JS Critic Likes New Art Museum Addition
Schumacher gives it thumbs up but big issues remain.
On Sunday Milwaukee Journal Sentinel critic Mary Louise Schumacher weighed in on the revised design for the Milwaukee Art Museum‘s addition and called it a big improvement. “A design disaster was averted,” she writes. After numerous stories by Urban Milwaukee reporting that architect Jim Shields had left the project, and questioning the design for the addition, the museum brought him back and released his new design. “This turnaround speaks volumes about the museum’s seriousness in correcting the blunder,” Schumacher writes.
“There is so much to recommend in Shields’ newest design, with an upper floor dramatically cantilevered over a subtly angled, all glass first floor,” Schumacher notes. “Clad in resilient zinc (or perhaps copper) that will have a weathered patina in time, the upper floor is set atop a subtly askew, glassy first floor. Windows are set deep into the upper form with faceted frames (that) direct views sharply toward the lakefront or the Calatrava. That gentle twist of the first floor creates a perspectival illusion that adds to the cantilever’s sense of heft.”
But Schumacher had previously argued the museum would be better off trying to restore the old Kahler addition, so her column also makes one more attempt at this. But the reality, as I’ve earlier noted, is that you can’t sell the community on simply restoring an old building, all the more after all the hoopla about a new addition. As Schumacher concedes, “donors are more inclined to write checks for new buildings than for fixing old ones.”
But it does more than that. It also addresses the Calatrava in a way that Kahler didn’t, because it wasn’t there when he built his addition. As the photo of the original Kahler addition makes clear, it walled museum goers off from the world to the south, while the Shields addition has a glassy south face on the first floor and windows on the second floor that look on the Calatrava, the Kiley landscaping, Discovery World and the lake, connecting viewers to the entire museum campus. To throw out this smart design in favor of pretending its 1975 all over again, seems foolish on numerous counts.
The big issue that still remains, as Urban Milwaukee critic Tom Bamberger has noted, is the interior of the addition, where Milwaukee Art Museum director Dan Keegan wants to eliminate the Kahler staircase. And will the new addition leave enough space to create logical passageways?; that’s an important issue Schumacher has raised. I hope she returns to the issue as the design for the interior becomes clearer.