota Young Architect Award in 2005 and the American Institute of Architects Young Architect Award in 2006.

Prior to opening his own firm, Jim worked for Frank Gehry in Santa Monica, California. During his five-year tenure with the firm, Jim was a design team member on a wide range of notable projects including the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, and the Museum of Decorative Arts in Montreal.

The oldest son of Bob and Joanie Dayton, Jim grew up in Wayzata, Minnesota. He attended the Blake School and then The Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, Connecticut. Jim graduated from Yale with a BA in Architecture in 1987 and received his Masters in Architecture from the University of Virginia in 1991 wherepainting he received the AIA Scholastic Gold Medal.

While at UVA, Jim met his wife Megan who was also studying architecture. Jim and Megan were married in Pittsburgh in 1994 and have two children, Emma and Joe.

Always an artist at heart, Jim was an avid, talented painter and was invited to curate the opening show in 2002 for the Minnetonka Center for the Arts, entitled 13 Minnesota Artists. Jim's passion for art and the Twin Cities arts community heavily influenced his philanthropic and volunteer work. Over the years, Jim served on and led a number of non-profit boards including the Walker Art Center, the MacPhail Center for Music, the University of Minnesota's Weisman Art Museum, and the Northern Clay Center in Minneapolis.

Throughout his life, Jim enjoyed a wide range of hobbies, sports, and activities including fly-fishing, hockey, hunting, photography, and golf. With a terrific sense of humor and often prone to exaggeration, Jim had a talent for fantastic stories and memorable toasts. And while Jim thoroughly enjoyed his friends and social life, nothing brought him more joy than being a husband and a dad.

Jim is survived by Megan, his wife of 25 years, his two children, Emma and Joe, his mother Joanie, and two brothers Toby (Mae) and Scott. He is preceded in death by his father, Bob Dayton.

A memorial service will be held at 2:00 PM (Central) on Saturday, February 16th at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Minneapolis. The service will be streamed live on the church's website.

In lieu of flowers, please consider a gift to Ducks Unlimited, One Waterfowl Way, Memphis, TN 38120.

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MPR NEWS -James Dayton in the MacPhail Center for Music in 2008. 

Article about Jim in the Minneapolis Star Tribune - click here.

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Oil painting Jim painted and donated for the Summer Frolic