As high-profile developments in downtown Milwaukee creep closer to the city’s iconic, Santiago Calatrava–designed art museum, a $30 million design competition aims to unify the two with a new civic space. The so-called Lakefront Gateway Plaza project attracted 24 proposals, with four teams emerging as the finalists earlier this year: GRAEF, AECOM, Office of James Burnett, and James Corner Field Operations each lead a group of designers and consultants vying for the job.
In conceptual renderings recently made public, the design teams presenting visions of serpentine pedestrian bridges, illuminated sculptures, and globular dollops of lush public lawn. Public officials will pick a winner later this year. They are currently soliciting public feedback through community meetings and
GRAEF, Milwaukee-based engineering, planning and design firm, has in their corner PFS Studio, Dan Euser Water Architects, Rinka Chung Architecture, and Newaukee. Their proposal frames the 1.5 acre space as an "urban confluence," and tucks a curvilinear pavilion beneath the descent of a wending footbridge lined with tall grass. Towards Lincoln Memorial Drive it presents a sheltered glass facade, while towards Lake Michigan it cradles a water feature and ice rink. A snake-like sculpture lifts off the ground, and is shown glowing purple in one firework-splashed rendering.
James Corner Field Operations, most famous for their work on New York City’s High Line, leads a team that includes LaDallman Architects, Robert Silman and Associates, Kapur & Associates, Mailu Knode, Dan Euser Water Architecture, HLB Lighting, and Applied Ecological Services. Their plan emphasizes green features such as stormwater retention, and presents a series of spaces in a "procession to the lake." Two oval mounds of green space cleave off the lakefront terminus of the bridge, which gradually meanders toward ground-level after reaching the site.
Houston-based Office of James Burnett is a landscape architecture firm responsible for Chicago’s Riverfront Plaza, and has on their side Johnsen Schmaling Architects, Buro Happold Engineering, Focus Lighting, Shore Art Advisory, K. Singh & Associates, and Fountain Source. They cite Frederick Law Olmsted’s nearby Lake Park as historic inspiration, as well as modernist Dan Kiley’s Kiley Gardens. Melding the two influences, they hope to create “a playful, continuously evolving dialogue between natural systems and the built environment,” according to the proposal. Renderings show a year-round caravan of food trucks and clusters of drumlin “play mounds.”
Global design giant AECOM’s team is URS, Tillotson Design Associates, Cynthia Reeves, and Delta Fountains. Dubbed “The Hanging Gardens of Milwaukee,” their concept winds its pedestrian bridge over the site, spiraling around landscaped areas and a terraced amphitheater.
The plaza project is part of a larger infrastructure program that includes improvements to lakefront streets and highways, as well as bike infrastructure and private development. Its planning follows a controversial widening of Lincoln Memorial Drive by Wisconsin’s Department of Transportation last year.