the milwaukee reveal

Milwaukee Map Development

Historical Map
This map represents the progress of industrialization and its effects on the rivers. Milwaukee was first founded because of its natural harbor at Jones Island providing a refuge area for ships on Lake Michigan. The mouth of the Milwaukee River became too small for the new ships and was relocated to the north of Jones Island. After the breakwater was built, the inner harbor was abandoned and established as an outer harbor. The rivers also show a degree of change in this historical overlay. The first industrial companies were located to the north of the Milwaukee River. A dam was built to harvest power from but cause some flooding issues that caused companies to move to the Menomonee River. Here, the companies began to build canals to have access to the waterfront and shipping.

Sewer Map
The sewer map shows the originals and development of Milwaukee’s sewer system. The original sewers were built before 1880 around the rivers. They gathered the sewage and dumped it directly into the rivers, which then flowed into Lake Michigan. The rivers shortly became completely polluted from the factories. When the new combined sewer lines were installed around 1880, they diverted the sewerage into a treatment plant located at the north end of Jones Island.  The sewer lines that drained into the rivers were abandoned. However, this effort was not enough to clean up the stench of the polluted rivers, so a flushing tunnel was added to the Milwaukee River just below the dam. This pumped in water from the lake to flow down the Milwaukee River and back out to Lake Michigan. A few decades later, a second flushing tunnel was added to the Kinnickinnick River. The system wasn’t built to withstand the amount of wastewater use and more water would get into the sewers than the water treatment plants could handle. This created a lot of basement backups. So, the Milwaukee Sewerage District proposed a deep tunnel that would hold the backup water until it could reach the treatment plant. The deep tunnel is carved out in bedrock 300 feet below the surface with the ability to store over 500 million gallons of water.

Ecological Map
Milwaukee was built on a swamp. It was settled because of its natural mouth of the Milwaukee River flowing into Lake Michigan, which provided a harbor for the city. As soon as the villagers settled, the swampland was filled in for them to build on. Little by little the wetlands disappeared until barely anything was left. In the 1960’s, all three rivers were lined in concrete adding to the demolition of the natural barriers around the waterways. In 2004, the Kinnickinnick River was designated as 7th on the most endangered rivers list. Since then, there has been an extensive effort in Milwaukee to bring back the wetlands and riparian areas around the rivers removing the concrete fill. This map will be increasing the amount of wetlands in Milwaukee in the coming years.

Surface Water
The existing topology is represented on this map, which contributes to the flood zones around the rivers. The 100 year and 500 year flood zones are shown which gather around the rivers and lakefront. A lot of the flooding occurs here because of the removal of the wetlands and lining the rivers with concrete. The flood zones are also in the lower topology levels of the city. The map also designates soil type. Because most of Milwaukee is fill from the wetlands, the clay soil has a top surficial layer of different soil types. Around the three rivers where the industrial companies settled, the soil type is mixed with metallic components. The rest of the surficial soil is outwash sand and/or gravel.

Depth to Water
This map shows the depth to water below the ground surface in Milwaukee. The fill around the rivers and the lakefront show a fill of the original marshlands of 20-50 feet. Flowing out from that is a smaller fill level of 0-20 feet. These are more residential areas that would not need the larger soil depth for structural support.

Combined Overlay
This map combines the wetlands as both exiting and historical with the soil type and depth to water. This reveals the original settlement marshlands with the existing conditions of how Milwaukee filled a lot of the natural water filtration for industry settling around the rivers. The soil type and water depth are closely linked between the mixed metallic surficial soil and 20-50 feet water depth. This shows where factories filled and contaminated the soil and the areas where wetlands once existed. Yet the depth to water just outside these areas is only 0-20 feet underground with a outwash sand and/or gravel top soil.


architectural student, may 04, 2011
coastal morphologies, caad, illustrator