property development, sustainability has become the industry buzzword.
Many developers are claiming to be eco-friendly, but not all can back
up their words with brick and mortar. Sage, a building soon to be
completed at 1509 N. Jackson St., is pushing the limits of
sustainability and marking the trail for others to follow.
Sage is the
brainchild of Milwaukee-based residential real estate and management
company Dominion Properties. Launched in 2000 by Michael O’Connor
and Christopher Adams, Dominion prides itself on its history in the
area of sustainable living.
we buy a building we always add high-efficiency boilers and
insulation, but there is only so much you can do with a 1920s
building," says Adams. "Since it is a new build, Sage gives
us a chance to see how far we could go. We looked around and saw that
every developer was calling itself green, but most were just doing
what is known as green washing — only taking steps if they were
says they chose the name Sage for two reasons. "Sage is a green
natural plant and it’s also a wise person. We want the name to
convey the idea of smart green living. Once complete, 1509 Jackson
will be the greenest market rate, multifamily building ever made in
the state of Wisconsin. We are expecting a LEED (Leadership in Energy
& Environmental Design) certified platinum rating for a
multifamily building, which would be first in the state."
Stiegel Agacki Studio, Sage on Jackson is really a demonstration
project. Dominion wants to show how far it can take sustainability and
still have a viable investment, even though the costs of construction
will be anywhere from 10 to 15 percent higher than conventional
admits there is a premium for building green. "It’s a bit more
expensive, but we are confident we can find enough socially conscious
tenants who are willing to pay just a little more to lead a
Adams, if a building is going after a LEED certification it will have
an 82 percent pre-leased occupancy. "Studies also show that the
renter will be willing to pay $100 to $125 more per unit if they know
they are in a truly sustainable building. So there is definitely a
market for it," he says.
what makes Sage on Jackson so sustainable? A quick list includes
charging points for electric cars in the garage, LED lighting in the
parking and common areas, a rainwater retention system, 2 by 8
exterior walls filled with mineral wool insulation, a green roof and
solar panels. "Of course we use locally sourced, sustainably
produced materials in the construction process. Since the entire
building has geothermal heating and cooling, we only need one small
gas boiler that is used only for hot water and heating the parking
area. Each of the 20 units has electric appliances and electric
fireplaces so there will be almost no carbon admissions coming from
the building," Adams says.
Sage includes 12
two-bedroom apartments that will rent for about $2,000, seven
one-bedroom apartments starting at $1,700, and one studio. Dominion
hopes to have full occupancy by September when it is completed. After
that O’Connor and Adams plan to grow the Sage brand in Milwaukee.
Their next large-scale project is restoring the Goll mansion on North
Prospect Avenue and building and environmentally friendly apartment
building next door called Sage on the Lake.
Striegel Agacki Studio
Photo by Dan Kabara
Striegel and Joel Agacki first met as students of the Graduate
School of Architecture and Planning at Columbia University.
Years later, after having worked with firms in Chicago, Los
Angeles, New York and Seattle, the two decided to open a studio
together. Well, almost together. In reality they opened two
offices, one in Los Angeles and the other in Milwaukee. Although
they are divided by half a continent, the two have put together
an impressive portfolio of work that includes everything from a
beach-front home in Malibu to cutting edge, eco-friendly
multifamily buildings in Milwaukee. Their work has been featured
in Better Homes & Gardens, Elle Decor and Metropolitan Home.
Currently they have teamed up with Dominion Properties and are
in the building process of Sage, a multifamily residence on
Jackson Street that is being heralded as Milwaukee’s most
studio has worked on single-family homes, multifamily residences
and even a Buddhist temple. Do you have an ideal project?
Michael and I are always proudest of buildings that are a
marriage of our ideas with someone else’s. I don’t have an
ideal project. Sure, I would love to do a tall building, but I
would only want to do it with someone who wants to do it with
me. I think the best projects are those where the architect and
the owner can see eye-to-eye and create something that fits both
of their ideals. Some buildings look like they were designed
just to be photographed. We don’t work that way. In an ideal
project the building looks the way it does because it has to.
The aesthetic needs to be a result of a spatial idea.
Photo by Dan Kabara
firm has been involved in many sustainable projects, which can
cost up to 15 percent more than conventional building methods.
Does sustainable building make good business sense?
Sustainable building is tough. If you talk to people in our
profession nearly all of them will tell you that no one wants to
pay for it. I think it can be a good business model. Working on
Sage on Jackson with Dominion Properties is our first chance to
prove that it can be done. Not only is it the right thing to do,
but we are working to show it is possible. It all comes down to
being smart about the decisions you make. There are ways of
designing that are inherently efficient in terms of space
planning and consequent energy use. The apartments we are
designing for Jackson Street are 100 percent efficient. There is
no lost space for corridors. In terms of actual living space,
most comparable units need to be 10 percent larger and so they
are less efficient to build and maintain.
knows more the architect or the client?
is a craft in taking someone’s lemons and making lemonade. A
good architect needs to listen to the client. We are not here to
provide service architecture and do anything they want, but to
help them see their ideas from our perspective. I know it sounds
a little condescending, but if you can educate a client and then
work together on a single vision, that is the best part of our
profession. The root of our profession is really all about
creative problem-solving. When you can put everyone’s ideas
together and come up with something that still has your hand in
it, then it is a win-win situation.
buildings do you consider essential architectural pieces in
course you have to see the Calatrava, but honestly I like the
Saarinen building (War Memorial) better. I would say that
building is definitely worth seeing. I also really like the
Educator’s Credit Union on Prospect Avenue. In general,
though, I don’t think Milwaukee is about a single piece of
architecture. It’s the scale of the city that is appealing. I
think Downer Avenue, the Third Ward and the East Side all have
great scale. It is the fabric of this city that is so nice.