The Milwaukee Public Museum unveiled renderings on Monday for its new building while announcing that nearly half of the $240 million goal has been raised for the project. The museum has launched the public phase of its “Wisconsin Wonders” fundraising campaign. In conjunction with the campaign kickoff, New York City firm Ennead Architects and Milwaukee-based Kahler Slater released renderings of the new museum building.
To be located on a 2.4-acre development at North Sixth and West Vliet Streets in the Haymarket neighborhood adjacent to the city’s Deer District, the new museum building and campus will be the largest cultural project in Wisconsin history.
The design of the new museum will be reminiscent of the geological formations in Mill Bluff State Park in west-central Wisconsin, emblematic of the region’s diversity of landscapes formed by the movements of water throughout time. The convergence of Milwaukee’s three rivers — Milwaukee, Kinnickinnic and Menomonee — inspire the museum’s interior commons, with entrances welcoming visitors into a dynamic gathering space.
Groundbreaking for the building is slated for late 2023, with Mortenson Construction’s Milwaukee office and Butler-based ALLCON overseeing construction. The new museum is set to open in 2026.
The Milwaukee Public Museum’s current home will remain open until construction of the new space is completed.
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“Our community has the privilege and opportunity to reimagine what this beloved institution can be and further our mission to inspire curiosity and knowledge of our world’s natural and cultural diversity,” MPM President and CEO Ellen Censky said. “While it is thrilling to see what the future may hold, it is also of the utmost importance to remember why we have undertaken such a titanic effort. A new museum building is the only way to ensure the continuity of this institution and the safety of its collections for the enjoyment of future generations.”
The five-story building will cover about 200,000 square feet. The first floor will house an open museum commons atrium where visitors and the public can gather in natural light from a sunlit lightwell. The four upper levels of exhibit space — which are currently in the schematic design phase led by New York City firm Thinc Design — will be offset from neighboring floors in the museum’s collections storage lobe, allowing visitors to peek into and preview different exhibit floors and collections that are not part of specific exhibits or dioramas.
The new museum will also include two gardens designed by Seattle-based landscape architecture firm GGN that will be located near the museum’s entrance and on the rooftop, providing an opportunity to bring native plants back into Milwaukee’s urban environment. A separate 50,000-square-foot storage space will house additional collections.
Primarily a concrete and glass structure, the museum’s exterior will mimic the ancient sea stacks present in Mill Bluff State Park. The building’s construction will feature rounded corners portraying the erosion and weathering that happens as landscapes — particularly Wisconsin landscapes, which were in large part shaped by glacial forces — evolve over time.
The Wisconsin Wonders campaign is focused on rallying the public’s support for a project aimed sustaining “a place of experiential learning and cultural importance,” Censky said.
At this point, $110 million has already been dedicated to the creation of the new museum, including $40 million from the State of Wisconsin, $45 million from Milwaukee County and $25 million in private donations by 72 “cornerstone” donors.
“This is a bold project that will have a transformative effect across the state and around the world,” said Jay Williams, former museum president and campaign co-chair alongside his wife, Madonna.
The new museum building will be an “iconic, one-of-a-kind monument to Wisconsin and its people,” MPM Chief Planning Officer Katie Sanders said.
“Different from most creative processes, this design was developed as a result of input from thousands of people from both far corners of Wisconsin and right here in the Haymarket neighborhood, paired with inspiration drawn from a tour of the entire state,” Sanders said.
The new museum will be a “wonderful addition” to the Haymarket and Hillside neighborhoods immediately north of Downtown, Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson said.
“New investments and developments are extending into areas surrounding downtown, and the Milwaukee Public Museum is a big part of that,” Johnson said.