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2018 Commercial Design Awards

Creative interiors stood out to a trio of judges who selected the winners in our annual Commercial Design Awards program.

University of Wisconsin–Madison Memorial Union Redevelopment Phase II & Alumni Park

University of Wisconsin–Madison Memorial Union Redevelopment Phase II & Alumni Park

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From the pages of In Business magazine.

When people say it’s what’s on the inside that counts, they usually aren’t referring to architecture because this is one discipline that evaluates the interior and the exterior. Yet in our annual Commercial Design Awards, the overall impressions of our trio of judges varied. They gave high marks for the straightforward and sensitive architectural solutions they saw, but it was the interior design of this year’s projects that really stood out to them (with one notable exception).

Judges were asked to evaluate projects that were completed in calendar year 2017 and submitted for this year’s program. The projects gave new life to venerable spots such as the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s Memorial Union and celebrated new construction in the form of Northwestern Mutual’s Tower and Commons project in Milwaukee.

“I would say thumbs up to creating lovely interior spaces,” states one judge. “Overall, the real joy of reviewing these projects was to see the inventiveness they demonstrate with regard to interior spaces. I liked the materials, the lighting, and the concepts that were highlighted.”

Another judge praised the innovation he saw in the 2017 design work. “If this is not the best, it’s one of the best crops of projects I’ve seen,” he asserts. “They spent a little extra money on some projects, and the architecture and the construction quality shines through.”

Designs on categories

In recent years, sustainability has emerged as a key design factor in this and other architectural design programs. For this year’s program, we replaced our Best Green-Built category with a Most Innovative Green Feature category, and we established a Most Innovative Feature to recognize one project element that really shined, whether or not the entire product was a category winner. As has been our practice in recent years, statewide projects were considered along with those in Greater Madison.

University of Wisconsin–Madison Memorial Union Redevelopment Phase II & Alumni Park

Project of the Year, Best New Development or Renovation – Mixed Use, Best Outdoor Landscaping Project

When UW–Madison set out to redevelop the Memorial Union, one of the most beloved, historic spots on campus, the university wanted to enhance the experience of faculty and students by restoring significant spaces while preserving the history of existing architecture.

The resulting night-and-day difference reinforces the Memorial Union, Alumni Park, and the North Terrace as ideal gathering spots for students, faculty, and the general public. “It’s hard not to love a renovation that addresses one of Wisconsin’s great community spaces,” states one judge. “They have given it a facelift and a nice reinterpretation.”

The completion of phase two renovations was the culmination of a process that started in 2009, and the transformation is, in the view of another CDA judge, simply remarkable. “They were able to bring modernization to the facility and to the site, while still incorporating the history and romanticism of the space,” he states. “I really like how they brought in the landscaping — they didn’t just turn it into a concrete park — and how they incorporated the concrete and the brick work with the landscaping.”

In giving the Memorial Union a makeover, there was some cosmetic restoration to a number of the historic structure’s iconic spaces, including Der Rathskeller, Tripp Commons, and the Porter Butts Gallery. To provide multiple new eateries, interior renovation included the total demolition and remodel of first-floor dining spaces.

The existing North Terrace also was demolished to allow for new, underground storm water routing, and tiered walking paths and seating leading from the first floor of the Union down to the Lakeshore Path and Lake Mendota were constructed. The work also includes the addition of a new performance stage and concession stand.

Alumni Park, a roughly 1-1/2-acre space situated between the Red Gym, One Alumni Place, and Memorial Union, now features a 12-foot-diameter granite water fountain, granite and clay paver radial walks, and a 15-foot concrete structure called Progress Point that cantilevers over a gathering lawn.

“The Alumni Park is something that uses natural materials and really keeps the flavor of the whole Memorial Union intact,” notes a CDA judge.

For new construction and major renovations, project sponsors are seeking LEED Silver certification through LEED 2009, and they have sustainable elements to tout. More than 7,000 cubic yards of concrete were poured to build the new underground loading dock between Memorial Union and the Red Gym. Since there is limited space between the two buildings, making it difficult to receive deliveries at the Union, a unique truck carousel feature was added to the loading dock to provide sufficient space for truck turnaround. A concrete secant wall was constructed around the perimeter of the dock to serve as earth retention for its construction, as well as a water barrier since the dock is situated 12 feet beneath the water table.

One judge felt the landscaping, with its inviting native plants and grasses, helped the architecturally distinct Red Gym feel more at home. “Overall, the designers thought not so much about the form but more about how people use that outdoor space,” he adds. “In a way, I think it’s the outdoor living room of the university and by extension, the state.”

Project credits

Location: 800 Langdon St., Madison, WI  53706
Owner/Developer: Department of Administration/Division of Facilities Development and Management
General Contractor: Miron Construction Co. Inc.
Architect: Uihlein/Wilson – Ramlow/Stein Architects
Architect/Consultant: Moody/Nolan
Engineers: GRAEF (structural engineering), SmithGroupJJR (civil and landscaping)
Photography: Image Studios/Miron Construction
Completion Date: October 2017

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