The Artist Lofts in Wisconsin Brings New Life to a 1920s Aluminum Plant

hardwood floors

For better acoustics, builders removed the old hardwood floor, added 2 inches of sound matting and re-laid new hardwood flooring.

Many of the old floors were deemed too damaged to be reused in the units. “But we were able to salvage enough to put it back in the corridors,” Hau says. “It was a really distressed floor that had been a factory space, so it has a very rich patina that’s fantastic. You can’t buy something like this. People make distressed products that are designed to look like this. It was really fun to see that brought back into the project.”

The existing brick façade also needed attention, but the patching had to be invisible. “When we repointed the mortar where it had deteriorated, we sent that out for testing to make sure we got a mix that matched the historic mixture: not too hard or too soft,” Hau recalls. “We tuckpointed with mortar that matched the historic property.”

While parking comprises much of the first floor, there is a 1-story addition on the east side of the plant that has been converted to a fitness center, community room and a small art gallery, the last of which also serves as the home of a local design firm that curates the space. “It’s become an art gallery in a community that didn’t really have many,” Giornalista says.

The designers also took inspiration from historic Mirro colors, such as those used in MirroCraft boats, in the design of common areas at the Artist Lofts. “A Mirro boat was a Mirro blue, if you will: almost like a robin’s egg blue, so we tried to use those colors, and some of the colors from their marketing materials from the ’50s and ’60s,” Hau says. “We wanted to give meaning to and respect the history of the plant that was here.”

The Artist Lofts utilized a spectrum of funding sources, including federal and state historic tax credits. The project also received a grant from the Federal Home Loan Bank of Chicago and a Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grant for brownfield remediation.

Yet there was also plenty of interest in the four market-rate units. “We had to turn a lot of people away,” Giornalista says. “But even though we saw considerable market demand, it wouldn’t have offset the equity we got.” Giornalista sees that demand as a reflection of the project’s success. “When you talk to people in the community, they’re pleased that at least one of the Mirro buildings has been saved. I think it’s a point of pride.”

Retrofit Team

Developer and Owner: Impact Seven, Rice Lake, Wis.
Development Consultant: Wisconsin Redevelopment, Milwaukee, Wis.
Architect: Quorum Architects Inc., Milwaukee
Structural Engineer: Pierce Engineers, Madison, Wis.
Contractor: Catalyst Construction, Milwaukee

Materials

Steel Replica Windows: Graham Architectural Products
Sound Matting: Gyp-Crete

Photos: Courtesy of Impact Seven

About the Author

Brian Libby
Brian Libby is a Portland, Ore.-based freelance design journalist, critic and architectural photographer.

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