There’s no shortage of development here in Milwaukee. The Third and Fifth Wards continue to boom. The Arena District brings a new world of excitement to our city. And right between, connecting these regions, is Westown. (Currently with more traffic cones and one-way arrows than I can remember there ever being.)
But the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra theater project isn’t the only thing bringing Wisconsin Avenue to life. The Avenue is the brand new sleeping giant of retail, office, residential, and food experiences coming to the Grand Avenue Mall space on 3rd Street and Wisconsin Avenue. And CI Design had the pleasure of designing for both The Avenue, and 3rd St. Market Hall— the food hall right in the middle of this reimagined space.
When our client (the developer) came to us with the concept and plans, we immediately started researching the history of an area that some Milwaukeeans refer to as “those buildings that used to be Grand Avenue.” In the 1800’s when Solomon Juneau and Byron Kilbourn sort of had two versions of Milwaukee on the east and west sides of the river, they purposely made sure their respective road designs didn’t align. (Think of it as an 1800s version of the middle finger to each other from across the river.) But around the end of the Civil War, Kilbourntown’s Spring Street and Juneautown’s Wisconsin Avenue joined. Years later, a petition was approved to rename the new through street Grand Avenue. Then, in 1926, the street was renamed Wisconsin Avenue.
Hold that thought for a century.
As we went to lead-up design for the project, Greg Marshall and I soaked up a conversation we had with Omar Shaikh (co-owner and president of SURG Restaurant Group, LLC) where he described the transformation of the interior space that will house the 3rd Street Market Hall as “early 1900s airplane hanger, with high steel girders and exposed structure.” The thought of planes, trains, and automobiles gave me the rough inspiration I needed for this new crossroads of Milwaukee.
I started thinking back to Milwaukee’s melting pot of European settlers finally getting road, river, and rail all figured out. I studied some of those plans for transportation—the city maps and surveys—and that led me back to a style of European design vernacular found around the turn of and into the 20th Century: De Stijl, Dada, and Bauhaus. That’s fancy designer speak for an era that became bold and exchanged geometry with letterforms in inventive ways.
Designers from these movements were often cross-disciplined in architecture and called to translate plans and maps to the masses. They simplified and color-coded pedestrian walkways, coach and motor ways, and boat and train routes so they were more visually usable, and beautiful. We are all used to great informational and wayfinding graphic design now, but it got its start back then.
So the logo that you see here, with its constructivist, heavily typographic treatment, is stacked like architect/designer El Lissitzky might have done with a train station destination plaque. The logo also features a special star element to suggest “you are here” or “meet me at (3rd Avenue Market Hall)”. And the hand-crafted concentric parallel line element of the numeral 3 becomes a city map element.
Whether traveling to it all the way from the suburbs or a short distance across the bridge, The Avenue and 3rd St. Market Hall is a destination for everyone to meet friends, family, and colleagues in the center of an avenue that historically wasn’t meant to connect. We’re proud to reflect Milwaukee history, and The Avenue’s new purpose within the design of their new brand identity. This whole project has been filled with personal passion, fueled by the hope and promise of revitalizing a section of Milwaukee’s downtown that seems to have been waiting for just this moment.
CID’s brand strategy team helped shape the Avenue story. Find out how we did it here.
Find out how our award-winning branding experts can help bring your story to life. Send us a message at email@example.com.