For the past year, a group of TKWA-ers (mostly the newer cohort, with assistance from a few seasoned sages) have been studying Christopher Alexander and pattern writing in-depth via a weekly book club. A few months ago, we were offered the opportunity to put our studies into practice by writing patterns for an undeveloped site in downtown Milwaukee, and further, to teach what we had learned to a larger group of creative professionals in the city.
The site, a surface parking lot at 4th Street and Wisconsin Avenue, is currently pretty desolate. It is bordered by the Wisconsin Center to the north and Grand Avenue Mall to the east, two large block developments that do not generate a great deal of pedestrian traffic. Michigan Avenue to the south is clogged with parking garages, and Sixth Street to the west is a wide, bare corridor.
In spite of these circumstances, the site has a great deal of potential. If developed thoughtfully, it could become a catalyst for future growth in a neighborhood that sorely needs it.
Historically, downtown Milwaukee looked very different than it does today. Block sizes were smaller and much more walkable (the old grid is faintly visible in our alleyways today), buildings were significantly smaller and more tightly packed together, and the entire area bustled with activity. Streetcars operated throughout the downtown until they were dismantled in the 1950’s, and theaters lined both Wisconsin Ave and 3rd St. Our goal for this project was to envision ways to bring this spirit into the present day.
Over the course of several weeks, we identified a list of issues and solutions geared toward encouraging vibrant growth in the area. Six of these became the patterns we used in our presentation and workshop:
For an in-depth discussion of the site, history, and patterns, you can download the full presentation at http://bit.do/4mke
The workshop took place October 24, 2014 at the Creative Milwaukee @ Work 2014 Summit. Seventy participants – all from the Milwaukee area – gathered around large maps of downtown Milwaukee armed with dry-erase markers, and together we worked through each of the six patterns, identifying problem areas and proposing solutions.
The exercise spurred lots of fascinating conversation, as each person around the tables brought a different perspective and experience of the city. We are very excited about the results, and plan to develop the ideas generated at the workshop further over the coming months.
Over the past year and a half, TKWA has overseen the restoration of the historic Albert and Edith Adelman Residence, a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed house in Fox Point, WI. Last month, we presented the project to a group of over 90 Wright homeowners, curators, and preservationists at the FLW Building Conservancy Annual Conference. Held from October 16th to the 20th, this conference is a venue to share preservation and curation strategies, talk shop with architectural enthusiasts, and to learn more about Wright and his contemporaries.
Craig Adelman, the current owner of the home, started off our presentation with a compelling introduction. The youngest of three boys, he grew up in this house with his parents Albert and Edith. He told the story of how “out of the blue” his father drove through a cold winter night to Wright’s studio in Spring Green, WI unannounced to meet with him about a design for a new home. He sat shivering in his car for an hour waiting for Wright, who was conducting another meeting at the time. Craig observed: “Similarly, I contacted Allen Washatko of TKWA out of the blue” to commission a full restoration of the home. This is TKWA’s second Wright-designed project after the First Unitarian Meeting House restoration and addition in Madison, WI.
Justin Racinowski (TKWA) who served as project manager, and Tony Kartsonas, historic finish specialist with Historic Finishes LLC, followed up Craig’s intro with a discussion of the goals and challenges of the restoration, including the custom concrete block wall cleaning and repair, concrete floor removal and replacement, cedar shake roof replacement, and the reconditioning of 93 windows and 48 doors. We explained that energy efficiency was addressed with careful incorporation of insulation and new mechanical equipment that would remain hidden throughout the house.
The theme of the homeowners meeting that evening was wood restoration procedures—which we had no shortage of information to discuss. Much of the Adelman residence consists of wood components: walls, ceilings, windows, doors, eaves, built-in furniture and cabinets. A skilled wood restoration crew from Restoric LLC spent countless months bringing the wood surfaces back to life under the direction of Tony Kartsonas, who has a number of Wright building restorations under his belt. They used special techniques and products that are sensitive to the original surfaces. Tony discussed the procedures we used for assessing and restoring the wood surfaces, including analyses to determine finish types/products, techniques for reconditioning existing finishes, as well as stripping and refinishing methods, as a primer (pun intended) for Wright homeowners to begin their own repair projects.
