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First museum devoted to artist-built environments opens in Sheboygan


First museum devoted to artist-built environments opens in Sheboygan

Tres Birds designed the project.

By David Malone, Managing Editor | July 23, 2021
The Art Preserve of the John Michael Kohler Arts Center exterior at night
The Art Preserve of the John Michael Kohler Arts Center exterior at night

The Art Preserve of the John Michael Kohler Arts Center, a 50,000-sf, three-story building in Sheboygan, Wisc., will be the world’s first museum dedicated to artist-built environments. Artist-built environments are an art form created by people who transform their homes and yards into multifaceted works of art.

The Art Preserve is located within the natural setting of a 160 acre nature preserve on Sheboygan’s west side. The building will provide exhibition space, visible storage, and preservation of more than 35,000 works of art by over 30 artists. Also included are an education area, a library, a study collection, and other spaces that will provide access to the collection for researchers, tour groups, and the public. Exhibition spaces will present artists’ work in a variety of ways with the goal to be as true to the artists and show as much of the collection a possible.


The Art Preserve of the John Michael Kohler Arts Center exterior


With a design that embraces the collection’s connection to nature while balancing the need to preserve the work, the building is constructed out of materials prevalent on the site such as rocks, sticks, and earth. The concrete structure is comprised primarily of regional river rock, providing the space with a large thermal mass to balance interior temperatures. The asymmetric shape of the building climbs the hillside and connects the lower entry meadow to the upper secret meadow by bridging the wooded hillside.

Embedding the building in the hillside helps it to maintain a constant temperature, moderating the heating and cooling load of the building. It also helps in creating a different feel for each of the floors as the visitor makes their way up and down the structure. Level 1 feels of the earth with its heavy river rock walls whereas 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 Art Preserve of the John Michael Kohler Arts Center exhibition space


Visitors enter the main entry through a forest of timbers that 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 Art Preserve of the John Michael Kohler Arts Center main stair


Arup collaborated with Tres Birds to design optimal environments for art preservation while keeping sustainability and patron experience in mind. These environments include:

A lighting scheme with motion-sensing LEDs designed to protect artwork, save energy, and make the space more inviting for patrons

• Sound absorbing treatments to enhance acoustic experience and mitigate noise, especially during lively hours or docent tours

• Tightly controlled environment for air quality to prevent mold or corrosion and preserve the artworks

• High-performing building envelope, including careful window placement and a sunken northern façade, as well as energy efficient mechanical systems to endure the cold Wisconsin winters while conserving energy.

The museum opened to the public on June 26.


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