A major new addition to Milwaukee’s cultural corridor on the downtown lakefront, Discovery World at Pier Wisconsin is a celebrated youth-oriented science, technology, and aquatic resources museum. The site is also home to a performance amphitheater and Wisconsin’s official flagship and floating classroom, a replica 19th century schooner.
The museum’s “white box” architecture, set against the expanse of Lake Michigan, evokes a white lab coat and is a visual counterpoint to the colorful, kinetic, interactive exhibits inside. The signage program—including all informational, identifying, wayfinding, and donor elements for the site and buildings—creates a transition between the exterior and interior.
Echoing the architecture, exterior signs take on elemental forms and use a simple, geometric typestyle to identify site features, give directions, and provide practical and historical information. Painted-aluminum pylons with cut steel letters will withstand extreme weather conditions.
Inside, signs become more playful and active. Applied directly to painted walls and glass storefronts, lettering in multiple sizes and shades announces venues including two theaters, a café, gift shop, and other destinations. The team tested several different application methods before deciding on cut vinyl letters, which stand up to cleaning and touching and can be inexpensively replaced.
Orientation maps provide an exploded perspective view to guide visitors around, and were developed in concert with overhead identifiers and strategically placed directional signs, and coordinated with printed handouts. Many of the signs are designed with a screen to look through, while still carrying a textural message. The transparent, almost flickering effect alludes to light playing on Lake Michigan. Where emphasis is needed for a particular message, dark gray dimensional letters push through the transparent plane.
The project was completed on a very fast track, begun only five months before the first of several phased openings of the museum.
“Understated, refined, elegant, and restrained. The designer has removed every last bit of non-essential decorative designer drapery, leaving only the minimal elements needed to support and sustain a clear and concise system of communication. A tasteful example of a minimalist palette of black and white and gray.”
Tom Wojciechowski (principal in charge), Amy Parker (senior designer), Maria Fabila (designer)
Rebechini Studios, 3M (Scotchprint and vinyl letters)