While we greatly enjoyed sharing our project, we also came to this conference with another intention: The opportunity to tour spectacular Wright-designed buildings that in many cases are never open to the public. The conference is located in a different state every year, and this year was held in Grand Rapids, MI. We toured 13 houses over 3 days, 4 located in the Benton Harbor/St. Joseph area, 7 in the Kalamazoo area, and 2 in Grand Rapids. We deeply appreciate the homeowners’ willingness to open their homes to us. Here are some photos of the tour highlights:
Next year the conference will take place in Phoenix, AZ at the historic Biltmore Hotel. Among the tours slated for the conference, we will be particularly interested in the David Wright Residence, which was almost demolished earlier this year by an insensitive developer who wanted the land to build a cluster of McMansions. The FLW Building Conservancy stepped in to prevent its demolition through public outreach, and ultimately found a buyer and brokered a deal to save the house.
For more information:
Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy Annual Conference
The Schlitz Audubon Nature Center is using an ingenious method to control invasive species on the property: prescribed grazing, or literally, setting 95 goats loose on the property to eat everything in sight. The goats work for Vegetation Solutions, LLC and they travel the region performing this valuable service.
Contained to treatment areas by a mobile electric fence, the goats make short work of invasive species including Buckthorn, Honeysuckle, Multiflora Rose, Garlic Mustard and Dame’s Rocket. They will enthusiastically graze everything up to where they can reach on their hind quarters, so grazing locations must be carefully selected.
Allowed to proliferate, invasive species will choke out diversity in an area, so the goats are an important tool to help restoration ecologists maintain balance in an ecosystem. The science of the practice lies in calibrating the number of goats, the duration of the grazing period, and the number of grazing episodes needed to fully exhaust the plants. For invasive woody shrubs as at Schlitz, it can take multiple grazing episodes over two to five years to fully exhaust the plants’ root supplies. Without this repetition you can actually worsen an invasive problem, because plants (like Buckthorn) with extensive root systems will continue to resprout until exhausted.
Prescription grazing is used in many situations, and the goats work in flocks of 10 – 150 depending on the size of the treatment area. They can be used as an alternative to chemical weedkillers, or a supplement to reduce the amount of chemicals needed to control an area.
In addition to being environmentally friendly, the goats clearly enjoy their work. They were a popular attraction at Schlitz during their stay – check out the photos below, or visit them next spring to see for yourself!
All images courtesy of the Schlitz Audubon Nature Center.
“Wholeness, life, has a way of being always simple. In most cases, this simplicity shows itself in a geometrical simplicity and purity, which has a tangible geometric form.”Christopher Alexander, p. 226, Book One, The Nature of Order
“Pieces were colored – beautiful colors, often worked into the wood (not paint), and coded, yellow, blue, red, green, etc., each type of furniture was color-coded to its function. Yet they were always severe. This severity was the very essence of the inner calm…”Christopher Alexander, referring to Shaker made artifacts, p. 227, Book One, The Nature of Order
Inner calm is a rare commodity these days, so rare that I fear we have nearly lost the ability to create it anew. As architects, we are continually bombarded with the latest ideas of style, conceptual posturing and architectural fashion to the point that our design decisions are rarely guided by the wholeness that surrounds us. To gain recognition from our peers and the architecture media as ‘contemporary’ or ‘conceptually sophisticated’, we fall into the trap of echoing forms ‘acclaimed’ as leading edge.
In The Nature of Order, Alexander says of inner calm, “…it is only inner simplicity, true simplicity of heart, which creates it.”
What is simplicity of heart? I don’t recall learning how to achieve such a state in architecture school, in fact it was quite the opposite. Nor do I see the subject being broached in the architectural journals. If I don’t have simplicity of heart, how can I make it appear in a building? Here is the core of what we, as architects, need to come to grips with: There must be a strong resonance between the heart and the built environment. Simplicity and Inner Calm is a deep, settled resolution of conflicting forces, a long, low and reviving breath, a contentment born of wholeness.
It is a spiritual question as much as it is one of form.
Our philosophy at TKWA has always been simple: Good clients make better projects. Working with our friends at Alterra Coffee Roasters is a robust example. TKWA and Alterra share a commitment to improving communities with thoughtful design that respects neighborhoods and the people that inhabit them.
