Skip to site content
Group Travel Leader Group Travel Leader Group Travel Leader

Museum Guide: Architecture

Many of our country’s most beloved museums began in different locations than their present homes. But a fresh wave of museum expansions, renovations and new buildings is turning typically monumental museum architecture on its head with design that challenges not only how you experience your favorite works of art but also your sense of space.


Milwaukee Art Museum

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Though it dates back to 1872, the Milwaukee Art Museum is perhaps best known for its 21st-century look, courtesy of ground-breaking Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. Calatrava built the Quadracci Pavilion and the Reiman Bridge, for which the museum has received accolades ranging from Time magazine’s Best Design of 2001 to the Outstanding Structure Award from the International Association for Bridge and Structural Engineering.

The museum offers a 45-minute, architecture-focused tour for up to 50 visitors with options for lunch on-site before or after.

Throughout the building tour, guides explore not only the concept behind the design, such as how the bridge counterbalances the weight of the pavilion and the natural elements that inspired it, but also how Calatrava was chosen for the project.


Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University

East Lansing, Michigan

Completed in November 2012, with a design by Zaha Hadid, the first female to win the Pritzker Architecture Prize known for challenging established spatial concepts, the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum contains no right angles except for some door frames.

“On the one hand, it’s a blank slate the way any museum is a blank slate; but in a building where a wall may be 45 degrees or a room may come to a point, you experience art in interesting and unexpected ways,” said director of education Michelle Word.

Due to the museum’s position on a trail of architectural marvels often frequented by touring professionals and enthusiasts, Word has developed a group tour dedicated specifically to exploring the space, its creation and how it affects the museum curation. 


Louisiana State Museum  and Sports Hall of Fame

Natchitoches, Louisiana

While sports halls of fame are often eye-catching monuments, they rarely combine asymmetrical architecture with their sports memorabilia. The Louisiana State Museum and Sports Hall of Fame, completed in 2013, breaks the mold with its futuristic, amorphous design from Trahan Architects.

Faced with the problem of combining a university events space and a historic courthouse and jail in one of Louisiana’s oldest settlements, Trahan elevated the idea of sports history to be an integral piece of the cultural fabric, integrating the dynamics of the historic river and focusing on evocation rather than mere display.

A tour focused specifically on the museum’s architecture will be available later this spring as the museum hosts the Battle of New Orleans bicentennial exhibit.


Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute

Williamstown, Massachusetts

Nestled in the hills of the Berkshire Mountains, the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute has long balanced its rural location with a world-class reputation. A new expansion opened July 4, 2014, to further tie the mountains and countryside views into the campus, as well as provide much-needed additional space for special exhibits and educational programming.

After 12 years of work, a new building designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Tadao Ando brought an additional 11,000 square feet of special exhibit space, and an overhaul of the campus finally connected the earlier buildings as well as elevated the outdoor experience through a cascade of reflecting pools next to a public picnic area.

Guided private tours typically run 45 minutes, though at least two hours are recommended to explore the 140-acre campus, which also has a cafe and nature trails.


Savannah College of Art and Design Museum of Art

Savannah, Georgia

When a museum is part of one of the country’s top art and design schools, you expect an avant-garde experience, but the SCAD museum walks a delicate line, incorporating a protected antebellum railway depot into a light-flushed education and gallery space that also ties nature into the art experience.

“You see the history of the space, but contemporary art lives comfortably inside it,” said Laurie Ann Farrell, executive director of exhibitions, about the multiple award-winning renovation completed in fall 2011 by Christian Sottile, dean of the SCAD School of Building Arts. “There’s something human about standing in relationship to art and feeling like you’re inside and also outside.”

Though SCAD does not offer a set menu of group tours, Farrell’s office creates tours ranging from 30 minutes to two hours.

Gabi Logan

Gabi Logan is a freelance travel journalist whose work has also appeared in USA TODAY, The Dallas Morning News and Italy Magazine. As she travels more than 100,000 miles each year, she aims to discover the unexpected wonder in every destination.