Designed from the Inside Out

April 1, 2003
Janet Wiens

A wonderful collection of buildings distinguish Block 89, an urban redevelopment project in downtown Madison, WI, designed by Valerio Dewalt Train Associates.

It isn't often that a project's interior architecture drives its exterior design. But that's exactly what happened on the $43 million Block 89 project in downtown Madison, WI, according to Joe Valerio, FAIA, project director for Valerio Dewalt Train Associates (VDTA), the Chicago, IL, firm that designed the project. "We approached the project from the inside out in order to create a number of special environments for tenants requiring smaller spaces. The project's interior architecture drove what we did on the outside. We extensively studied potential office layouts and other aspects. Our goal was to give talented designers an environment where they could create memorable interiors with a sculptural quality."Valerio says that it's important to understand the history of downtown Madison to fully appreciate Block 89. "The project is located across from the Wisconsin State Capitol, a beautiful marble structure that occupies four city blocks. One hundred years ago the area around the capitol was populated by a collection of relatively tiny buildings, each with its own distinct character, which housed numerous entrepreneurial retail, office and light industrial businesses. Madison today still boasts a vibrant collection of small to mid-size entrepreneurial firms that call the downtown home. Companies that require greater square footages tend to locate on their own sites rather than in the downtown square where Block 89 is located. The project had to accommodate the requirements of smaller tenants rather than those requiring very large spaces."The 360,000-square-foot Block 89 development was a complex undertaking that involved a number of components including:* demolition of four buildings on one city block;* the dismantling and reconstruction of the historic 145- year-old Burrows Building, which was made contiguous with 10 East Doty;* the new 10-story, 188,000-square-foot 10 East Doty building, which features almost 8,000-square-feet of retail and restaurant space at the street level;* An eight- and a three-story addition to the existing 1 East Main Building and the Burrows Building;* construction of the new nine-story, 135,000-square-foot 33 East Main office building, which will be completed this summer;* and five levels of underground parking.The collection of individual structures creates a graceful presence within the square through both forms and materials. While the buildings are very different, they share the same floor levels for easy way-finding between the structures. The façades of one building coordinate with adjoining structures without imitating the design, a measure that also helps people to know and remember where they are. VDTA used basic building materials on each structure of two to three different types of both brick and stone. An aluminum canopy that is juxtaposed against the brick defines the entry of each building.One example of VDTA's inside-out approach can be found in the 10 East Doty building. It was assumed that the corner of the building facing the capitol would be the most desirable for building tenants. In order to provide another option within the building, the firm designed a curved space on the opposite side of the building that faces a nearby lake. By thinking from the inside out, the VDTA design team provided another option for a special interior space that has since become the favorite office of the senior partner of the law firm that occupies the space. The 33 East Main building, which will be completed this summer, will meet Wisconsin's strict energy codes. Because of the environment and the sun's orientation, buildings in Wisconsin will often have excess heat on one side of the building and too little heat on the opposite side. An innovative cladding of a double layer of green-tinged glass reveals the concrete and steel structure beneath while also serving to regulate heat to reduce the need for air conditioning. A sophisticated HVAC system will capture heat on the sunny side and move it around to areas requiring additional heat. The system is augmented through the use of an automated MechoShade that raises or lowers the shades based on the level of heat. (The system can be manually overridden based on individual user preferences.)VDTA designed the public lobbies of all buildings and used masonry, aluminum and different woods with a color and texture that works with the masonry used on the building's exterior and interior. Again, a common theme in all the lobbies helps to create a distinct environment while unifying the buildings in Block 89.The firm also put its design mark on a number of individual design assignments within the Block 89 project. Melli Walker Pease & Ruhly is a 12,000-square-foot law firm located in the 10 East Doty building. The firm, which is conservative in nature, wanted a more contemporary design that would help to showcase its extensive art collection. In the entry, VDTA recommended a large wooden object that dominates the reception area and draws visitors to the right where they have views to the square via a large glass wall. The reception area and main conference room feature cherry wall paneling, custom cherry seating and a custom cherry reception desk. Flooring materials include maple, slate and carpet. A series of different shaped openings modulate the long corridor and heighten the space's sculptural quality, which begins in the inviting reception area. The Marigold Restaurant, also designed by VDTA, is very different in scale. The 2,000-square-foot restaurant is located on the ground floor of the historic Burrows Building. The colored forms that create an energetic environment are intermingled with the heavy texture of the exposed concrete structure, a combination that immediately captures the attention of patrons as they enter the space. The restaurant, which is only open for breakfast and lunch, was recognized as one of the best neighborhood restaurants in the Midwest by Bon Appetit magazine. By designing from the inside out, VDTA has created a vibrant urban renewal project in Block 89 that has won accolades from both the local population and others around the country. VDTA received an award of merit from Building Design & Construction for Building Team of the Year, and has received critical acclaim in both newspapers and the design press. The project illustrates the sensitive relationship between a project's interior and exterior, and the wonderful results that can be achieved when the requirements of both components are successfully balanced.

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