How Some Milwaukee Builders Are Going Green

Local contractors are thinking about sustainability when creating their designs.


Sustainable building practices and low-energy design strategies are gaining in popularity and can be found in projects throughout Milwaukee.

The highest-profile one is Ascent, touted as what will be the world’s tallest mass timber structure, which has begun to rise at 700 E. Kilbourn Ave. Projected to be completed by August 2022, the apartment tower will stand at 25 stories and 488,000 square feet.

The key: Wood saves energy and cuts emissions. “Using mass timber instead of concrete is the same as taking 2,400 cars off the road for a year,” says Tim Gokhman, managing director at New Land Enterprises, the Milwaukee firm that is developing the project.

Mass timber construction typically uses wood that’s compressed and laminated in layers to create extremely strong panels.

“Wood is lighter than concrete, so the foundation doesn’t have to be as beefy. You aren’t driving piles as deep or using as many piles, which are concrete and steel and extremely carbon intensive,” Gokhman explains. “It’s so much more environmentally friendly and so much more flexible.”



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A decade ago, Milwaukee officials installed a green roof on a section of the historic Central Library. The 33,000-square-foot plot of ornamental grass, sedum and chives reduces heating and cooling costs, minimizes the heat island effect that warms cities, and absorbs rainwater. Solar arrays on the roof generate about 36,000 kilowatt hours of juice per year.

“The roof was the first thing to set us on the path toward why green is important,” Milwaukee Public Library Deputy Director Jennifer Meyer-Stearns says.

Now, the Washington Park, Zablocki, Center Street, Atkinson and Bay View branches are the focus of green infrastructure projects that include bioswales, green roof infrastructure, native landscaping and new trees. The renovated Tippecanoe branch has already gone green. The goal is to have all 12 neighborhood branches invest in sustainability measures.

Green infrastructure has also been an important part of the renovations of the Sid Grinker Restoration campus just north of Downtown.

The business has redone a pair of parking lots constructed with permeable pavers to control storm water runoff, and native landscaping thrives around the three buildings. Solar panels have been installed on one building and soon will be put in place on a second. A bioswale replaced a loading dock at another.

“We wanted to create a habitat for bees, birds and butterflies,” says Sharon Grinker, who manages the properties. “The other benefit is that it is just really beautiful.”



Rich Rovito is a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine.