100 Seeboth

100 Seeboth in Milwaukee, Wisconsin by Tod Williams Billie Tsien Associates, 2004

A mixed-use development in Milwaukee, Wisconsin is the first commission for a developer by the celebrated firm Tod Williams Billie Tsien Associates. The New York firm typically works with institutional clients, from university clients to a science institute and an art museum. But Weas Development Co. has successfully lured the couple to design eight condominiums, a restaurant and offices in the Walker's Point neighborhood south of downtown Milwaukee.

Even with the shift from institutional to development, the design bears the stamp of Tod and Billie. A six-story glass box, typical of Midwestern urban construction, is shielded by an asymmetrical precast concrete screen that wraps three sides of the property, opening the development to the waterfront. This concrete screen - openings of different sizes revealing the glass box and allowing views from inside - hints at the designers: The wall's mass reminds one of the Folk Art Museum, its asymmetry reminiscent of the Neuroscience Institute and the layering bringing to mind their Johns Hopkins Student Art Center.

The image at left shows the site's current situation, a brick warehouse built in 1872 indicative of the area's popularity in the latter half of the 1800's as a business district. Located just south of the Historic Third Ward, the development's site falls outside of an area of landmark protection against demolition. Unfortunately the existing building deteriorated so much that the developer did not see rehab as a feasible choice, a choice much of the neighborhood would prefer. Interestingly, the previous owner (restaurateur Karl Kopp) helped to hook up Weas with Williams and Tsien.

Any opposition to the demolition of the existing warehouse building will hopefully be stifled by the uniquely site-specific design, each side relating to its immediate context. If built, 100 Seeboth could extend the city's reach in attracting good architecture, recently reinvigorated by Santiago Calatrava's addition to the Milwaukee Art Museum.