Behind the Design

Behind the Design

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The Wisconsin Historical Society has been engaging communities across the state, seeking council from Wisconsin’s Native Nations and working alongside an industry-leading design team to deliver an unforgettable history center and cultural attraction.

The five-story building with rich exterior textures and stacked terraces will offer striking views in all directions. It will more than double the exhibition space of the former museum, welcoming 200,000 guests annually and doubling the number of students served.

The dynamic façade — comprised of weathered zinc, embossed steel, granite and bird-safe glass — is inspired by Wisconsin’s shifting landscapes, the movement of the surrounding lakes, and the state’s rich history of craftsmanship, industry and innovation.

Design Drivers

Explore how the past can influence design today and into the future. Embrace the site, honor its history while creating a purpose-built sustainable space for the next generation.

Pursue iconic, bold, dynamic architecture. Pique curiosity while setting the stage for empathy and productive discourse.

The building will be a physical manifestation of collaboration with the community, a place that provides public engagement spaces and is welcoming and comfortable for all. A place for open dialogue and understanding.

Acknowledge the history of the site and provide views to the surrounding context. Reflect the dynamism of changing cultures within Wisconsin and explore hidden histories.

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Meet the Design Team

The Wisconsin Historical Society is working alongside an industry-leading design team including renowned exhibit designers Ralph Appelbaum Associates, international engineering and planning firm SmithGroup, and the award-winning Continuum Architects + Planners. The Institute for Human Centered Design is also providing oversight to enhance the history center experience for people of all ages, abilities and cultures.   

New York-based Ralph Appelbaum Associates is one of the world’s leading exhibition design firms and is responsible for major cultural attractions such as the United States Holocaust Museum and the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of the American Indian and National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.

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Patrick Swindell
Principal and Creative Director

Matt Krupanski
Project Manager

Carlin Wragg
Director of Media

Mary Beth Byrne
Interpretive Director

SmithGroup’s cultural practice based out of Washington, D.C. boasts an extensive portfolio of award-winning architectural projects around the globe, including the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of the American Indian and the National Museum of African American History and Culture. SmithGroup has also led several Wisconsin-based projects including the Green Bay Botanical Gardens, Alumni Park on the UW-Madison campus, and the State Archive Preservation Facility in Madison. 

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Monteil Crawley
Lead Designer

Ivo Rozendaal
Project Architect

Chris Wood
Principal in Charge

Hal Davis
Museum Planner

Milwaukee-based Continuum Architects + Planners has won numerous awards for its work, including for the UW-Madison Chazen Museum of Art, the UW-Milwaukee School of Freshwater Sciences and the UW-Milwaukee Welcome Center & Lubar Center for Entrepreneurship.

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Robert Barr
Managing Architect

Corey Lapworth
Technical Team Lead – Project Architect

Coltyn Sprinkman
Project Architect

Community Engagement

The Society is seeking robust community engagement to inform and guide history center planning. We have been engaging residents from all regions of Wisconsin for several years in preparation for the design phase of this project. 

Dozens of “Share Your Voice” listening sessions were held in communities across the state in 2018 and 2019 to gather feedback from more than 5,000 residents to ensure a wide range of perspectives are included in history center planning.

Included were consultations with Wisconsin’s Native Nations and sessions with urban and rural residents, multicultural communities, educators, students, and others.