downtown garage - milwaukee, wisconsin
Downtown Milwaukee, not unlike many other cities in America, is dominated by the automobile: Since the early 1950s, when the city’s ongoing existential fight against suburbia began, freeways, surface parking lots, and monstrous parking ramps have replaced a good part of Milwaukee’s original urban fabric. The result has been devastating, leading to a life-less central city with gaping holes, its raison-d’ être reduced to a giant car storage for adjacent office towers. In the last decade, however, downtown Milwaukee has seen an unprecedented rebirth, with new buildings built and abandoned ones renovated and converted, and with people moving back into the urban core.
“Downtown Garage” re-imagines one of the most notorious above-ground parking facilities in Milwaukee, covering almost one half of an entire city block and addresses one of the main concerns in contemporary American urban planning: Considering that ample, comfortable parking is still a prerequisite for the city’s survival, how can these mammoth buildings be transformed into productive urban constituents, into real assets for the community that transcend their utilitarian nature? Instead of tearing the 7-story building down and rebuilding it from scratch, we are proposing a more sustainable solution that takes advantage of the building’s healthy “bones.” The first two levels will be surgically gutted and reorganized into commercial space. A two-story concrete-framed “retail box” will be inserted into the volume and create the main entrance to the building. A retractable glass door system can be opened during the warmer months of the year, connecting the inside of the “retail box” with the street and eliminating the need for artificial air conditioning. Above, a fabric of cast translucent panels, made from recycled acrylic resin, will wrap the 5 stories of parking. Mounted on a simple aluminum frame that integrates a sophisticated LED lighting system, the panels serve as an elegant screen for the parking ramp and as a canvas for light projections at night. The garage thus constantly transforms its appearance: During the day, the translucent skirt captures and reflects the sunlight at different angles, depending not only on the time of the day but also on the direction from which one approaches the building. At night, the lighting system inside the garage illuminates the wrapper, turning the building into a vibrant, glowing object in the middle of downtown. In collaboration with fabricators and engineers, we have examined and tested different patterns and installation techniques for the panels, examining their effect on the parking structure’s overall aura.