A column in Milwaukee Magazine criticizing the design of Renner Architect’s soon-to-be completed BreakWater Condominiums spurred a response from Renner‘s firm that was in very poor form. The column in Milwaukee Magazine centered around the design of the BreakWater building itself, although Renner’s rebuttal was more interested in other things.
There are two key elements to the issue. The first is the response from Peter Renner’s firm. The second is the question of the actual architectural value of the building.
In the case of the first issue, Peter Renner’s firm issued a response via email to an article by Tom Bamberger in Milwaukee Magazine (not yet available online). The email sent out to an undisclosed number of individuals, but presumably went to every future BreakWater resident as part of a “BreakWater Condominiums Weekly Update.” The email that was sent out was addressed from Sales staff member Chris Corley, but Renner himself should be held personally responsible until he issues an apology. Furthermore, it would be shocking if Renner himself didn’t have involvement in the authoring of the email with the amount of architectural detail included.
A rebuttal to a printed column that criticizes your development is completely fair, and that’s not at all where the issue is. The problem is the way the rebuttal was authored, and the personal attack it included.
The final and most egregious insult Renner issued was at columnist Tom Bamberger, exposing his address unnecessarily (with the only point of posting photos of his home and mocking his home), marginalizing his financial well-being, and randomly criticizing his photography skills.
A response from Renner was certainly not uncalled for, but the way this response was written certainly was.
The second question is over the architectural value of the building. Bamberger was rather harsh in his criticism of the BreakWater, but when you’re building something that is visible from more than a mile away you’re not going to please everyone.
Do I personally think the building is a great architectural addition to the skyline? It’s okay, nothing special. There is a better question to be asked though. Does every building that adds to the skyline have to be approved by the architectural community as a quality addition? I say no, although I’m sure others would certainly disagree.
Milwaukee is blessed with a number of beautiful buildings from Milwaukee City Hall to “the Calatrava.” There are also a lot of bland buildings that are still assets to the urban fabric. The massing of the BreakWater will certainly prevent it from ever blending in with others around it, but it will certainly will not distract from Milwaukee’s best architectural assets.
The inside of the building is a different story from the outside. The quality of the construction as far as we can tell (from past Renner projects and tours of the BreakWater) should make the BreakWater a great place to live for years to come. Renner has a history of delivering quality units that have historically had high resale prices.
From an urbanist’s perspective the development is pretty sound, it interacts with the street pretty well, and brings a substantial amount of residents into downtown Milwaukee. Unfortunately it’s not a mixed-use development, but there are a substantial amount of commercial buildings in the area. Another real positive is that it elevated the height of the neighborhood, which should help future developers build high-density buildings in the area.
If I was Peter Renner I would have issued a response to my customers in response to Bamberger that said “look at my track record.” Nothing more was needed.