The latest TKWA/Alterra collaboration is the Alterra – East Tosa cafe, now under construction on the corner of 68th & Wells Street in Wauwatosa. Our goal with the cafe is to create a comfortable new gathering place that reflects the character and vitality of this well-established, historic neighborhood.
When Alterra – East Tosa opens this spring we encourage you to stop by and experience it for yourself. We hope you will agree that strong coffee can, indeed, make stronger neighborhoods.
Collaboration is key to good design – in any language or culture. As design architect for the new 2400-student Zhongguancun Elementary School #3, TKWA is working closely with school representatives and design design team partner, China Architecture, Design & Research Group (CADREG). One of the largest architecture, engineering and construction firms in China, CADREG projects include the “Bird’s Nest” National Stadium built for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the Capital Museum in Beijing, and other prominent buildings throughout China. In late January, TKWA design team members Allen Washatko and Ethan Bartos are spending a week in Beijing to further develop the elementary school building design. This is the third trip to Beijing since Fall, 2012 for TKWA team members.
The TKWA school design features a semi-circular building wrapped around a central courtyard/athletic complex on a six-acre site. This unique building geometry creates multi-level indoor-outdoor classroom and learning spaces while helping to orient students and other occupants throughout the building. A central courtyard, used daily for ceremonial gathering and athletic activities, forms the cultural and emotional core of campus. Approximately 40,000 square meters (430,000 square feet) in size, the building design includes four levels of above ground classroom, administrative, performance and related educational spaces, plus two underground levels reserved for parking and a multi-purpose gymnasium/athletic complex.
TKWA-designed Learning Pods and studios will help teachers develop student critical thinking and problem-solving skills. An innovative “School within a School” design divides the building into smaller “neighborhoods” to give a greater sense of identity and pride of ownership among students, faculty, parents, and the community. This organization allows self-contained, age-appropriate learning, yet fosters interaction among all age levels.
TKWA has been selected as design architect for a major new elementary school project in Beijing, China. When completed, the Zhongguancun No. 3 Elementary School will provide an innovative project based and collaborative learning environment for approximately 2400 students within a highly sustainable urban campus. Ceremonial groundbreaking for the school occurred on December 26, 2012, with construction start in Spring, 2013.
Considered one of the top academic schools in China, Zhongguancun Elementary School currently operates two campuses enrolling more than 6000 students within Beijing’s Haidian District.
In selecting TKWA school representatives sought to create a new school environment that balances traditional teacher-directed, whole-group instruction with flexible, learner-centered work and study spaces. By incorporating project-based and collaborative learning approaches popular in many American school systems the school is seeking to become a model for education reform in China.
Plymouth United Church of Christ of Milwaukee is a progressive Christian community with a mission of joyful welcome and inclusiveness. Located on Milwaukee’s upper east side near the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee campus, the congregation is the heir and custodian to a magnificent 1913 Alexander Eschweiler-designed church. Despite the elegance and beauty of their historic church, the congregation struggled with a realization that the physical space they occupied did not fully support or communicate their social and spiritual aspirations.
In response, the congregation began a multi-year effort called the REACH project: “Renovate, Enhance, and Make Accessible Our Church Home”. TKWA was hired to develop a master plan for renovation with two overall goals: For the exterior, express a contemporary vigor grounded in historic sensitivity, while providing a fresh sense of welcome, energy, and forward vision. For the interior, resolve a complex assembly of spaces that diminish the congregation’s effectiveness as a spiritual community.
On Wednesday, December 12 workers began installing the first section of a TKWA-designed, 270-foot, pedestrian bridge in Milwaukee’s Menomonee Valley. Once completed the bridge will connect the Mitchell Park Domes/Clarke Square neighborhood with a new 24-acre park under construction on a long vacant industrial rail yard.
Scheduled for completion in summer, 2013, the park and pedestrian bridge will become part of the Hank Aaron State Trail.
The new park will also offer naturalized habitat for birds and other wildlife, fishing and canoeing access to the Milwaukee River, hiking trails, and community gardens. Milwaukee’s Urban Ecology Center will also use the park and trail system as an outdoor classroom.