Milwaukee Public Museum Unveils Renderings For New Museum Building, Kicks Off "Wisconsin Wonders" Capital Campaign

July 18, 2022

Mia Tripi


Nearly half the $240 million goal raised to support a building inspired by Wisconsin’s diverse cultures and ecosystems and ongoing sustainability of institution

MILWAUKEE — Reaching another momentous milestone, Milwaukee Public Museum has kicked off the public phase of its "Wisconsin Wonders" fundraising campaign aimed at enabling the once-in-a-lifetime construction of a new Museum in Milwaukee. In conjunction with the campaign kickoff, architect partners at Ennead Architects and Kahler Slater today unveiled renderings of the new Museum building.

To be located on a 2.4-acre development at the corner of Sixth and Vliet Streets in the Haymarket neighborhood adjacent to the city’s Deer District, the new Museum will be the largest cultural project in Wisconsin history.

“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,” said MPM President and CEO Dr. Ellen Censky. “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. Through the Wisconsin Wonders campaign, our community can sustain a place of experiential learning and cultural importance.”

Nearly halfway to fundraising goal

Representing nearly half of the necessary funds, $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. “With enthusiastic commitment of corporations, foundations and private citizens, and with the significant public investments made by the State of Wisconsin and Milwaukee County, we can create a multi-generational impact.”

The generosity of several key donors has set a strong foundation for the capital campaign, including:

  • Anonymous donors,
  • JoAnn & Richard Beightol,
  • Lynn & Douglas Brengel,
  • Bucyrus Foundation,
  • Melitta S. & Joan M. Pick Charitable Trust,
  • David & Julia Uihlein, and
  • We Energies Foundation

Ongoing fundraising efforts, fueled by the momentum of these gifts, will continue until the goal is met.

Milwaukee, Wisconsin through and through

Designed by Ennead Architects and Kahler Slater, the new Museum will stoke curiosity, awe and connection before guests even step inside through the architectural homages to natural environments and the intentional gathering places that will bring diverse groups of people together to commune, to learn and to educate one another.

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

Heavily influenced by the ecological histories of Milwaukee and Wisconsin, the design of the new Museum will be reminiscent of the geological formations in Mill Bluff State Park, emblematic of the region’s diversity of landscapes formed by the movements of water through time. The convergence of Milwaukee’s three rivers — the Milwaukee, Kinnickinnic and Menomonee — inspire the Museum’s interior commons, with entrances welcoming visitors into a dynamic gathering space.

The building will be approximately 200,000 square feet, including five stories; the first floor will house an open Museum Commons atrium where visitors and the public can gather and bask in natural light from a sunlit lightwell; the four upper levels of exhibit space — which are currently in the schematic design phase led by 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 GGN, located near the entrance to the Museum and on the rooftop, providing an opportunity to bring native plants back into Milwaukee’s urban environment. Offsite, a separate 50,000 square foot storage space will house additional collections.

Primarily a concrete and glass structure, the Museum's exterior texture will mimic the ancient sea stacks present in Mill Bluff State Park. The building itself is designed as an organic form, with 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.

Groundbreaking for the building is slated for late 2023, with Mortenson and ALLCON overseeing construction, and the new Museum is due to open in 2026. The Milwaukee Public Museum’s current home will remain open until the new space is finished.

About the Milwaukee Public Museum

The Milwaukee Public Museum is a natural and human history museum located in downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The Museum was chartered in 1882 and opened to the public in 1884. MPM has three floors of exhibits that encompass life-size dioramas, walk-through villages, world cultures, dinosaurs, a rainforest, and a live butterfly garden as well as the Daniel M. Soref Dome Theater & Planetarium. The Museum houses more than 4 million objects and hosts some half a million visitors each year.

MPM is operated by Milwaukee Public Museum, Inc., a private, non-profit company, and its facilities and collections are held in trust and supported by Milwaukee County for the benefit of the public.