Milwaukee Art Museum expansion moves ahead with changes

Midwest, News, Newsletter
Friday, April 11, 2014
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An updated design adds a cantilever, but the original lead architect says he recently left the design process. (Milwaukee Art Museum)

An updated design adds a cantilever, but the original lead architect says he recently left the design process. (Milwaukee Art Museum)

The Milwaukee Art Museum announced in 2012 that it would add a new entrance as part of a $15 million project to renovate the museum’s permanent collection galleries. Two years later, with $13 million raised and public support secured, the project is ready to move ahead.

But the original lead designer, Jim Shields, is no longer involved. Urban Milwaukee first reported that Shields, a celebrated local architect whose work includes the Museum of Wisconsin Art and the Milwaukee Public Museum’s Butterfly Vivarium, turned over the design reigns to other members of his firm, HGA Architects and Engineers. What exactly precipitated that reorganization is still unclear, but museum director Dan Keegan said a team of designers, contractors and museum curators filled in when Shields either left or was pushed out of the design process at this late phase.

Though similar to the 2012 proposal, the new design adds a second floor to the 17,000-square-foot addition, as well as an outdoor area cantilevered out toward Lake Michigan. It lacks Shields’ glassy, double-height frontage onto the lake. The plan calls for more exhibition space, including a 5,000-square-foot gallery for feature exhibitions and a sculpture gallery visible from outside.

Part of the goal is to engage the lakefront Oak Leaf Trail, inviting passersby to engage beyond the iconic brise-soleil of the building’s Santiago Calatrava–designed Quadracci Pavilion. The new front door is also closer to the parking lot, facilitating circulation. Instead of walking more than half a mile to enter through the 2001 Calatrava addition, visitors coming from the north can use a much closer point of entry that looks out to Lake Michigan—not the busy lakeside streets of downtown Milwaukee.

Milwaukee County is also pitching in $10 million to repair the museum and the adjacent Eero Saarinen–designed War Memorial building, which suffer from structural problems including foundation seepage and leaky windows. The museum’s grand reopening is slated for October 2015.

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