By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Aug 23, 2016 at 9:02 AM

It’s impossible to be anywhere in view of the Downtown Milwaukee skyline and not watch with at least some interest the rising of the new Northwestern Mutual Tower and Commons on the east end of Wisconsin Avenue and Mason Street, with its sleek glass face and curvaceous sweep along the Prospect Avenue bend.

In addition to creating about 1,000 construction jobs and helping to expand Northwestern Mutual’s workforce, the tower will be one of the greenest on the Downtown landscape.

We recently got a tour and in addition to taking in some absolutely breathtaking views from the 30th and 32nd floors – we made it as high as you can go without going to the roof – we learned a little bit about the environmentally friendly features of the building, which rivals its neighboring US Bank Tower in height, falling just a tad bit shorter.

On the lower "Commons" area of the project, which runs along Mason Street, just west of the tower, is a 42,000-square foot green roof that will be planted with a variety of sedum, with financial support from the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District.

The roof won’t be open to employees or the public – though it will green the view of many employees whose windows face west – but it will limit stormwater run-off and will be used by MMSD to promote the benefits of green roofs to other building and business owners. It will also help ease heating and cooling costs.

Speaking of which, the tower’s window curtain wall – the elements of which are being assembled at the old Tower Automotive site on the city’s northwest side – is specially engineered to reflect light and heat in the winter and absorb them in the winter to minimize heating and cooling use.

A boiler system that uses both condensing and non-condensing high-efficiency packaged boilers will also help trim heating consumption in the 32-story tower.

Low-flow toilets, urinals and sinks will cut water usage, and a series of systems will help keep light switches in the off position as much as possible.

Light sensors will automatically shut off lights within a 20-foot perimeter in from the windows around, and control systems will automatically switch off lights in rooms that are unoccupied or no longer occupied.

The Commons will also be extensively lit with LED lights. Plus, as in the tower, the low-slung Commons area will be bathed in light during most of the workday, thanks to copious glass curtain walls and skylights.

Here are some photos from our recent visit, showing progress on the Tower and Commons, which is expected to be ready for occupancy at the end of 2017. (The mostly residential 777 N. Van Buren St., which is under construction is expected to be ready by the following spring.)

Windows still flying up for installation

The Commons area is bathed in light

The view down to the 777 N. Van Buren work site

An aerial view of the green roof

The soaring lobby will be clad in marble

This (employees-only) restaurant will have the best view in town

The view from that distinctive east-facing corner

The top of the building will house infrastructure

But employees will enjoy this patio near the top

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.