Building the New Madison Office

 In Case Study, CG Schmidt History, Industry


An outdated building gets brought back to life as CG Schmidt’s permanent office in the heart of Madison.

CG Schmidt began the process of looking for a permanent office location more than five years prior to actually purchasing the building at 433 West Washington. During that site selection process, the internal team developed a list of criteria to identify what the ideal building would be to renovate. While building new outside of town would have been much easier, the team made a conscious decision that the new office should serve CG Schmidt’s mission of creating facilities that improve the community and the users. The team sought out an existing, under-utilized building that they could bring back to life. After several years of searching, the decision was made to purchase and renovate the building at 433 West Washington.

Local food carts find a home in the office’s parking lot.

Originally constructed in 1964 to serve as the headquarters for the Wisconsin chapter of the American Automobile Association (AAA), the building had been entirely vacant for several years after the last tenant vacated in 2017. Although structurally sound, the building was badly outdated, inefficient and sorely in need of maintenance and repairs. Aside from the deteriorated 1960’s-era interior finishes and design, the exterior had crumbling concrete, peeling paint, overgrown weeds and landscaping, and was largely a blight to a neighborhood that was already teetering on the brink. This renovation brought back to life a decrepit, vacant building just blocks from the Capitol, helping to contribute to the overall desirability of the neighborhood, as well as the tax base.

As the newly-renovated offices afforded more space than the ones previously rented by the firm, CG Schmidt was able to donate temporary office space in the building to two local youth not-for-profits: Children’s Theater of Madison and Madison Youth Choirs. Even the parking lot has been put to use for the community. When COVID-19 caused many of the downtown offices to close, the food cart business took a severe hit. To help those small businesses access new clientele off the square and campus, CG Schmidt hosted a weekly “food cart night” in our parking lot.

Extremely limited natural light allowance, damaged finishes, outdated design and layouts all plagued the existing building at 433 West Washington in Madison. 


The new CG Schmidt Madison office is designed and built with a conscious emphasis on employee / user wellness, with the idea that the building itself should work to improve the lives of the people who use it. Although CG Schmidt has not sought certification for this project, the design of the spaces themselves followed WELL building standards, which focus on seven concepts that support this line of thought.

For example, prior to the renovation of the building, the building had very little natural light; with only a handful of arrow-slit windows in the façade, access to daylight was exclusive to a few select personal offices around the perimeter of the floor plate. In order to open up the building and create abundant natural light for everyone, new windows were cut into the exterior brick, more than tripling the total area covered by windows. Not only does this allow for greater visual connectivity of the floor plates to the exteriors in all directions, it also increases light permeance deep into the core of the building. While the previous floor plans of the two floors had enclosed office and communal spaces in the interior with no access to natural light and complete separation even from the other spaces, the larger expanses of exterior glass and replacement of interior separations with glass partitions ensures that every room, from the offices to the copy room, has abundant natural lighting.

The new CG Schmidt Madison office is designed and built with a conscious emphasis on employee / user wellness, with the idea that the building itself should work to improve the lives of the people who use it.

The renovation also focused on connecting employees with the outside of the building, creating opportunity for fresh air and helping to connect them with the surrounding neighborhood. The building location, with its close proximity to downtown, has a Walk Score of 95 and a Bike Score of 100. On the ground floor, the addition of an elevated terrasse along West Washington gives employees a place to eat lunch, play games, or have a meeting with the Capitol Building as a backdrop. Higher up, a new rooftop patio offers similar amenities with green space and an unbeatable view of downtown Madison, along with views of both lakes.

Building the New Madison Office

Floor-to-ceiling glass windows ensure natural light permeance throughout the building, not just exterior-facing offices.


The office trades open workplans for individual offices and more dedicated collaboration spaces.

While much of the talk with workspace design in recent years has been about open office concepts, which the firm had adopted previously, CG Schmidt opted to ask the employees themselves what kind of spaces they preferred and believed to be best suited to their work. The response was overwhelmingly in support of individual offices, or smaller pods of shared offices for team members for whom interaction would be most beneficial. However, it was important to retain the accessible feeling of the open office concept, while giving employees their own space and quiet environment. To do so, each office is equipped with floor-to-ceiling glass walls and a sliding glass door, giving all of the openness and inter-office connectivity without sacrificing privacy, individuality or peace. For times when closer collaboration between team members is needed, there are three smaller conference rooms available and one large collaboration / training hub on the main floor. This large conference room features reconfigurable furniture, ample outlets and multiple display screens to accommodate all manners of uses and group sizes.

…it[‘s] important to retain the accessible feeling of the open office concept, while giving employees their own space and quiet environment.

Environmental branding throughout the office helps tell the firm’s 100-year story.

Lastly but certainly not least, with the opening of the new office coinciding with the firm’s 100th anniversary, the firm’s leadership wanted to find creative ways to tell the story of CG Schmidt with unique environmental branding and exhibits throughout. On the ground floor, there is a timeline wall exhibit created by local environmental branding firm Zebradog that features key dates from the firm’s history, incorporating the firm’s signature logo shape and even an actual hand trowel that pays homage to the founder’s masonry roots. A floor-to-ceiling image of CG Schmidt’s construction of the iconic Calatrava-designed Quadracci Pavilion at the Milwaukee Art Museum is a nod to the firm’s Milwaukee heritage, while the upstairs employee café features a collage mural that showcases CG Schmidt’s signature Madison projects, including the UW’s Union South building. The many glass partitions and doors feature iconography that plays off of the company’s new branding, including a vinyl cut of the logo facing West Washington. Even the front lobby desk – custom-built by CG Schmidt union carpenters – was designed with a heavy nod to the firm’s familiar triangle logo. The end result is an utterly unique CG Schmidt space that reminds employees and visitors alike that this is a family-owned company with a deep history and strong ties to the communities that it serves.

Building the New Madison Office

A reconfigurable multimedia group training and meeting space brings together team members. 


As the saying goes, “the greenest building is the one already built.” In this case, CG Schmidt took an existing building and made complete reuse of the existing structure, including exterior brick, terrazzo floors and stair cores, greatly reducing the amount of construction materials required for a building of this size. For the exterior, minimal cladding was used with a focus on sustainably-made siding products and the building design incorporates an energy-efficient storefront glazing system to further enhance building envelope energy efficiency.

As mentioned previously, one of the biggest design focuses with this project was creating abundant natural lighting. In addition to the employee wellness benefits (and aesthetic improvement both inside and out), relying more heavily on natural daylighting reduces the amount of interior lighting needed; combined with upgraded LED lighting throughout the building reduces overall energy loads significantly.

However, the biggest green-built feature was the complete replacement of the building’s existing HVAC and MEP systems with a state-of-the-art heater / chiller condensing unit. This takes expended warm air from the building and stores it to be recycled back into the building, drastically lowering the building’s carbon footprint and overall energy consumption by as much as 30% compared to the previous system of rooftop handling units.

Lastly, a rooftop garden green space featuring native plants and grasses helps convert CO2 emissions, reduces the heat of the building and associated energy costs, captures and harvests rainwater, reduces storm water runoff, and creates necessary habitats for local birds and insects.

CG Schmidt’s Madison team takes a tour of their future offices, including meeting the demolition robot.

Planning your own office renovation? Contact our construction professionals today.

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