Leaving their mark

Last updated on July 2nd, 2019 at 11:00 am

Continuum Architects and Planners, a small Milwaukee-based architectural design firm is working on three prominent multimillion dollar projects in southern Wisconsin, the Milwaukee Job Corps Center on Milwaukee’s northwest side, the St John’s on the Lake tower on Milwaukee’s east side, and the Chazen Museum of Art expansion project on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus.

All three could have a big effect on their communities, which is an exciting opportunity for the Continuum principals.

“We really want to work on projects that positively affect the surrounding communities, and create buildings that fit where they are being placed,” said Ursula Twombly, one of the three principals for the firm.

Twombly and her partners, Falamak Nourzad and Robert Barr own and operate Continuum Architects and Planners. Their own unique story helps set the firm apart from others in the Milwaukee area.

“Forming Continuum was really an idealistic move for us,” said Nourzad. “It was our desire to do things a little bit differently that brought us together.”

Nourzad, originally from Iran, came to the United States to study at the University of Kansas. There she met her husband who was later hired to teach at Marquette University. That prompted her move to Milwaukee where she attended UW-Milwaukee’s architectural program and met her future partner Ursula Twombly.

“We were both married students, so that set us apart from the other twenty-somethings that surrounded us,’ said Twombly. 

Twombly finished high school in Switzerland when she was 15. She entered into a four year architecture apprenticeship that eventually led to a job with the Self Help Housing Corporation in Burlington. Her architecture credits didn’t transfer to a degree so she too entered into the architecture program at UWM.

They met Barr, who was Milwaukee born and raised, when they worked together at a firm that wasn’t interested in focusing on the smaller projects with smaller budgets and urban development, Falamak said. But that was work that interested Barr, Nourzad and Twombly, and they decided to go into business together with their own firm.

“We like the excitement of being able to do a lot of different things,” said Barr. “We do things outside of the mainstream. There is no repetitive work and all of the projects we do are unique and really impact the fabric of the city.”

The firm services mostly south and central Wisconsin. Right now there are no plans for them to go outside the state or nationally Twombly said.

“We stay closer to home so that we can provide really high service and focus on our clients,” she said. “I think Milwaukee is a great place to practice, it’s definitely the right size pond.”

Continuum is located on First Street in Milwaukee’s Fifth Ward. They were one of the first firms to be involved in redeveloping that area, but have also done work for numerous urban housing projects, the YWCA, the Women’s Center in Waukesha as well as the City Hall project in Milwaukee.

The federally funded Milwaukee Job Corps project will be an eight-building, 155,000-square-foot complex on 25 acres near North 60th Street and Green Tree Road in Milwaukee. The $28 million center is intended to help residents develop job skills and will house around 300 students in a structured educational environment, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It will be one of 120 similar facilities nationwide. 

The center will also incorporate many sustainable features including: geothermal heating and cooling, natural ventilation and lighting, and will use 30 percent less water, Twombly said. 

“Around 18 firms applied for the contract,” she said. “We had a two-hour interview at our office once they narrowed it down to five, and called us the next day to say it was ours.” The firm’s design is also being used as the new prototype for similar facilities, said Twombly. 

Drawings for the center are complete, and construction is set to begin in the fall. The project is expected to be completed by late 2010.

Continuum is also collaborating with Chicago-based Perkins Eastman on their design for St. John’s on the Lake’s 20-story senior apartment tower along Prospect Avenue on Milwaukee’s east side.

Continuum designed the outer shell and core of the building.

The new building will be constructed by Pewaukee-based VJS Construction Services in the parking lot of the existing St. John’s building. 

“The new facility will feature an art gallery, a café, a fitness center and a pool and will be connected to the other building so current tenants can use the additional amenities,” said Twombly.   

St. John’s offers its senior citizen residents an active adult campus. The tower addition will bring the number of apartments to 200. Construction on the new facility will begin in the fall.

The third major project Continuum is working on is the privately-funded Chazen Museum of Art (formerly the Elvehjem Museum of Art) expansion on the UW-Madison campus. The expansion is part of a plan to create a new arts district for the campus.

The current plan includes the demolition of the Peterson building across the street from the existing art center, said Barr, and also the closing of Murray Street, the street in front of the museum, to create a pedestrian pathway. 

The expansion will consist of a three-story, 80,000-square-foot building constructed with high end copper bronze plating and Wisconsin limestone, and will include a skywalk that connects the existing museum to the expansion across the street, said Barr.

“(Continuum) has been doing a lot of projects for the UW system,” said Barr. “We have done work on the campuses of Whitewater, Platteville, and Oshkosh, but this is our first on the UW-Madison campus.”

Continuum is working with Boston-based Machado and Silvetti Associates to design the project which will begin in spring of 2009 and be completed by spring of 2011.

The firm prides itself on being a dynamic team. There are 16 people on a staff that strives to design world-class buildings on time and on budget, Twombly said.

“The key importance in all of our projects is that this is going to be the beginning of a different life for these people, it becomes more than just a building,” she said.


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