Milwaukee Public Museum design reflects rock formations at state park

Milwaukee Public Museum is offering a first look at the design of the new downtown museum — which is inspired by a well-known Wisconsin state park.

The five-story museumto open in 2026 at West McKinley Avenue and North Sixth Street, will be a primarily concrete and glass structure.

Its exterior design is reminiscent of the geological formations in Mill Bluff State Park, which overlooks Interstate 90 near Camp Douglas, in central Wisconsin.

The building’s exterior texture will mimic Mill Bluff’s ancient rock columns, with its rounded corners portraying the erosion and weathering that happens as landscapes evolve.

Dr.  Ellen Censky, President & CEO of the Milwaukee Public Museum, shows a rendering of the new design for the museum on Monday, July 18, 2022 in Milwaukee.

Mill Bluff was among the dozens of Wisconsin museums, parks and other landmarks visited by the museum’s design team, led by Todd Schliemann and Jarrett Pelletier, of New York-based Ennead Architects, and including architects from Milwaukee’s Kahler Slater.

The creation of the park’s bluffs over thousands of years, and the impact of water in that process, is “kind of a metaphor for the entire state of Wisconsin,” Schliemann told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Said Pelletier, “Mill Bluff struck us because of the experience we had as we explored it.”

“It was something that had so many layers to it that begged you to explore more,” he said.

Mill Bluff State Park's rock formations are providing the inspiration for Milwaukee Public Museum's new museum design.

A nod to Milwaukee’s rivers

As for the interior design, the convergence of Milwaukee’s three rivers — the Milwaukee, Kinnickinnic and Menomonee — is inspiring the look for a public commons atrium, Pelletier said.

The rivers joining together is a metaphor for the commons area bringing together people of varied backgrounds and cultures, he said.

The first floor commons, featuring a sunlit light well, will be open to anyone, including people not visiting the museum, during the day. It will include public restrooms and access to a cafe.

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