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Milwaukee Art Museum Revamps Addition Design, Lead Architect Returns

HGA Architects

After a firestorm of criticism last month, the Milwaukee Art Museum has released updated designs for its new addition.

Moreover, lead architect Jim Shields of HGA Architects has returned to the project, having left after a “rough spot” during planning.

No changes have been made to the location of the planned addition, which will be built along the lakefront north of the world-renowned Santiago Calatrava-designed Quadracci Pavilion and adjoining east of the War Memorial Center. It will add more gallery and public space to the museum, while allowing for much-needed maintenance and structural improvements to the War Memorial, owned by Milwaukee County.

Shields says the initially released designs were never meant to have the addition compete with the Calatrava or the War Memorial (designed by Eero Saarinen with a 1975 addition by David Kahler). Instead, these two pieces were always designed to be towering above the low, linear extension.

But many criticized what they saw as an unattractive design. Urban Milwaukee critic Tom Bamberger quickly wrote a sharply worded critique of the drawings released on April 8th. Then, Journal Sentinel art and architecture critic Mary Louise Schumacher last week called for no new building at all, for now.

Museum director Dan Keegan says he had expected some criticism after releasing the first design in April. But he says many misunderstood these to be final plans, whereas they merely initial renderings to update the County Board of Supervisors.

“We saw it as kind of a skeleton in a way, an interim design,” Keegan says. “So we had to provide a necessary update to that without knowing what the exterior was going to look like exactly, what’s the color of the building, what were the windows going to be like, and so on.”

The newly released design has more details and includes:

a cantilevered upper story.

This second-story gallery space will protrude beyond the first floor, hanging over the lakefront on the north, east and south sides of the building with no visible columns or supports. This will create a “dynamic floating quality and allows public space to move through and under the building.”

“It’s also a notion that perhaps wave action has acted on this building to carve out or remove that first floor,” Shields says.

Much like the larger Calatrava-designed Quadracci Pavilion, this 4,000-square-foot gallery space will host temporary exhibits.

Credit HGA Architects
A cantilevered upper story and glass windows on the first floor are new elements to the revamped design of the art museum's addition.

glass walls for the first floor.

Whereas the original design showed quite a bit of solid wall, this new first floor will be a transparent public space, “like a living room for the city,” Shields says. The glass walls will allow people to enjoy views of Lake Michigan as well as the Calatrava to the south. It will also house a new north-east side museum entrance.

Keegan says the “welcoming” transparent flow of this space will mirror the public walkways just outside the addition along the lakefront.

Credit HGA Architects
Two kinds of dark metal that will patina over time are being considered for the exterior of the addition.

a natural metal exterior.

Shields says dark zinc and a naturally weathered copper are two options. He says the adjoining War Memorial was designed to have a weathered appearance to mark the passage of time, and hopes to reference that in the new addition with metals that will patina over time.

“We’re joining the Saarinen and Kahler buildings (War Memorial) that are supposed to show weathering and patina and advance of time, versus the Calatrava, which is forever gleaming,” he says.

But as Keegan notes, the choice of metal will be “harmonious” with the gleaming white of the Calatrava.

Credit HGA Architects
A courtyard and grove of trees will extend the public space on the interior of the addition's first floor outside toward the lake walk.

a landscaped courtyard.

Shields says the lakefront walkway, designed by the late, internationally renowned landscape architect Dan Kiley will be maintained. But an outdoor courtyard with patio seating and a grove of trees will reference Kiley’s “rhythm of double trees that marches down the lake walk,” Shields says.

The total project will cost at least $25 million. Keegan says the County of Milwaukee will contribute $10 million toward repairs, and the museum has already raised $14 million.

Work on the addition is expected to begin in early fall and should take about a year to complete. During that time, the collection galleries will be closed for construction, but the Calatrava will be open for some major “surprise” international exhibits.

Credit HGA Architects
Above: The initial design released in April. Below: The newly revamped design

The Lakefront Development Advisory Commission, which makes development recommendations to the city and county, will hold a public hearing on the Milwaukee Art Museum's addition late this afternoon.

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Bonnie North
Bonnie joined WUWM in March 2006 as the Arts Producer of the locally produced weekday magazine program Lake Effect.
Michelle was named WUWM's Managing Editor in January of 2018.