Architect: The Kubala Washatko Architects, Inc.
Owner: The Edwin E. & Janet L. Bryant Foundation, Inc.
Contractor: Vogel Brothers Building Co.
The architect was hired by the Bryant Foundation, Inc. of Stoughton, Wisconsin to design an interpretive center that traced the history of Norwegian emigration to Wisconsin during the 19th century. The vision was to create a symbiotic balance between architecture, artifacts, and contemporary media in a highly integrated fashion to inform both a regional and international audience. The main exhibit hall contains visual and audio interpretations of the journey from Norway, narrated stories of individual immigrants, plus physical displays of cultural artifacts brought to America. A temporary exhibit space offers displays from other Norwegian heritage and arts organizations. A 68-seat auditorium provides high-definition video related to Norwegian culture and geography. Livsreise is home to a public genealogy research center. The center employs 4 full-time employees and 45 part-time volunteers.
The Center is located on a challenging and highly constrained city lot along downtown Stoughton’s main thoroughfare. An existing single-family residence located adjacent to the southeast corner of the lot constrained building footprint options. The site of a former gas station, soil contamination and a high groundwater level presented additional development challenges.
The site location created a significant opportunity to strengthen and enliven a primary entry point into the historic downtown. The building was brought forward to the street edge and reinforced by a pedestrian friendly covered walkway that also serves as tour bus staging area. To further reinforce pedestrian scale and walkability a modest offstreet parking area was placed to the rear of the building. To mitigate groundwater infiltration an elaborate drain tile system and fully waterproof basement was incorporated into the design.
Livsreise (lifs-rye-sa) translates to “Life’s Journey.” It is a generational journey, encompassing not only the physical journey Norwegian emigrants traveled, but also the continued journey as current generations embrace their Norwegian Heritage.
Livsreise features a contemporary building design inspired by the geometry and bold colors of traditional Norwegian vernacular architecture. The rhythm, scale, and proportion of building elements harmonize with adjacent historic buildings. The building shape allowed the creation of a secluded outdoor rear patio area, enhanced by the thoughtful decision to preserve several large maple trees during construction. Douglas fir timber interior structural elements were shaped to reinforce overall building geometry. The design and location of windows provides abundant natural daylight while strategically controlling light within the main exhibit hall. Douglas Fir tongue and groove ceiling trim is accented by maple interior wood siding. Local Norwegian Rosemaling artists painted wood tiles for the interior. Design of fixed interpretive displays was closely coordinated between the architect and the project’s interpretive design consultant. The Norwegian emigrant story is shared through a host of static and interactive exhibits including the largest array of Planar Mosaic Salvador monitors in the world.
The building is successful on two levels: First, it is an outwardly focused building that meets the Bryant Foundation's goal of supporting and reinforcing the downtown community of Stoughton. Livsreise averages over 1000 visitors (both new and returning) each month, curious to explore their roots or learn more about the story of Norwegian emigration. Busloads of Norwegian tourists, including delegates from the Norwegian government and the Norwegian ambassador to America, have made the journey to Stoughton to see and experience Livsreise.
The design of Livsreise reflects the best traditions of Norwegian architecture, yet it is clearly contemporary in expression. Building details, large and small, have been carefully considered to create a beautifully interlocked and seamless visitor experience. The building connects both emotionally and physically, to visitors young and old. Livsreise is a finely crafted jewel of a building that creates new life and activity in an American community justly proud of its Norwegian immigrant heritage.
Photos: The Kubala Washatko Architects, Inc.