—By: Vilma Barr – An article for Lighting Design & Application—
With fixtures mostly hidden from view, the Wisconsin Club’s new exterior illumination articulates the 161-year-old building’s ornate architecture.
The Wisconsin Club was built in 1848 by Milwaukee businessman Alexander Mitchell and his wife Martha, grandparents of World War I flying ace, Billy Mitchell. Its ornamented facade design was influenced by the grand French Second Empire style, typically represented by such notable major mid-19th century structures as the city halls of both Boston and Philadelphia. Conversion from a private residence to a private club occurred in 1894.
With its manicured lawns and elegant plantings, the Wisconsin Club building occupies an entire Square block in Milwaukee, WI, now surrounded by high-rises and busy traffic arteries. A $15 million investment in upgrading and modernizing the club’s building systems, along with member amenities, has boosted membership three-fold over the past six years to 1,500. The most recent rehab phase was completed in July 2008.
The exterior lighting for the main structure and a fanciful, free-standing, six-sided belvedere was designed by Marty Peck of Creative Lighting Design Engineering, Inc., Germantown, WI. Garrett Maas, lighting designer with CLD-E, assisted Peck with the planning and specifications that would best express the structure’s unique architectural characteristics.
Peck and architect Scott Gosnell, associate and project manager for Zimmerman Architectural Studios, Glendale, WI, worked from the outset to provide the landmark with a sophisticated illumination plan that would not detract from the 161-year-old building’s ornate period architecture. “We had to minimize the appearance or the lighting fixtures and exposed conduits, while adhering to the historical accuracy of the original facade,” Gosnell says. Strict historic guidelines mandated that all fixtures go unnoticed during the day, including hiding the ballast boxes as architectural soffit elements. “It was a balancing act, on a tight budget.”
Another challenge was the ambient light from surrounding tall buildings. “Before its relighting, the building was in shadows behind tall trees. It was almost hidden, and most people didn’t know that it was back there,” says Peck. Most or the perimeter brush and trees screening the site were removed as part of the renovation, exposing the site to the downtown and its ambient light. The facade and site were now more visible yet needed strong detailed lighting to overcome the ambient light. “Here was this period architectural gem, an oasis right in the middle of downtown Milwaukee. It is surrounded by 20-story apartment towers, a courthouse and a library, with clearly visible roadway lighting from the nearby below-grade freeway.”
The plan adhered to “was sensitive to bringing out the architectural details and strong enough to render it a focal point in its contemporary urban environment,” Peck explains. Gosnell concurs: “Marty knew the quality or light for each fixture and lamp. We worked to give him the opportunity to realize his vision to provide a nighttime presence and a sense or place for a structure or considerable historic significance in Milwaukee.”
Part or the original mansion is the flagpole-topped, 75-ft-tall bell tower, its visual centerpiece. Its slanted upper portion is black-painted brick, with each of the four sides punctuated with a single round visor-shaded opening. Each side is lighted with 35-VV GMH PAR 20 bullets. “Tight spaces such as the tower widow walk railing and the half-moons below the circular openings are high-lighted with 3,000K 25-W LED strips,” Peck says.
To make the mansion’s original blue slate mansard roof glow, Peck added light-blue filters to 70-W CM” PAR 30 bullets to give dimension to the flat surface. To dramatize the deeply carved wooden bays of the facade, unobtrusive, strategically placed 55-W CMH PAR 20 and 70-W CMH PAR 30 bullets define pilasters, the cornices over the slim rectangular double-pane windows and the dentils above. “At the bow windows on the first floor, low plantings required that we use 70-W CMH PAR 50 in-grades instead of bullets,” says Peck.
Club members and guests enter the Wisconsin Club through arched, double-carved dark wood doors beneath a balustrade balcony. Illumination from a pair or classic-style sconces and a coordinating pendant fixture is augmented by concealed 20-W MRS FL lamps that high-light the Steps and the heraldic crest mounted at the center of the balcony.
Near the entry to the club’s grounds is a free-standing, Mid-Victorian architectural pastiche known as a belvedere. Commissioned by the Mitchells in 1871, the structure—resembling a gingerbread house from a storybook—is the work of a master Italian woodcarver. It was renovated in 1995. With its intricate trims, railings, reliefs, finials and central turret, it is recognized as one of the finest examples or its type in the U.S.
“Its main function is to be an introductory centerpiece 10 the gardens and the expanded mansion beyond,” Peck notes. It is 30 ft high to the top or the turret, and 18 ft wide. Peck and Gosnell studied mock-ups to determine fixture locations that would best paint the details and scrolling cutouts using 10,000-hour rated uplights and downlights. Six layers or low-voltage, 55-W MR6 narrow-spot bullets with linear lenses give definition to the detailing so visitors can appreciate the carver’s artistry. Mounted along the minor roof lines are concealed 8-VV 5,000K 12-in. LED strips.
Landscape illumination encompassed several sectors of the grounds. Perimeter trees were uplighted with moonlight-blue filtered 150-vv CMH PAR 58-W FL bullets to create a visual screen between the club’s lawns and the nearby traffic. Lampposts that had previously blocked parking areas were replaced with 70-W CM” PAR 30 downlight bullets with similar moonlight-blue filters, mounted out-or-sight in large trees. “Now they are able to effectively light lawns for parties as well as use the lawns for overflow parking,” Peck says. In addition, new lampposts were installed that were the result or research into period lighting. These were customized with two types of lamps: a single 60-W A 21 as the visible source and a single 70-W ED 17 CM” placed within the lamppost’s hat.
Architect Gosnell reports that members and management are pleased with the latest phase in the club’s upgrading program. “The landscape and building lighting were key elements to this project’s success.”