Sheboygan, Wisconsin, USA
The Art Preserve by Michael M. Moore of Tres Birds with Otter Creek Landscape is a “low-embodied-energy” museum on the eastern edge of Wisconsin for the John Michael Kohler Art Center dedicated to extraordinary art by self-taught artists and features visible storage areas where visitors can go behind the scenes to discover new treasures.
The Art Preserve is not your typical museum, it is part of the John Michael Kohler Arts Center, which is considered a local treasure with an international presence.
The Arts Center holds the world’s largest collection of art environments, a unique art form created by artists who often transform their homes and yards into multifaceted works of art.
For its nature-inspired and sustainable design, the Art Preserve has recently been awarded a 2022 American Architecture Award by The Chicago Athenaeum: Museum of Architecture and Design and The European Centre for Architecture Art Design and Urban Studies.
One project challenge was determining how to display works of art, which—in their original state—were interconnected with their environment.
Each exhibition space needed to be tailored to the artist and their work, which were largely installations.
Another programmatic challenge was creating a “visible storage” component that allows for the safe storage and preservation of art while inviting visitors to explore the archives of the museum in a non-curated fashion.
The Art Preserve sits within a 160-acre nature preserve on Sheboygan’s west side.
The design embraces the collection’s connection to nature while balancing the need to preserve the work.
The 56,000-square-foot, three-level building provides exhibition space, visible storage, and preservation of more than 25,000 works of art by over 30 artists in the collection.
The building is constructed out of materials that are humble, connected to the artists, and prevalent on the site: rocks, sticks, and earth.
The concrete structure is comprised primarily of regional river rock and is partially embedded in the earth, providing the museum with a large thermal mass to balance interior temperatures, a factor that will aid in moderating the heating and cooling load of the building.
Embedding the building on the hillside also creates a different feel for each of the floors as the visitor makes their way up and down the structure.
Level one feels very much of the earth with its heavy river rock walls.
Level three opens to the sky, has views out to the tree canopies beyond, and allows access to the upper meadows of the site.
The building’s asymmetric shape meanders up the hillside and connects the lower entry meadow to the upper secret meadow by bridging the wooded hillside.
To enter the museum, the visitor moves through a forest of soaring timbers.
These timbers serve three purposes: they assist with solar shading of the museum’s largest southern windows, they echo the hillside trees in rhythm and stance, and they create a procession through the “woods” into the museum.
The exhibition spaces present the artists’ work in a variety of ways.
The goal was to be true to the artists and show as much of the collection as possible.
Each floor will have a mix of traditional tableau presentations as well as dense visible displays.
The Art Preserve will be a center for academic study and research and includes an education area, library, study collection, and other spaces that provide access to the collection for researchers, tour groups, and the public.
The design process for the Art Preserve involved a fusion of artistic practices and engineering science.
A primary goal of the design was to capture the essence of the original environments of the in-situ artwork.
Proportions of spaces, views from windows, and light qualities were designed to emulate the original environments as backdrops for the artwork.
Sunlight in museums is typically discouraged for the preservation of artwork, but given the original locations of these installations, daylight was important to the experience of the work.
It was strategized to balance daylighting and artwork preservation.
Considered equally important to the success of the building was the environmental impact.
The Art Preserve was built with low “embodied energy,” which refers to the emissions associated with the manufacturing of the building materials and the operating energy of the building.
The building is built from 70 percent local river rock, which requires no manufacturing energy and uses very little transportation energy, hence very low embodied energy.
The building itself is robustly insulated with continuous high-density foam and triple-paned glass windows.
In addition, the default state of the building is darkness, which is quite rare for a museum.
Motion-activated sensors turn on the lights only when a person enters each exhibition space.
All of these elements of the Art Preserve are interconnected to create a system with reduced fossil fuel usage.
The timber shades are beautiful, but also do the work to shade the southern windows.
They appear randomly placed, however many iterations of daylighting models were used to fine-tune the quantity, size, location, and angle of the timbers to shade the interior from direct sunlight.
The constant conversation between science and art allowed the design team to achieve its performance goals while creating something organic and place-based, without a compromise.
The design provides varied experiences and inspires a sense of wonder.
This was achieved by creating unexpected corners, spaces, differing room proportions, and specific views of the natural world outside.
The use of concrete for the primary structure was not solely a structural decision.
Concrete embedded with locally sourced river rock is an accessible, regional material.
The river rock is exposed through the concrete work to show off the materiality to the visitor.
Much of the artwork preserved in the museum use river rock in different ways.
The concrete becomes a humble backdrop for the artwork while complementing its materiality.
Building within a nature preserve drove the building design to not only respect the natural environment but embrace and celebrate the unique attributes of the site.
Project: Art Preserve
Architects: Tres Birds
Lead Architect: Michael M. Moore
Landscape Architects: Otter Creek Landscape
General Contractor: M. A. Mortenson Company
Client: John Michael Kohler Arts Center
Photographers: James Florio Photography