The Art Preserve is a three-level museum, exhibition space, and visible storage space for the preservation of more than 25,000 works of art by over 30 artists in the John Michael Kohler Arts Center’s world-renowned collection of artist-built environments. The building is embedded in the earth and built from concrete aggregated with regional river rock, wood timbers, and glass. The thermal mass of the river rock walls regulates temperature, while the tall timber shades filter sunlight into exhibition space and create a meandering entry sequence that celebrates the surrounding wooded hillside.
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. The Art Preserve is a museum dedicated to this extraordinary art by self-taught artists and features visible storage areas where visitors can go behind the scenes to discover new treasures.
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 are largely installations. The other 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 comprised primarily of regional river rock, is partially embedded in the earth, providing the space 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 in the hillside also creates a different feel for each of the floors as the visitor makes their way up and down the structure. Level 1 feels very much of the earth with its heavy river rock walls. Level 3 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 presentation as well as dense visible display.
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.
Architect: Tres Birds
Photography: James Florio Photography
Structural Engineers: KL&A
MEP Engineers: Arup
Contractor: Mortenson Construction
1. Facade cladding: Custom concrete panels; Cementitious Cladding Panels (Swiss Pearl) on Continuous Insulation Framing System (Knight Wall)
2. Flooring: Concrete with exposed river rock aggregate
3. Doors: Wood Doors (Eggers Industries); Hollow Metal Doors (Ceco); Overhead Coiling and Sectional Doors (Overhead Door Company); Door Hardware (Multiple Manufacturers)
4. Windows: Curtain Wall (Kawneer 1600UT System 1) ; Insulated Glazing Units (Viracon); Glazed Skylight (Major Industries); Domed Skylights (American Skylights)
5. Roofing: TPO Membrane Roofing (Johns Manville Roofing Systems)
6. Interior lighting: Gallery Lighting – Display case lighting – Ecosense cove lighting; 7. Trackheads: Lighting Services Inc, compatible with Bluetooth Xicato controls.
8. Site lighting - Selux Olivio Grande LED, Structura MAC II
9. Interior furniture: Nemschoff Classics Collection
10. Elevator: MEI Total Elevator Solutions