Designs Unveiled for the Milwaukee Public Museum Future Museum

July 18, 2022

Together with the Milwaukee Public Museum, Kahler Slater and Ennead Architects today unveiled the design for the new 200,000 square foot museum building, set on a 2.4 acre site in the burgeoning Haymarket neighborhood of Milwaukee. Four core principles influenced the design – community, nature, education, and the preservation of the museum’s vast collections. The new building is slated to break ground in late 2023 and open in 2026.

The team of Kahler Slater and Ennead Architects developed a design that reflects Wisconsin's rich natural history, while creating a welcoming new community anchor and an indispensable educational destination for lifelong learners of all ages and backgrounds. The museum will also be a hub for research, continuing the institution’s legacy since 1884 of scientific contribution that makes an impact across the state, and around the world.

“Thanks to the creativity and hard work of our team at Ennead and Kahler Slater, the new museum building will be an iconic, one-of-a-kind monument to Wisconsin and its people. 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,” said Katie Sanders, MPM Chief Planning Officer.

“The future museum is a tremendous opportunity for the Milwaukee Public Museum, the city of Milwaukee, and the state of Wisconsin, bringing together the connection of nature and culture to downtown Milwaukee. We understand the importance and impact this once-in-a-lifetime project offers our community and beyond,” said Kahler Slater Chief Executive Officer and Principal-in-Charge for this project, Al Krueger.

The team drew inspiration from the ecological histories of Milwaukee and greater Wisconsin. The design of the new museum will be reminiscent of the geological formations contained within Mill Bluff State Park, emblematic of the region's diversity of landscapes formed by the movements of water through time. The building will be primarily a concrete and glass structure, with an exterior texture that will mirror the ancient sea stacks present in Mill Bluff State Park. The new museum will have rounded corners that evoke the erosion and weathering of the glacial landscapes that shaped much of Wisconsin and evolved over time. The convergence of Milwaukee's three rivers—the Milwaukee, Kinnickinnic, and Menomonee—inspire the museum's interior commons, whose three distinct entrances welcome visitors into a dynamic gathering space.

“Our team has been so proud to work on this project, which is steeped in the people and place where it will be located – a testament to the strong vision and identity of the people of Milwaukee, the unique cultures throughout Wisconsin, and the natural landscapes in which they live. Like the diversity of Wisconsin, the museum building unfolds like a journey, full of surprises and wonder that will inspire visitors’ curiosity and make them peel back layers of understanding as they discover something different each time they come,” said Ennead Architects Design Partner Todd Schliemann FAIA, lead designer on the project.

“We wanted to create a space that gave the feeling of wonder, like what we experienced throughout our trip around the state, as we saw these exceptional landscapes and met so many different people with stories to tell. There was much more to see and understand beneath every surface. We thought about this layered experience of discovery when designing the building. We wanted to make a museum that would reveal more with every visit and let people take their own journeys through the space, led by curiosity,” said Ennead Architects Associate Principal Jarrett Pelletier AIA, senior designer on the project.

“The Haymarket neighborhood has such rich history in our city and is on the cusp of a new chapter. The site of the future museum will act as a conduit from the entertainment district to the residential neighborhood perched just up the hill. The new location for MPM will be an iconic gateway welcoming guests to the city,” said Kahler Slater Associate Principal, Chris Ludwig AIA, designer on the project.

The new museum will be a five-story, 200,000 square foot structure. The exhibit spaces, which will be designed by Thinc, will include permanent and changing galleries of multi-sensory exhibits. “It’s thrilling to see the vision for the new museum building, including the inspiration our collaborative team of designers has drawn from the community and the interconnected natural ecosystems of Wisconsin. This architectural design will create a beautiful foundation for immersive, engaging and educational exhibits,” said Principal and Founder of Thinc, Tom Hennes. The first floor will consist of a naturally lit common atrium for guests and the general public to convene, similar to a community center. The fluid layout of the building will enable visitors to preview different exhibit floors and enjoy a behind-the-scenes look at collection spaces, objects, and specimens that have typically been concealed behind closed doors.

Located on the corner of Sixth and Vliet Streets, the new museum will include two gardens for visitors to enjoy: one will be located near the entrance to the museum and one on the rooftop, which will house native Milwaukee flora in an effort to reintroduce them into Milwaukee’s urban environment. On the rooftop, there will be permanent exhibits and a butterfly vivarium, a signature exhibit piece. Together with landscape architect GGN, the museum will redefine the Historic Haymarket city edge, bringing a human scale to this part of the urban core and creating a new and beloved civic space, adding to the lexicon of public urban gathering spaces around Milwaukee. Additionally, the museum will house a planetarium, office and lab space, classrooms and flexible space, dining, and collections storage.

“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. 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,” said MPM President and CEO Dr. Ellen Censky.

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