Juli Kaufmann of Fix Development came to Milwaukee-based Continuum Architects + Planners with a tall order: Turn a formerly industrial brownfield into a “radical green” model of environmental sustainability. “We went in with the highest hopes and aspirations,” said project manager Dan Beyer, “but we also had a budget.” The firm may not have reached the Living Building Challenge net-zero philosophy that guided their design, but Continuum’s Clock Shadow Building at 130 West Bruce Street treads lightly on the environment while drawing deeply on local culture.
The architects salvaged almost a third of the building materials, including Milwaukee’s famous cream city brick, which makes up most of the exterior. “We knew we really wanted to make a priority out of using salvaged materials,” Beyer said. “You get a great bang for your buck, and it really has a familiar feel that’s easy to look at and be comfortable with.”
Leftover masonry planks and repurposed doors serve as toilet partitions in the bathroom. Wood reclaimed from Wisconsin barns makes up the sunscreens over the building’s windows, which are staggered in a staccato rhythm more contemporary than its component parts might suggest. Cypress wood reclaimed from tanks used to brine pickles—“picklewood” colloquially—proves more resistant to rot than cedar and makes an effective exterior element for the cantilevered bulk of the four-story building. Beyer said the team hoped to incorporate more wood into the framing, but opted for stainless steel studs instead.
Wood nonetheless outlines the interior’s social architecture in the form of an open exit stair meant to discourage elevator use and bring together the various tenants, which include a community clinic serving the local uninsured population, law offices, and an artisanal dairy store. The organizations shared space before the completion of this project. Beyer said maintaining that social cohesion was just as important as bolstering the building’s green credentials. “It was really important for us not just to be a sustainable building,” he said, “but to be someplace people enjoyed and embraced.”
Continuum looked for design elements that achieved multiple ends on the dense urban site. A solar array might have cut energy use, for example, but it would also monopolize roof space. Instead, the architects opted for a green roof that keeps the building cool during the summer and directs rainwater into a cistern that feeds the first commercially permitted greywater reuse system in Milwaukee. (The city’s Urban Ecology Center paved the way, Beyer said, by negotiating a temporary permit for its own system.) The system, which directs rainwater into the building’s toilets, cuts potable water use in half and can retain up to two-thirds of precipitation from a typical storm on-site. Generous daylight, south-facing operable windows, and a geothermal heat system shaved off more than a third of the energy use per square foot compared to a traditional building of this size.
Situated in the city’s historic Walkers Point neighborhood, the Clock Shadow Building was so named for its position just south of the massive 4-faced clock tower built by the Allen Bradley company (now Rockwell Automation). It has been called the “South Milwaukee Moon” for how bright it glows at night. Fix Development’s new building may be a shadow of the area’s manufacturing past, but it remains a beacon of sustainable design.
Continuum worked with fellow Milwaukee firms Graef USA, CG Schmidt, New Eden landscape architects, Rivet LLC, and IBC Engineering.