88Nine Radio Milwaukee knew it could not build just any office when it relocated to a new home in Milwaukee’s Walker’s Point neighborhood. As an independent, community-focused radio station, it needed a space that was built for and around the community, not just a place to set up microphones and spin records.
That’s how it ended up with a headquarters on top of a coffee shop, with a miniature concert venue sandwiched between. Designed by architecture firm HGA, the two-story, 14,170-square-foot building places 88Nine in a former foundry, only the first act of repurposing in the sustainability-focused renovation.
88Nine moved into the space with fellow tenant Stone Creek Coffee in September 2013. It is where those two tenants blend together that most passersby will encounter the station’s headquarters thanks to a shared community room that serves as both extra seating for Stone Creek and extra space for concerts in 88Nine’s performance studio, modestly tucked behind see-through garage doors when not in use.
Lead designer Lyssa Olker said building an improved concert space was an important goal for 88Nine. “They’re not a recording facility, so their goal wasn’t to have the most perfect recordings of the artists that come in. What they wanted to do was be able to have the community come in and enjoy the show,” she said. The performance space itself is sized for about 100 seated audience members within the garage doors, and an additional 50 in the community room, and is fitted with salvaged wooden boards that help to disperse performers’ sound for exemplary acoustics.
The performance room also features a window into the on-air studio, right within the main entrance to 88Nine’s offices. The main studio, like other important technical rooms, was built with special no-static floors and dry sprinklers to reduce the risk of damage to the equipment. It is built large enough for in-studio performances as well.
Olker said 88Nine made a point of requesting that its offices not feel like a “corporate space”—no sterile aesthetics or boring furnishings. “The way I translated that was that they wanted a space where any member of this community can walk in this door and feel like they’re at home,” said Olker. “And that’s not white walls with navy furniture.”
Instead, the upstairs offices double down on 88Nine’s commitment to communal spaces and repurposed materials. Tables are salvaged blocks of wood or even doors. Long CD racks are made from modified wooden pallets. A central space initially meant to serve as a green room for visiting artists has evolved into a shared kitchen and break room, where DJs, office staff, and band members can mingle.
Some of the second floor’s more innovative elements are subtler. Ductwork is doubled up, with a separate system for the studios downstairs to keep noise from filtering in from the offices upstairs. The paints and finishes selected for the project are all low in toxic VOCs. Efficient showers on the second floor are available for band members or staffers who choose to bike to work. And large windows that let in abundant daylight reduce electrical lighting costs.
Olker said 40 percent of the roof is dedicated to a green roof, planted with grass and soil in order to slow storm-water runoff—a critical issue Milwaukee’s sewer department faces annually.
A sustainability-focused building is specific to 88Nine’s core mission, but it is something Olker believes is becoming increasingly popular outside the nonprofit community. “If nothing else, people are starting to realize the return on their investment for sustainable buildings,” she said. “A lot of it is mission-driven, but it’s also bottom-line-driven.”