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RINKA's downtown projects evolving Milwaukee's skyline: 'Raise the bar for architecture'

Posted at 5:29 AM, Feb 14, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-14 10:38:48-05

MILWAUKEE — Even as COVID-19 concerns emptied office towers downtown, the prospects for Milwaukee’s skyline remain bright and dynamic. RINKA, a local architecture firm, is deeply involved in designing that future and expanding beyond Milwaukee and even Wisconsin.

RINKA’s River 1 design on the KK River south of downtown is opening up. The office tower offers spectacular views in all directions, and amazing amenities. “It's very humbling,” said Steve Morales about walking through a building he helped design. The Milwaukee native is a partner at RINKA. “You have these visions and ideas and we work as a team to put them together, and walking through them it really kind of reminds you of what kind of an impact you have.”

RINKA’s impact on downtown is clearly visible; The Moderne and neighboring Deer District are more recent features, and what could be the firm’s signature skyscraper is now under construction. Matt Rinka and his team designed the Couture on the lakefront. “I think the project that we envisioned for it was something that we feel will raise the bar for architecture in Milwaukee,” Rinka said of the project nearly a decade in the making. “Thinking about architecture as a way of explaining to others outside of Milwaukee, that Milwaukee is not just this cream city rustbelt city. We're a community that's forward-thinking. We have amazing, high-tech companies here. We have an amazing workforce that is very intelligent, very educated, and we wanted to design a building on that site that represented that.”

Even as the Couture has yet to rise out of the ground, (crews are driving foundation footings right now) RINKA is preparing to outdo itself right across the street.

“It should be a landmark project, not just for the City but for the entire State,” Rinka described. The firm came up with a concept design for a State-owned piece of property at the east end of Clybourn street. It’s a site in search of a developer right now, but the idea is for Milwaukee’s tallest skyscraper.

Couture rendering

Rinka believes the site could support a tower up to 60 stories. It could be an office building, or a lot of things in one. “We've actually talked to several developers about potentially making that into a mixed use tower, so office, potentially a hotel, mixed use residential, I think it's a phenomenal site for that.”

Meanwhile, the firm is expanding its operations. RINKA has projects in 15 states and just last week announced the opening of an office in South Florida. But with Rinka growing up in Oconomowoc and Morales in Milwaukee, the two remain deeply passionate about their local work. “My mom actually used to work in the First Wisconsin Building. I was down there as a child. It's been amazing to see our city transform, Morales remembered. “My daughter probably gets very tired of me telling her all about it. It’s a great city and it's why I've chosen to plant roots here, but more importantly, the architecture has continued to kind of push the envelope a little bit which I think is great.”

And the team at RINKA is doing the pushing. “The value of not just thinking about land as a place to plop a building, but land as an opportunity to change people's perspective on what their community perception is,” Rinka added.

The Couture is not expected to be complete until 2023. The State is shopping the site across the street to prospective developers around the country. To see renderings of all the RINKA designed projects, click here.

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