Exhibits Case Studies

Madison Children's Museum

100 North Hamilton Street
Madison, WI 53703

Brenda Baker (contact)

Exhibit Title: Rooftop Ramble
Web Link to exhibit: http://madisonchildrensmuseum.org/exhibits/rooftop-ramble/
Project Budget: $171,400
Exhibit Square Footage: 4,278 ft
Cost per square foot: $80/sq. ft.

Rooftop Ramble Sustainability experts—and anybody from MCM—will tell you that there is no substitute for the outdoors. The degradation of children’s interactions with the natural world can compromise children’s development while simultaneously decreasing their ability to see how they affect and are affected by the environment. That being said, the outdoor Rooftop Ramble—our fully accessible four-season exhibit, programming, and community space on the roof of the museum—is perhaps the focal point of the museum’s sustainability mission. It plays off of children's innate connection to the natural world, explores urban ecology and weather, introduces kids to the wonders of the sky, and serves as a platform for discovering the interconnections between ecological systems that support life.


Distinguishing green features:

  • This green roof provides an example of possibilities for all the rooftops in our city. By building a green roof, or having plants on existing roofs, citizens and businesses can help manage rainwater runoff, decrease heat absorption, and moderate downtown temperatures.
  • Natural, local Local Fond du Lac stone was used to create the stream and pond.
  • The beautiful aeolian harp was made by a local artist and musician, using local black walnut for the instrument’s body. The harp uses wind energy to create sound, which can be heard through small listening tubes. its “aeolian” name refers to aeolus, Greek god of the wind.
  • All the plants used on the rooftop are native and/or well adapted to the harsh conditions (wind, drought, and shallow soil depth) found on a rooftop. Not all native plants can survive these conditions, so a mixture of native and adapted plants—all locally grown—provides the best solution for a four-season, sustainable rooftop garden.
  • The sculpture by the legendary and iconic figure Dr. Evermor is the sum of 72 years of art making and metal collecting. Dr. Evermor’s piece is made entirely from steel artifacts from Wisconsin’s industrial past, each with a story of its own. The birds’ body is made from an old cheese kettle; this doubles as a house for bats, which help control the mosquito population.
  • Our rooftop chicken flock is allowed to graze, and is fed homegrown organic chicken feed and fresh vegetables. This keeps our chickens healthy and strong, and results in eggs with bright orange yolks—a sign of high nutrients.
  • Compost bins help the museum recycle garden and kitchen waste, keeping food and garden scraps out of the landfill. Using compost on the rooftop gardens helps enrich the soil and adds much-needed nutrients to our lightweight rooftop planting medium.
  • Rain barrels, located on the rooftop and log cabin grounds, help minimize runoff, conserve water, and save money. Collected water is used to water plants. During summer months a rain barrel can save up to 1,300 gallons of water.
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables grown in our demonstration garden encourage families to create their own gardens in an empty pot, window box, or backyard plot—even a community garden.
  • A reclaimed greenhouse structure was donated by generous community members when museum staff learned it was being dismantled at a local home. Museum architects modified existing plans to accommodate this gift, which provides plants for education programs year-round.
  • The fish and animals in our Clubhouse tanks are native, offering a small sampling of the wildlife found throughout southern Wisconsin. Food—including crickets, small minnows, and vegetables—is grown on site to feed all animals
  • Solar electric (also called photovoltaic or PV) panels collect energy generated by the sun and produce direct current, which is then converted to useful household electricity with a power inverter. The museum’s Solar Oven and Solar Chicken exhibit--which lays “golden eggs” when it has collected enough solar power-- help children understand how solar power works in a direct, hands-on way.
  • Repurposed bleachers were salvaged from a junior high school and used as the walls of the Clubhouse. The reclaimed wood was left unfinished and has a beautiful, worn patina that tells the story of its past.
  • Worm composting--vermiculture--uses worms (usually red wigglers) to help create a heterogeneous mixture of decomposing food waste, bedding materials, and vermicast or worm castings (worm waste). Containing water-soluble materials, vermicompost is an excellent, nutrient-rich organic fertilizer and soil conditioner.
  • The rooftop also serves as an appealing indoor/outdoor space for public and private events, receptions, and parties.


Green products used:

  • Reclaimed greenhouse
  • Salvaged bleacher boards used on walls of clubhouse
  • Reclaimed Trex plastic lumber
  • Native plantings
  • Solar lighting and solar powered exhibits
  • Rain barrels
  • Wind Turbine and wind-powered exhibits
  • Vermiculture
  • Composters
  • Sustainable urban agricultural practices
  • Sustainable urban livestock demonstration
  • No- and low-VOC products were used throughout the building for interior paints, finishes, polyurethanes, and adhesives. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) can affect the environment and human health. The museum used aFM/safecoat interior paint, the only doctor-approved brand for chemically sensitive people


Piece of advice for others regarding project:
Sustainability extends far beyond the materials we use for exhibits and buildings. Living in a truly sustainable way involves evaluating how you achieve your daily goals and realizing the importance of staying connected with one’s sense of self. Where does your energy come from? How do you get your food? What wisdom can be gained by exploring the communal knowledge of various cultures? Renewable energy, local agriculture and exploring one’s cultural background helps people become self-sufficient while also helping the environment.


Further Reading: