Thursday, January 26, 2012

Milwaukee. Milwaukee? Milwaukee! Part 2

Yes, I am aware that this post is quite late.

After the museum, we spent some time wandering about downtown on our way to lunch.

As mentioned in the previous post, Milwaukee's downtown is strikingly different from Chicago's in architecture and attitude, not to mention the obvious concern of scale and importance.

So ornate! It's as if this building says "you know, I could be in Chicago, but I need to be here, for Milwaukee's sake."

That's not to say that Milwaukee's architecture is uninteresting. Rather, it has some fairly unusual characteristics that I found quite impressive:

1. There are skybridges everywhere. Building after building, connections exist that go over the street in nicely enclosed, transparent glass tunnels. A few of these bridges even cross the Milwaukee River. If you're in town for a convention and you take a cab to and from the airport, you could theoretically stay in Milwaukee and never step foot on the street.

A sky bridge crossing a frozen Milwaukee River

2. Buildings either have a lot of street retail or none. American cities tend to swing towards one or the other, but Milwaukee really varies. It should be noted that older buildings are more likely to have street retail.

A more retailed block.
3. There exists a lot of architectural juxtaposition. '50s modernist architecture stands proudly next to old, Victorian-era commercial architecture. Like Chicago, Milwaukee's urban morphology is a bit of a stylistic salad.


Lunch was at a place known as the Milwaukee Public Market. In the days before shopping malls, refrigerated shipping, and shopping carts, the Market used to be a wholesaling destination for much of the city.

Now, it's been restored to be what is essentially a classy food court, with a confectioner and a spice market.

Never forget that you are in Wisconsin!

Hillel being a confectioner-nerd by the candy stall. He had vehement disagreements with the pricing and materials used, and also commented on the manufacture process.

It was an interesting building architecturally - the developers have very much maximized the space that can be used for commercial purposes, and the building certainly feels much larger than it actually is. However, the seating is somewhat lacking - it feels like a place one runs in to buy something to eat, and then steps out again.


Then came the capstone experience: a visit to the Domes.

The Domes are giant, indoor horticultural gardens to the west of downtown. The gardens comprise three enormous, conical greenhouses that contain little microcosmic worlds of plant life from around the world.

Chicago has these gardens too (Garfield Park Conservatory and Lincoln Park), but Milwaukee's are much more impressive. For starters, the scale is enormous. Furthermore, there's way more variety.

The Domes. They're enormous.

We took the bus down from downtown to the neighborhood that the Domes are in. The bus trip was pretty non-descript, but I had a major nostalgia moment on them: Milwaukee uses the exact same buses that many lines in New York City used when I was a tiny tot.

We also passed this sign:

Spotted by three Jews and a Catholic. Well then.

Anyway, the Domes. There are three domes:

The Tropical Dome, with oodles of rainforest plants from all over the world. Among other things: a fruiting banana plant, and a sausage fruit tree. The air was pretty clear inside. We also found a Morgan silver dollar in one of the fountains - those coins are pretty pricy, to say the least. (We didn't take it - Hillel mentioned it to the desk staff instead. Hopefully, it is on its way to a charity.)

The tropical dome.

The Arid Dome, which has desert plants.

And the Show Dome, which is a kitschy letdown. It had a Christmassy model train show. Although it smelled nice! And then there was...

Yes, why yes indeed, a dinosaur by the model train.

We spent about an hour or so roaming the gardens. They're actually really, really awesome. Almost as amazing as the plant collection are their designs - the whole complex is well planned, and the building structure is quite aesthetic.

Lights illuminated for the setting of the day

On our way back, we spent some time walking around the Historic Third Ward - a neighborhood south of downtown. There's not much to report here, really - it's more of a day place, it seems.

Then we took the bus back home to Chicago and I arrived back to my room 14 hours later, tired but happy, and fresh from a new city.

Milwaukee was interesting. I don't know if I'll go again anytime soon - maybe after I turn 21 for beer breweries and carboxylic fun. Who knows? It was a great trip, nevertheless.

Common to the country, but rare for the city: an Amtrak train crosses the road in Downtown Milwaukee

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