Wisconsin Historical Society Announces Design Team for New Wisconsin H | Wisconsin Historical Society

News Release

Wisconsin Historical Society Announces Design Team for New Wisconsin History Center

For Immediate Release (March 28, 2022)

Wisconsin Historical Society Announces Design Team for New Wisconsin H | Wisconsin Historical Society

Madison, Wis. – The Department of Administration and the Wisconsin Historical Society have selected Continuum Architects + Planners in association with SmithGroup as the design and engineering team for the new Wisconsin history center, which will replace the existing Wisconsin Historical Museum on the Capitol Square in Madison. SmithGroup is one of the nation’s preeminent integrated design firms and brings decades of award-winning experience in the design of cultural institutions.

“We’re excited to partner with Continuum Architects + Planners and SmithGroup in developing a history center that will be recognized as a one-of-a-kind national attraction,” said Christian Overland, Ruth and Hartley Barker Director & CEO of the Wisconsin Historical Society. “This is a pivotal moment in bringing our vision to life and for the future of history. The center will serve as a hub of inspiration and exploration where people and communities connect to one another, across time, through the lens of both Wisconsin history and our shared American experiences.”

SmithGroup's Cultural practice features an extensive portfolio of award-winning projects around the globe. Some of its most recognized cultural projects include the National Museum of the American Indian and the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., and the net-zero energy Edsel and Eleanor Ford House Visitor Center in Grosse Pointe Shores, Michigan. SmithGroup is currently designing the re-envisioned Thomas Gilcrease Museum of American History and Art in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and the transformation of the North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh, North Carolina. The firm's work is also recognized in Wisconsin, where it has designed a cultural master plan for the Green Bay Botanical Gardens in Green Bay, Alumni Park on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the State of Wisconsin Archive Preservation Facility in Madison.

“Working with the Department of Administration and the Wisconsin Historical Society, we look forward to crafting a vision for the new Wisconsin history center on this incredible site,” said Chris Wood, a vice president at SmithGroup and the design team leader for the museum. “We take pride in celebrating the stories of Wisconsin and look forward to designing a welcoming new home for this important museum.”

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. 

“We are truly honored for the opportunity to help guide the design and construction of the new Wisconsin history center in the heart of Madison,” said Robert Barr, President of Continuum Architects + Planners and lead project manager for the design team. “The Wisconsin Historical Society’s ceaseless efforts to make this facility a reality has been an inspiration. We can’t wait for the grand opening.”

The Wisconsin Historical Society previously announced Ralph Appelbaum Associates (RAA), an award-winning firm dedicated to the design of museums and narrative environments, as the exhibit designer for the new history center. RAA and SmithGroup worked in collaboration on both the National Museum of African American History and Culture and the National Museum of the American Indian.

The funding for the building has been successfully secured through $70 million in State support and $30 million in private gifts. Design will begin in the summer of 2022, with construction anticipated to start in early 2024, after authority to construct is granted by the State Building Commission. Moving forward, fundraising efforts will focus on securing support for programming, collections, and the endowment necessary to support the new history center.

“We’re thrilled with the success of the fundraising that has been completed for the building,” said Julie Lussier, executive director, Wisconsin Historical Foundation. “Thanks to the generosity and confidence of early donors to the campaign, we can now shift to a new phase of fundraising that will help deliver an incredible museum experience and provide a sustainable funding source long into the future. We’re excited to build upon the remarkable support we’ve received from across the state and are ready to bring this project to the finish line.”

The new, 100,000-square-foot history center located in the heart of Madison will more than double the exhibition space of the current museum. As the flagship for the Wisconsin Historical Society, the center will transcend the traditional museum experience. It will provide a place and a context for community voice and engagement that connects individuals and communities not only to the story of Wisconsin, but to that of the nation and the world.

The center will showcase and bring historical context to an expansive and ever-growing collection of national significance. This includes Thomas Edison’s dynamo generator that powered the first incandescent light bulb public demonstration at his Menlo Park laboratory, the rock thrown through Daisy Bates’ window by the KKK as she was organizing the Little Rock Nine, and a 1969 Oscar Mayer Wienermobile constructed in Wisconsin. It is expected to welcome 200,000 guests annually and double the number of visiting students to 60,000. State-of-the-art digital technology will allow the center to virtually connect with people from around the world.   

For more information on the new history museum project visit, wisconsinhistory.org/newmuseum

About Wisconsin Historical Society 
The Wisconsin Historical Society, founded in 1846, ranks as one of the largest, most active and most diversified state historical societies in the nation. As both a state agency and a private membership organization, its mission is to help people connect to the past by collecting, preserving and sharing stories. The Wisconsin Historical Society serves millions of people every year through a wide range of sites, programs and services. The Wisconsin Historical Foundation, a 501(c)(3) tax exempt organization, receives grants and private contributions benefitting the Wisconsin Historical Society and administers the membership program. For more information, visit www.wisconsinhistory.org

SmithGroup (www.smithgroup.com) is one of the world’s preeminent integrated design firms. Working across a network of 15 offices in the U.S. and China, a team of 1,200 experts is committed to excellence in strategy, design, and delivery. The scale of the firm’s thinking and organization produces partnerships with forward-looking clients that maximize opportunities, minimize risk and solve their most complex problems. SmithGroup creates exceptional design solutions for cultural and higher education institutions, science and technology organizations, healthcare, urban environments, diverse workplaces, mixed-use and waterfront developments, and parks and open spaces.