Jeramey Jannene
Friday Photos

The Deconstruction of Northwestern Mutual

Floor-by-floor, NML's 1970s office tower is coming down.

By - Jun 6th, 2014 03:18 pm

Last year at this time, a largely anonymous office building anchored the east end of E. Mason St. With a granite facade, the offices certainly had incredible views of the some of Wisconsin’s best architecture, the Milwaukee Art Museum, the U.S. Bank Center, Discovery World, much of E. Wisconsin Ave. Those buildings, however, didn’t get much back from the modernist building at the end of the street. But fret not, because now it’s nearly gone.

The 1979 office building, known internally at Northwestern Mutual as the East Building, was as generic as its name suggests. Designed by legendary designer Der Scott, the building has been called one of Milwaukee’s modernist gems by Journal Sentinel architecture critic Mary Louise Schumacher. I personally won’t miss it, as I found the fountains wonderful, but the building itself poorly suited for its prominent location.

And for the insurance giant’s needs, it was also outdated and in need of substantial repair. Rising in its place will be the new Northwestern Mutual Tower, a project that will keep Friday Photos busy until at least 2018. Designed by the Pickard Chilton architecture firm, the tower will be the second-tallest building in the state (32 stories) and the biggest in the city (1.1 million square-feet).

Of the East Building’s 16 stories, only three now remain. The deconstruction of the 452,000 square-foot building, which is being led by Veit, seeks to recycle or re-use as much of the building as possible. It’s one of those cases where what’s good for the environment is also good for the pocket book. The building is being pulled apart floor-by-floor, with a target of over 75 percent of the materials avoiding the landfill. Its more-then 5,000 granite panels are being donated to various groups. Steel and other metals are being recycled. Glass panels are being used for various projects.

Bobby Tanzilo visited the site two weeks ago, noting the following.

“As of when I visited last week, 67,000 tons of granite, masonry and brick was recycled. So was 6,400 tons of steel, aluminum and other metals; 10,000 tons of wood; and 53 tons of carpet.

‘There’s 19 million pounds of steel,’ says Wollenzein. ‘All of that material is going to come down and get melted down and made into something else. The copper, the aluminum, the iron piping, you name it, all of that stuff basically comes out, gets recycled in some form.'”

That’s a lot of materials that aren’t going to the landfill.

See our photos from January to notice the dramatic change in just a few months. Also, make sure to stop by to pay your respects before it’s too late. The “brown building” will exist only in photos and recycling bins come the end of June.

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2 thoughts on “Friday Photos: The Deconstruction of Northwestern Mutual”

  1. Kendall A says:

    I’m actually a bit sad to see it go from an architectural history standpoint. Der Scutt only designed a handful of buildings outside NYC, this was the only one west of Reading, PA. A lot of late 20th century modernism is in that phase where our contemporary view no longer sees it as practically or aesthetically valuable, and we have yet to see these buildings as historically valuable, meaning many well designed buildings from the era will get scuttled. It will be interesting to see which cities do the best at preserving this era of modernism as an intact architectural period of record.

  2. Dudemeister says:

    Kendall raises a good point. This building was from a defining period in our architectural history, filled with many disappearing gems (at least we still have the marvelous USB tower across the street).

    That being said, the East Building was poorly constructed and/or maintained, leading to prohibitive maintenance costs. Perhaps this is for the best.

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