Right at home

Good art can be found anywhere. It doesn’t have to belong only to glitzy metropolitan centres. And the structures that house this art don’t have to be the flamboyant architectural icons these major metropolitan centres are striving to outdo each other with. In fact, inserting a Bilbao-effect gallery into a certain small town or city may be downright inappropriate.

Such is the case with Madison, Wisconsin. The third-largest city in the state with the lowest population in the U.S., Madison embodies that charming small Midwestern town vibe, with a building stock characterized by honest, earthen materials – stone, brick, wood – dominated only by the State Legislature building at one end of town, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus at the other.

This is where the Chazen Museum of Art, which is home to a collection of more than 19,000 works, is currently undergoing a US$43 million expansion. Designed by Machado and Silvetti Associates, the expansion will add 22,500 square feet of new gallery space to the 90,000-square-foot facility, including two distinct galleries for temporary exhibitions, but will also pay homage to the Museum’s original building designed by Chicago architect Harry Weese. The two structures, connected via a gallery bridge, will frame a section of a new north-south pedestrian mall running through the heart of the University’s east campus, strengthening the Museum’s role as an important regional art museum. 

The selection of Boston-based Machado and Silvetti (with Continuum Architects + Planners of Milwaukee as the architect of record) by the Museum’s board is not surprising. Their work does not espouse any signature style, but instead they are known for their acute sensitivity to and careful integration of the client’s aspirations, the project’s programmatic requirements, and the nature and character of the place for which a proposal is designed. In this case, a clear deference of aesthetic to the original 1970 Weese-designed building was a primary requirement by the board.

The new building will connect to the Museum with a third-floor bridge gallery that echoes the stonework and strong lines of the existing architecture, creating a contiguous façade as well as a unified interior gallery plan. Weese was an exponent of the period’s classical approach, and the addition reflects elements of his original design with a limestone-clad exterior and copper roof and trim that mimic the aesthetics and materials of the existing building’s façade. The new exterior stone-block pattern gradually evolves from a flat form and finish to a fluted, curved shape that wraps around the new building. A floor-to-ceiling glass mezzanine at the north side of the bridge gallery will provide a dramatic view that will extend from the new Museum plaza to Lake Mendota.

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