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Wisconsin Architect E-News Archive: Mosaic April 2009

Downtown Bar

Location: Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Architect: Johnsen Schmaling Architects
Contractor: KBS Construction

Overlooking the river, this bar is located in a small space carved out of an unexceptional commercial development on the southern edge of downtown Milwaukee. In an effort to counteract the sterility of the building's finishes, the architect designed an interior space with a high level of tactility, visual complexity and drama. A deeply textured wood slat wall, echoing the undulation of heavy stage curtains, leads from the building lobby into the bar area before it wraps overhead and cradles the mezzanine, where it transforms into a screen for intimate upper level seating.

The rhythmic design of the wood slats, reinforced by a series of thin structural steel columns supporting the mezzanine, forms the backdrop for a continuous ribbon of back-lit custom-fabricated cellular plastic panels that weave through the two-story space. Rising up from the main level bar, the ribbon runs above the main lounge seating before wrapping down again to form a small stage for nightly entertainment.

Spatially, the light ribbon normalizes the skewed geometry of the room and ties together the programmatic elements on both levels. In addition, it consolidates and veils the bar's entire technical infrastructure. The ribbon's deep red color washes the entire space with a sensuous incandescence. At night, the downtown bar emits its mysterious glow through a series of large custom sliding doors into the Milwaukee night, subtly marking the resurgence of this downtown neighborhood.

Photography: Doug Edmunds Studios

Back to April 2009 Issue

Downtown Bar


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