The new Museum of Wisconsin Art (MOWA) in West Bend, Wisconsin, designed by Jim Shields, FAIA, Project Lead Designer at HGA Architects and Engineers (HGA), achieves a subtle balance between architecture as art and architecture as a neutral setting for art. The crisp, triangular geometry of the 31,000-square-foot, two-level museum moves from a glass-enclosed entrance at the southwest corner to a wedge-resolving point at the opposite end, where a glass curtain wall reveals an interior stairwell. Clad in custom, horizontal, modular fiber-cement panels in three shades of white, the surface of the building projects a soft and gentle variegation of color.
Inside the entrance is a soaring multipurpose atrium and event center. A sweeping, glass-paneled grand staircase leads to the second-level galleries, where a series of two-foot-thick partitions divide the space into five connected galleries that progressively taper within the triangular form. Adjacent to galleries for works from the permanent collection is a gallery for temporary exhibitions that has a balcony overlooking the atrium below.
The museum includes 12,000-square-feet of gallery space, in addition to the atrium, a gift shop, two education studios, administrative offices, a conference room, archives for works-on-paper, and an innovative, visible storage area for paintings.
The glass-walled atrium has 30-foot-high ceilings; daylight also streams through clerestory windows. HGA carried the river’s and the building’s exterior curves inside via a sweeping glass-and-concrete staircase leading to the second level. Also, a curved community gallery with windows overlooking the river stretches from the entrance, past administrative offices and classrooms, and onward toward the building’s point and secondary stairwell.
Most of the art is on the museum’s upper floor, in galleries for the permanent collection. Walls bisect these spaces at regular intervals, creating a series of discrete galleries for communicating the history of Wisconsin art, from early 19th-century objects to the work of living artists. These permanent-collection galleries have maple flooring. Behind the galleries is a secondary circulation corridor with polished concrete floors resembling terrazzo. The corridor enables visitors to move between spaces without backtracking.
Adjacent to the permanent-collection galleries is a rotating-exhibit gallery, which includes a balcony overlooking the atrium below. Walls of whitewashed drywall, large-formatted acoustical ceiling panels and diffuse up-lighting create neutral white-cube spaces for displaying the art.