Milwaukee Art Museum reveals new design for lakeside addition

Last updated on July 3rd, 2019 at 07:16 pm

The Milwaukee Art Museum on Tuesday unveiled revisions to a 17,000-square-foot addition that is part of its comprehensive Plan for the Future.


That plan, announced in April, aims to restore the War Memorial and Kahler buildings, reinstall the museum’s galleries, and open up access to the art museum with a new lakeside entrance.

Revisions for the eastside addition were produced by Jim Shields, vice president at HGA Architects and Engineers and lead design architect on the expansion project.

Shields has been part of the vision behind this plan since fall 2010. While he said he has been “sporadically” involved since then, he bolstered his involvement last month to produce the new designs.

In early April, the art museum released designs that emerged from collaborative efforts between museum personnel and other staffers from HGA Architects and Engineers, according to Shields. The April renderings were very preliminary and did not complete the design concept, he said.

“Since then, the Milwaukee Art Museum has had me work with museum staff to really complete what we think is a refined and final design for the east entrance,” Shields said.

The newly released designs have retained some aspects from the renderings released in April, but “there’s enough new here to call this a new design,” Shields said.

“It has a similar skeleton, but the fleshing out of the design is very different,” he said.

One key differentiator is continuous open glass on the ground floor, which will act as a “kind of living room for the community,” according to Shields.

“It allows people on the lakefront walkway to really see into the building, to be invited inside, to come into a coffee shop on a cold winter day, for example, and view Lake Michigan from inside the building,” Shields said.

Another new element to the design of the addition is the proposal of a warm zinc metal material, consistent with the 1950s Saarinen and 1970s Kahler buildings, which house the Museum’s Collection galleries.

The addition, which will encompass five percent of the museum’s total square footage, will contrast the gleaming white Calatrava in the same way the Saarinen and Kahler buildings currently contrast it.

“We’re not trying to make it a total standout building,” Shields said. “Its form and its color will make it a sort of recessive background piece, very nice and very elegant but allowing the Calatrava to be the actor on the stage.”

Shields’ revisions also add large apertures for windows in the second floor of the addition.

“It gives the upper mast a kind of heaviness, a kind of depth and quality,” he said.

From those windows, visitors will take in a broad view of the lakefront with sights of the Calatrava all the way up to North Point.

Construction of the addition is slated to start in September. Funding for the museum’s comprehensive Plan for the Future is fueled by a $10 million contribution from Milwaukee County and a $15.5 million private fundraising initiative led by the art museum.

The Lakefront Development Advisory Commission plans to review Shields’ redesign Tuesday night.

“This is really a good thing for Milwaukee’s lakefront, improving access and really improving the quality of space along Milwaukee’s lakefront,” Shields said.

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