parts house pavilion - milwaukee, wisconsin
Project Statement: The client approached us to generate ideas for the 1,500 square foot blacktop roof above his loft in a renovated 1920s warehouse, the Parts House, on Milwaukee’s Southside. The program asked for an outdoor living room flexible enough to allow for intimate dinners as well as large social events, a place providing seclusion for sunbathing or, alternately, protection from the sun and western winds, without compromising the stunning views of the city. Working with a limited budget of $56,000, we designed an open air pavilion of shop-fabricated trellis-like steel members supporting a curtain of sliding steel frames sheathed with polychromatic transparent and translucent plastic. Depending on their arrangement, the panels provide various levels of privacy or exposure, offer shelter, and act as picture frame and color filter: looking outward from the roof, different color combinations shift the views of the city, framing the skyline and changing Milwaukee’s somber skies to shades of yellow, red, and blue. At night, with the help of a sophisticated lighting system, the illuminated panels transform into a phantasmagoria of colors and shadows, highly visible from Milwaukee’s main freeway artery rushing nearby. The roof pavilion has become a neighborhood beacon, an extraordinary public spectacle and a symbol of urban vitality. It exemplifies how a small-scale urban intervention can have a major impact on its larger-scale environment.
Context: Located in the middle of a blue-collar neighborhood ripped apart by a freeway and a declining Rust Belt economy, the roof pavilion is part of an intriguing mix of contrasting urban constituents, a typological Noah’s Arc: dense blocks of workers’ cottages, corner bars, abandoned factories, churches, boat yards, and swaths of empty land. Interaction between the private realm of the roof pavilion and this diverse urban setting was paramount. From the rooftop, the surrounding city views change each time the panels are re-arranged. From the street, the pavilion serves as an iconic sculpture, a non-commercial billboard that illuminates the otherwise dark Southside skyline.
Constructability: The roof pavilion consists of a simple steel superstructure consisting of shop-assembled elements and extending the structural logic of the existing building beyond the roof plane. This structural framework serves two major functions. On one hand, as a seemingly integral part of the existing warehouse, it defines spatial boundaries for the patio. On the other hand, it supports the curtain of movable panels and resists the considerable wind forces to which the panels are exposed, in order to create a livable outdoor environment 65 feet up in the air.
Flexibility: The curtain of sliding panels allows for an almost unlimited number of spatial and atmospherical settings. The panels can be arranged to screen either the entirety or merely portions of the patio, depending on the desired use, weather, or time of the day, while simultaneously defining a variety of spaces. The polychromatic spectrum of the panels enables the client to utilize the colors appropriate for the occasion. At night, the lit panels provide the right ambiance for a cocktail party. Meanwhile, on a cloudy day, the bright-colored panels may function as a mood enhancer. In addition, the pavilion’s trellis panels over portions of the patio offer another level of spatial definition and can be supplemented with retractable canvases for enhanced overhead screening.