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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.

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Northwestern Mutual Tower and Commons

Best New Office Development

The new Northwestern Mutual headquarters in Milwaukee represents the largest volume of space under one roof in the entire state, but its impressive redesign accommodates a transformation of corporate mission from life insurance to financial security. Over a span of two city blocks, the project connects the iconic 1914 Northwestern Mutual building with a glass atrium and four-story commons to a new, 32-story tower.

By using innovative techniques to connect old with new, the Northwestern Mutual Tower and Commons project has been recognized for changing the city’s skyline and sparking urban renewal in downtown Milwaukee. The skyscraper might be a 1.1-million-square-foot corporate headquarters with a sleek glass exterior, but judges appreciated the way it conveys the feel of a civic space without overwhelming a nearby icon — the Milwaukee Art Museum.

“The architects did what they should have done, which is create a building that plays well with its iconic surroundings,” notes one CDA judge.

The architectural vision was to integrate the old and new while preserving all aspects of the historic building. They used an advanced window enclosure system and combined the exterior with a welcoming environment in the Commons portion that includes ground-level concourses, exhibits, and dining spaces open to the public, and an interactive museum focusing on company history and community impact. Three acres of manicured gardens with tables, benches, and walkways are complemented by pedestrian-oriented streetscapes. The Northwestern Mutual Gardens, which offer nearly three acres of landscaped green space, walkways, and sitting areas, also is open to the public.

For another judge, the project’s detailing stood out. “There was a real economy in terms of the palette,” he says. “They didn’t go crazy with a million materials. There were a few simple moves that were repeated, which produced a super-elegant solution.”

Project credits

Location: 745 N. Prospect Ave., Milwaukee, WI 53202
Owner/Developer: Northwestern Mutual/Hines (owners representative)
General Contractor: CG Schmidt Inc., in a joint venture with Gilbane
Architect: Kendall/Heaton and Associates, Pickard Chilton
Interior Design Architect: Valerio Dewalt Train Associates
Engineers: Magnusson Klemencic Associates
Photography: Tom Rossiter
Completion Date: August 2017

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