New HGA-designed Building is Central Hub for Arts in City.
Milwaukee Ballet’s Baumgartner Center for Dance (MBBCD) opened its doors in September 2019, just in time for the company’s first production of “Coppelia” on October 17. Designed and executed by the Milwaukee office of HGA, the MBBCD graces the city’s historic Third Ward with a vibrant cultural beacon and provides a much-needed upgrade for dancers, staff, and visitors alike.
Previously located in cramped quarters in an existing building with no room for an addition, Milwaukee Ballet’s Company and School & Academy was growing and thriving; the need for a new and larger facility to serve the future of the organization became a driving force. The new, 52,000 square foot Baumgartner Center for Dance was envisioned as a gathering place for dancers and dance lovers from Milwaukee and beyond. Now nearly double in usable space from the previous building, the Center includes specialized studios for the main Company and second Company and provides ample room for the students of Milwaukee Ballet School & Academy.
“We were able to implement some innovative techniques and create an economical solution for MBBCD, and that feels great for everyone,” said HGA Design Principal Jim Shields, FAIA. “We couldn’t be prouder to have helped this wonderful institution grow into the future and provide their students, teachers, patrons and visitors a place to learn, create and share the beauty of dance.”
While contemporary in character, the new Baumgartner Center for Dance reflects and seamlessly becomes part of its historic context. The building maintains the simple four-sided form of historic warehouses in the district, and is clad in long, charcoal-hued brick with a reflective sheen, arranged in an ornamental pattern along the exterior. The base of the building features additional brick patterning to add detail and richness for pedestrians passing close by. The Center’s façade sits right in line with neighboring buildings and features a steel-framed canopy over the main entry, also echoing those of warehouses along the same street. Enormous two-story windows wrap the northwest corner of the building welcoming a view inside and setting the aesthetic tone for the entire building.
The canopied main entry brings visitors into the two-story, light-filled Herzfeld Atrium, which features a curving monumental staircase: a theatrical display of movement, appropriate for dance. The stair acts not only as the main circulation point but also enlivens the space during fundraising events and receptions. The two-story window opens the atrium to the street, allowing a distant view of the high-rises downtown. On the first floor, the large Vandenberg/Mardak Community Studio is enclosed with a movable glass wall that opens to the atrium for special events. Together, all of these elements come together to welcome and surround visitors in movement as they enter, putting the art and the artists on display.
The building’s primary studios, some of which are two stories high, are designed for flexibility and are geared to meet different needs and requirements as the company changes over time. The Vandenberg/Mardak Community Studio is used for community engagement programs, rehearsals and ballet classes while the We Energies Foundation Performance Studio is a state-of-the-art, black box performance space with seating for nearly 200.
The defined support spaces provide changing rooms for dancers; a large costume shop with preservation-level storage; and a rehab space for physical therapy, Pilates and weight training, ensuring the dancers have access to treatment and tools to support their careers holistically.
The new Center is located on what was previously a polluted vacant railyard in Milwaukee’s historic Third Ward. Although immediately adjacent to a district of 19th and 20th Century warehouse buildings—many of which have been recently transformed into housing, office, retail, and cultural uses—the site had defied all attempts at redevelopment since the closure of the railyard 50 years prior. To prepare the site, the project team of HGA, Catalyst Construction, and consulting engineers worked together to remedy obstacles through significant environmental and structural interventions, including a nine-month structural surcharging project to fortify the site’s poor soils.
The leading donors for this project, Donna and Donald Baumgartner, have contributed to other projects HGA has executed in the past. The relationship the firm and the donors have cultivated over time is one built on trust, respect and expertise.
Milwaukee Ballet celebrates its 50th Anniversary during the 2019-2020 season, syncing up perfectly with the unveiling of its new, welcoming, beautiful space.