Museum of Wisconsin Art (MOWA) in West Bend


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 striking new structure resolves several issues the museum has faced for years. In its former home, the museum lacked square footage and museum quality space; energy efficient mechanical systems safe for artwork; storage for artwork; and the ability to tell the story of Wisconsin art. The museum was also faced with building a new facility during the recession on a challenging site. HGA's Milwaukee office met these challenges, transforming the regional gallery into a major state attraction and destination museum.