Thou art thyself, though not Milwaukee. What’s Milwaukee? It is not block nor building, not park or plaza or any other part belonging to a city. Would a city by any other name have so much potential? So Milwaukee would, if not Milwaukee called, retain that dear structure which it owns without that title. What is in the name Milwaukee anyway? Fortuitously, the name is derived from the Algonquian word Millioke, which literally means “good/beautiful/pleasant land”.
There is a small, but key section of the city, which is of great importance to the city’s future. There are great buildings, public spaces and many vistas in this section of the city that deserve to be spoken about and areas that should be improved, that if composed correctly can create a proper pedestrian heart for Milwaukee. This area is shown on the map and centered on the river walk. The overall idea is to activate the riverwalk, and turn it into a linear public space similar to State Street in Madison or Lincoln Road in Miami Beach. In order to accomplish this it is necessary to do two things: attract people from all around the city to walk down to the river and to encourage people to walk up and down the riverwalk. Both of these objectives are accomplished by composing certain types of activity around the riverwalk into architecture that is integrated with and manifests itself out of the urban plan and the beautiful opportunities it presents.
The vista looking north on Water Street that terminates into City Hall is an excellent example of this, shown as vista 1 on the map (image 1). The building use, the architecture and the urban plan all work together to make this an exceptional illustration of the word Millioke.
On the north end of the selected region, please note that these vistas are not listed in order of importance but from north to south (To see individual images please see the photo gallery bellow). The bend in the river is the natural convergence of several vistas. The proposed movie theater will work as a great “anchor” for the river walk and Water Street. However, it must be executed correctly as the bend in the river terminates six vistas: North Water looking south (Image 2), Knapp Street looking west (Image 3), McKinley Avenue heading east (freeway exit), North Edison heading north (Image 4) Water Street looking north and most importantly the river walk heading north (Image 5). It is important to success of a pedestrian core that strong visual elements are created to poetically terminate these sight lines as interesting visual elements encourage human activity.
Moving south along the river, the eighth and ninth vistas are created by the fact that Highland Street does not line up across of the river. Looking west, the building that terminates vista eight is appropriate. However, the vista looking east, vista nine here, has no real visual termination (image 6). The structurally deficient parking garage along this sight line needs to be redeveloped soon and should address this vista and promote use of the pedestrian bridge in its design. This building will also connect Water Street with red arrow park and the Marcus Center for the Performing arts.
The tenth vista is heading east on State Street (image 7), the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts building does a wonderful job of terminating this vista, especially at night with the new LED lighting system.
The eleventh vista is heading west on State Street (image 8). From the east side of the river there is no visual marker attracting people to the river. A well designed mixed-use building constructed on the corner of 3rd and State, where there is currently a surface parking lot, would terminate this vista effectively and activate the river walk adjacent to Pere Marquette Park.
Vista twelve (image 9) is also terminated very effectively with the Intercontinental Milwaukee Center. The unique building design works to attract people down Kilbourn Avenue from the County Courthouse to the river walk.
Viewing the Milwaukee County Courthouse from up on the hill on the east side of the river revels the opportunity to create a multiple or tiered vista. Traveling west there comes a point around Market Street that the courthouse is no longer visible and due to elevation the Milwaukee County Historical Society building is also not visible (image 10). The building is not tall enough to terminate the vista from the other side of the river, but its quality is great for Pere Marquette Park. An intermediate size monument could be used to complete the layered vista between the grand scale of the courthouse and the intimate scale of the Historical Society.
The fourteenth vista is terminated with an early twentieth century building called the Cawker Building. It sits on the northwest corner of the river walk and Wells Street (image 11). This building and activity does what is supposed to do for its location. It activates the river walk and terminates the vista looking west on Wells toward the river. Nothing fancy, but it works.
On Wells Street there is no termination of the vista looking east toward the river (image 12). So there is no visual element that will attract people from the Midwest Airlines Center to walk down to the river walk. The parking lot on the corner of Wells and Plankinton currently terminates this vista and lines the river walk. A well crafted building here could be a great addition to the city.
Vista sixteen is Mason Street looking east and is terminated with early twentieth century buildings on the other side of the river. It is also flanked by the Daniel Burnham designed First National Bank building that enhance the character of this vista.
Vistas seventeen and eighteen are on Wisconsin Avenue looking east and west toward the river respectively (images 13 & 14). The post modern building does a nice job of greeting and attracting people heading east toward the river. Heading west on Wisconsin Avenue terminates in the classical revival Marshall Field’s building also designed by Daniel Burnham. This building could make a great backdrop for a monument to terminate this vista, the crane working hear almost lets you see how a strong contrast between a monument and the building can attractively terminate the vista.
The turning and shifting of the river creates many angles and perspectives to view buildings and monuments while walking up and down the river walk. The continuity of the picturesque setting is only broken up by surface parking lots and traffic speeding across the bridges. Sociologist studies indicate that human activity feeds off of other human activity. Creating a linear pedestrian friendly public space in the heart of the city will stimulate activity downtown bringing more people to live, work and play in downtown Milwaukee.
Guest post by: Matthew Trussoni
Matthew Trussoni, PhD, PE, RA is currently an Assistant Professor in and an alumnus of the Milwaukee School of Engineering’s Architectural Engineering Department. After graduating MSOE he attended the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Fla. where he completed a dual master’s degrees program in the School of Architecture in 2005 earning the degrees of Master of Architecture and Master of Urban Design. In 2009 he earned his Ph.D. in civil (structural) engineering in the Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering Department. His professional experience has encompassed both architecture and engineering as he is a Registered Architect and Professional Engineer in the State of Florida.