Designed by Jim Shields, FAIA, Project Lead Designer at HGA Architects and Engineers
The stunning new MOWA facility is 32,000 square feet. It includes 12,000 square feet of gallery space, approximately 7,000 square feet of facility rental space, a unique gift shop with largely Wisconsin-made items, two education studios, and an outdoor sculpture garden.
The new building takes on the triangular shape of the site as its major form. This property was created when the Milwaukee River meandered through the rectangular grid of West Bend, cutting the lot into a triangle. The building fits this site specifically, even recording a slight curve of the river into a slight curve of the façade.
From the triangular solid, a series of apertures are cut, which serve the internal needs of the building and help to accommodate the building to its site. At the acute tip of the triangle an aperture is cut and enclosed with glass, exposing a major stairway to views upstream. This glass-enclosed area creates a glowing glass lantern at night. At the southwest corner another aperture creates the entrance to the building, allowing views of the city and river from an atrium balcony. There is also a long aperture of glass that allows direct views of the river from a linear corridor that serves as a community gallery. The building is luminescent with approximately 5,100 square feet of windows.
The building is articulated in a Contemporary Modern style, specifically not referring to any surrounding historical styles and following the principle that art museums can themselves be works of art. Unlike the dark brick and stone buildings nearby, the new museum is composed of three almost imperceptibly different white panel colors that bring life and interest to its surface.
The new building employs a relatively new mechanical system called “displacement ventilation” for the galleries. Designed to be more energy efficient and more comfortable than typical systems, it brings in air low near the user rather than blowing air down from the ceiling. In the new galleries, the 2’ thick gallery walls contain all of the mechanical systems needed for displacement ventilation, including low-velocity air supply in the base of the walls, and return air located at the top of the walls. This system allows for low velocity air (saving on fan energy), and since air is delivered close to users the winter temperature does not have to be as hot, and the summer air does not have to be as cold (saving more energy). Since air is never blown down from the ceiling onto a piece of art, it is unlikely that paintings will develop dust-attracting static charges associated with typical mechanical systems.
The new building houses a visible storage area, with a capacity of 13,620 square feet of hanging space for artwork not on view in the galleries. It is the only system of its type in an art museum in Wisconsin. The glass-encased room allows visitors to actually see the artwork in storage. It is conveniently located between the main exhibition gallery and the collection gallery, allowing the Museum to display additional artwork while simultaneously providing visitors a sneak peek into the behind-the-scenes storage areas of the museum.