Discovery World at Pier Wisconsin

Great Design On The Great Lakes

Built on a man-made peninsula originally used as ferry dock, Discovery World at Pier Wisconsin is a youth-oriented science and technology museum and aquarium in downtown Milwaukee. Since opening in 2005, the facility has provided education about the Great Lakes aquatic environment. The 120,000-square-foot white-panel-and-glass structure has also become a dynamic presence on the Lake Michigan shoreline.

HGA won the commission to design the structure through an invited competition. The firm’s distinctive yet understated design was selected, jury members said, because it complements—rather than competes with—the iconic profile of the neighboring Milwaukee Art Museum. The building’s low massing reflects the shoreline’s horizontal lines. The circular aquarium, with its steel-frame crown offering 360 views of the waterfront and skyline, recalls classic Great Lakes lighthouses and lakeshore beacons.

Wrapped by a publically accessible boardwalk, the complex encourages a community connection with the lakefront. Because of its location, the facility has also become the city’s premier venue for private ceremonies and special events, enabling Pier Wisconsin to generate operating revenue to sustain its educational and research mission. The incorporation of environmentally friendly materials, including recycled wood and new products from certified sustainable forests, ensured that building construction reflected the organization’s environmental values.


Milwaukee, WI

Building Type

Museums & Cultural Centers


120,000 SF

  • 2008 Wisconsin Green Building Alliance, SE2 Award of Excellence
  • 2008 IIDA Wisconsin Honor Award
  • 2008 AIA Wisconsin Honor Award
  • 2008 American Council of Engineering Companies Grand Award–Structural Systems (national)
  • 2008 American Council of Engineering Companies of Wisconsin Grand Award– Building/ Technology Systems
  • 2007 American Society of Civil Engineers Wisconsin Section Engineering Achievement Award
  • 2007 Building Design & Construction (Engineering) Building Team of the Year
  • 2007 Daily Reporter/Wisconsin Builder “Top 20 Projects of 2006”
  • 2007 Milwaukee 2006 Mayor’s Urban Design Award
  • 2006 Wisconsin Commercial Real Estate Women Leading Edge Award
  • 2006 Midwest Construction Magazine, Cultural Project of the Year
  • 2006 Consulting-Specifying Engineers ARC Award for HVAC Systems

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