More than ten years after the Milwaukee Art Museum opened its celebrated addition by Santiago Calatrava, a new entrance aims to reveal previously buried views of Lake Michigan and unite the museum with a neighboring war memorial. Additional planned improvements will help make the museum campus more cohesive and welcoming.
Milwaukee architect Jim Shields of HGA Architects and Engineers will design the glassy entryway. The 8,000-square-foot atrium is a modest addition to the 341,000-square-foot facility. But museum director Dan Keegan said that its impact on the museum will be striking.
“We want people to be drawn deeper into the museum experience,” Keegan said, beyond Calatrava’s iconic brise-soleil. At a cost of $5 million, he added, the new entrance is “low-cost, high-impact.”
Shields calculated that visitors who park in the north side lot, the museum’s largest, walk the equivalent of about four football fields by the time they’ve bought admission tickets and walked to the main gallery, ending up only 50 yards from their parking space. By reintroducing the east entrance, the plan will provide an alternative to that trek, while enticing passersby from along the lakefront.
“We’ll be able to greatly enhance the overall circulation around the campus,” he said. “And we do think of this as a campus.” That includes the 1957 War Memorial Center designed by Eero Saarinen, the 1975 Kahler Building by David Kahler, and Calatrava’s Quadracci Pavilion. With the addition of $10 million in further improvements, the museum is seeking an artist to refine conceptual drawings that link the memorial to a rooftop space for public art.
Initially, the east entrance to the Kahler Building was used as a lobby. But when the museum wanted to display art there, they had to wall off its lakefront windows for fear of sun damage to the artwork. The addition of fritted glass to the east-facing wall will provide that gallery with “sunglasses,” Keegan said, freeing up the adjacent gallery space.
Equally important to the project is reorienting the museum experience to the lakefront. Right now visitors to the museum’s main gallery have little to no frame of reference to the lake that is just outside the gallery’s east wall. The new entrance, an understated extension of Kahler’s gallery, is designed to fix that.
Though the $15 million museum project will be privately funded, Keegan is seeking an additional $9.8 million from Milwaukee County to further repair and upgrade the memorial. Deferred maintenance issues, he said, plague the county-owned memorial. The museum has proposed to take over the memorial as a part of the upgrade to the entire campus.