Behind the Design

Behind the Design

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The Wisconsin Historical Society has been engaging communities across the state, seeking council from Wisconsin’s Native Nations and working alongside an industry-leading design team to deliver an unforgettable history center and cultural attraction.

The five-story building with rich exterior textures and stacked terraces will offer striking views in all directions. It will more than double the exhibition space of the former museum, welcoming 200,000 guests annually and doubling the number of students served.

The dynamic façade — comprised of weathered zinc, embossed steel, granite and bird-safe glass — is inspired by Wisconsin’s shifting landscapes, the movement of the surrounding lakes, and the state’s rich history of craftsmanship, industry and innovation.

Design Drivers

Past, present, future

Wisconsin’s history center will be a vibrant, welcoming and active space where visitors can explore our shared histories, engage with present stories and be inspired to build a brighter future. Exhibitions will be a balance of objects, scholarship and lived experiences that will inspire moments of engagement and reflection centered on past, present and future possibilities.

The dynamic architecture featuring a layered façade provides movement and depth to the building’s exterior that, much like history, reveals new perspectives as your vantage point changes. The multifaceted building design sets the stage for an interior experience that invites exploration at every turn. The center will open a door to one of the most significant historical collections in the country and will ensure the stories of our region are preserved and shared for generations to come.

A hub for inspiration and exploration
The great connector

This will be a welcoming gathering place and regional learning hub. A large, open lobby provides communal spaces for robust public programming. Classroom, lunchroom and multipurpose spaces will serve students and community groups across all 72 counties. A casual café will bring people together to relax and refuel. Dedicated reflection, sensory and family spaces will help ensure all guests can comfortably experience the Wisconsin history center. And state-of-the-art technology will connect center resources and programming to schools, affiliates and communities across the state and beyond.

Wisconsin’s new history center will be the result of bringing together some of the nation’s top architects, exhibit designers, curators and historians with community voices, diverse perspectives and extensive consultations with the region’s Native Nations. The stories told will be diverse, powerful and ever changing through a rotating community gallery, a world-class changing gallery for traveling exhibits and digital technology that infuses new stories into permanent galleries.

Acknowledge cultures and histories

Meet the Design Team

The Wisconsin Historical Society is working alongside an industry-leading design team including renowned exhibit designers Ralph Appelbaum Associates, international engineering and planning firm SmithGroup, and the award-winning Continuum Architects + Planners. The Institute for Human Centered Design is also providing oversight to enhance the history center experience for people of all ages, abilities and cultures.   

New York-based Ralph Appelbaum Associates is one of the world’s leading exhibition design firms and is responsible for major cultural attractions such as the United States Holocaust Museum and the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of the American Indian and National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.

Read More About Team…

Patrick Swindell
Principal and Creative Director

Matt Krupanski
Project Manager

Carlin Wragg
Director of Media

Mary Beth Byrne
Interpretive Director

SmithGroup’s cultural practice boasts an extensive portfolio of award-winning architectural projects around the globe, including the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of the American Indian and the National Museum of African American History and Culture. SmithGroup has also led several Wisconsin-based projects including the Green Bay Botanical Gardens, Alumni Park on the UW-Madison campus, and the State Archive Preservation Facility in Madison. 

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Monteil Crawley
Lead Designer

Ivo Rozendaal
Project Architect

Chris Wood
Principal in Charge

Hal Davis
Museum Planner

Milwaukee-based Continuum Architects + Planners has won numerous awards for its work, including for the UW-Madison Chazen Museum of Art, the UW-Milwaukee School of Freshwater Sciences and the UW-Milwaukee Welcome Center & Lubar Center for Entrepreneurship.

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Robert Barr
Managing Architect

Corey Lapworth
Technical Team Lead – Project Architect

Coltyn Sprinkman
Project Architect

Scholarly Advisory Committee

The Scholarly Advisory Committee is advising the Wisconsin Historical Society on the History Center Project. The committee is comprised of American Historians and Educators from across the country.

Read More About Committee…

Dr. Melanie Adams

Dr. Katherine Katie”
Georgetown University

Dr. John Hall
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Dr. Eric Hoyt
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Dr. Cheryl Jimenez Frei
University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire

Dr. Doug Kiel
Northwestern University

Dr. Jim Leary
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Dr. Jon Lauck
Midwestern History Association

Dr. Cindy Ott
University of Delaware

Dr. Katrina “Katie” Phillips
Macalester College

Dr. Robert Smith
Marquette University

Dr. Aharon Zorea
University of Wisconsin-Platteville Richland

Community Engagement

The Society is seeking robust community engagement to inform and guide history center planning. We have been engaging residents from all regions of Wisconsin for several years in preparation for the design phase of this project. 

Dozens of “Share Your Voice” listening sessions were held in communities across the state in 2018 and 2019 to gather feedback from more than 5,000 residents to ensure a wide range of perspectives are included in history center planning.

Included were consultations with Wisconsin’s Native Nations and sessions with urban and rural residents, multicultural communities, educators, students, and others.