Jon Hammes’s decision to relocate his Brookfield-based real estate development company to downtown Milwaukee was met with excitement by city officials last month.
[caption id="attachment_153084" align="alignright" width="394"] Rendering of the office building that Hammes Co. plans to build in downtown Milwaukee. The company plans to move its corporate headquarters there from Brookfield.[/caption]
But his decision to design the new five-story office building planned at the northeast corner of Knapp and Water streets in classical style has garnered some criticism.
On Monday, the city's Plan Commission approved a rezoning request for the site, but not before some took the opportunity to blast the building’s design.
“Why in the world would we build a fake 18th Century building in 2016?” said Whitney Gould, a plan commission member and former architecture critic.
Gould said the Hammes building seemed to take inspiration from ancient Greece or Rome or from Thomas Jefferson's Monticello plantation.
“Of course these were buildings built by slaves,” Gould said. “I wonder if you thought about the message this is sending in an era of where we’re aiming to build more inclusive buildings for a more diverse society?”
Eric Amtmann, principal of Charlottesville, Va.-based Dalgliesh Gilpin Paxton Architects, the firm that is designing the building, said all of the materials are as real and legitimate as any building materials in any other building being built.
“The principles are timeless and universal and worth talking about and discussing at any point in the past, now or in the future,” Amtmann said. “They can exist side-by-side and hand-in-hand along with other philosophies.”
Ursula Twombly, recently retired principal of Continuum Architects + Planners, also spoke out against the design of the building. She is not a member of the Plan Commission.
“Thank you Jon Hammes for considering Milwaukee, but I really am deeply saddened to see this design,” Twombly said. “Buildings in classical design raise an issue about power, elite and exclusivity. I find it to be the wrong statement for the city.”
Alderman Nik Kovac, who represents the district Hammes will be moving into, said he has heard from a handful of architects who do not like the design, but he believes replacing a parking lot with a corporate headquarters is a win for the city.
The $30 million project includes the 94,000-square-foot office building, with a 360-stall parking structure.
“Is this my favorite style? No, but I don’t know if through zoning, we should determine style,” Kovac said. “I’m not just excited about the jobs moving to the city of Milwaukee, but frankly, I’m also excited to have diverse political views in our city.”
The Plan Commission voted 4-1 in favor of rezoning the property, with Gould voting against it.
“Buildings send a message; they tell people what we believe in and what our values are,” she said. “This does not send a positive message. It says we are not open to new ideas or innovation. It says we are still looking to the past and have a poverty of imagination.”
The city’s Zoning, Neighborhoods & Development committee will review the Hammes' plans before the Common Council votes on it on Nov. 22. Hammes Co. is not requesting any city funding assistance for the project.