Independence First Milwaukee, WI

A non-profit advocacy organization for persons with disabilities, Independence First had a very clear objective for its new facility: to be a model of accessibility. The site occupies a 40,000-square-foot former industrial building in the Third Ward area of downtown Milwaukee.

The architectural finishes were required to meet several specific design criteria. These included addressing interior environmental concerns for persons with chemical sensitivities (i.e. specifying low/no VOC paints, carpets, and hard-surface flooring); selecting a color palette of a warm, neutral background with saturated accent colors to create a visually stimulating space; and selecting patterned materials such as carpet or textiles with sensitivity to persons with cognitive and/or visual disabilities. To aid in way-finding for persons with visual impairments, flooring patterns were created in public and staff areas using high contrast color at wall perimeters and in the Front Entry and Reception. The same careful thought with regard to universal accessibility went into the furniture space plan and product specification.

The design for Reception included an organic, sinuously curved partial height wall as a counterpoint to the static, rectilinear space plan, painted in the clients’ vibrant blue logo color for visual impact. Words that embody the mission of the organization were applied as vinyl appliqués to the wall, creating a powerful message for clients and visitors. The custom reception desk was designed as a circular element to create a welcoming, all-encompassing setting.