The Echelon Apartments in Wauwatosa blends the old with the new, borrowing from the walled gardens of Europe and complementing the Tudor Revival Style of historic buildings with contemporary construction.
Making the project even more remarkable is the nature preserve for monarch butterflies that has been built to surround the miniature neighborhood.
The project site now differs starkly from what it used to be, said Jim Shields, design principal and vice president of HGA Architects and Engineers.
“For many years it had just been a no-man’s land of weeds and dilapidated buildings that had been vacant for a quarter-century,” he said. “Bringing that back, we’re very proud of the result.”
The project entailed building six new three-story structures containing 188 luxury apartments, incorporating the remnants of the Milwaukee County School of Agriculture and Domestic Economy and laying down new streets.
Of the historic remnants that were preserved, the most important was the administration building, which had an old gym and a salvageable interior and exterior.
“That’s the one people really wanted to have restored,” said Shields.
Yet, despite the good condition of some of its parts, the building was generally in poor shape. One unmistakable sign of how bad things had got came when someone grabbed onto some loose ceiling plaster and saw concrete beams start to fall down.
“So the building was more dilapidated than we had hoped,” said Shields. “This is about as far back from the dead as you can bring back a building,”
Now, with the help of general contractor Greenfire Management Services, Shields and his team have turned the building into a common area for residents. It features a leasing office, fitness center, community room and theater room.
“It was lots of tricks and working with Greenfire,” he said. “They have great craftsmen and pretty smart people. Mandel, HGA and Greenfire made a good team.”
Two of the historic buildings couldn’t be completely restored, but Shields and his team devised a way to incorporate them into their general plans.
The structures themselves have been turned into walled gardens and their entryway arches have been left intact to function as garden gates.
Those walled gardens — which were made from partially demolished buildings — have given Shields a great deal of pride.
“These are common in other countries like in Britain and France. When they have a historic building they don’t want to use anymore, a lot of them are kept as ruins.” he said. “And I was always surprised that no one has done it in this country or if it is done, it is so rarely done.”
Echelon Apartments at Innovation Campus
Location: Wauwatosa, Wisconsin
Project size: 293,500 Square feet
Project cost: $27.8 Million
Start date: March 2014
Completion date: April 2016
Nominator: HGA Arcitects and Engineers
General Contractor: Greenfire Management Services
Architect: HGA Arcitects and Engineers
Engineer: Pierce Engineers
Owner: Mandel Group