Exhibits Case Studies

Madison Children's Museum

100 North Hamilton Street
Madison, WI 53703

Brenda Baker (contact)

Exhibit Title: The Wildernest/Early Learning Gallery
Web Link to exhibit: http://madisonchildrensmuseum.org/exhibits/wildernest/
Project Budget: $584,981
Exhibit Square Footage: 2,220
Cost per square foot: $265.90/sq. ft.


The Wildernest, in the Evjue Early Learning Gallery, is designed to serve children ages birth to five. It’s a wonder-filled global village alive with light, texture, color, and boundless opportunity. The Wildernestis built almost entirely out of natural materials and sustainably harvested local hardwoods that increase sensory appeal and model replicable best practices for indoor learning environments. Small activity huts provide culturally responsive, open-ended activities that offer children myriad opportunities to learn about science, math, and the arts. Other notable features of The Wildernest include the Bone Bridge; a raised platform and tree house; a slide to enter the area; a water dome that allows for pouring, dumping, and painting; a horizontal climbing wall; a safe, comfortable infant play area; and the Cozy Cottage, a parent resource room filled with early learning materials where visitors can calm a child or feed a baby.


Articles about the exhibit:
John Robinson’s article, “PlayandRiskattheNewMCM

Distinguishing green features:

  • One key factor in the conception and design of this exhibit was our desire to build entirely out of local, native, and sustainably harvested materials found within a 100 mile radius of Madison.
  • Hardwoodfloors are not only safer than standard synthetic carpeting for the long-term health of patrons, but also more aesthetically pleasing.
  • The museum restored the building’s historic window openings and installed high-efficiency glass, bringing in a flood of natural daylight and reducing the museum’s reliance on artificial illumination.
  • Most of the signs inside The Wildernest are made of wood, aluminum, wheat board, Green Core board, or reclaimed materials. The wheat and Green Core board substrates contain no formaldehyde and are made from renewable resources like wheat or wood fiber.
  • 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. since preschoolers’ immune systems are not fully developed, it is important to keep indoor air toxins to the lowest levels possible. The museum used a FM/safecoat interior paint, the only doctor-approved brand for chemically sensitive people.
  • Tree trunk slide made from a naturally downed tree discovered by one of our fabricators in his backyard.
  • Tree Identification exhibit raises awareness of Wisconsin’s rich natural resources. This exhibit helps children connect to the natural world even in an indoor environment, priming them to notice different trees on their next woodland walk.
  • The Bone Bridge walkway is actually a reclaimed wooden arch from the former Kohl’s grocery store on East Washington avenue in Madison. The “bones”  were crafted from sheet material for concrete forms, purchased from the Habitat for Humanity Restore of Dane County.
  • The floor mosaic was created by local artist Pat Smith using a combination of handmade tiles, broken dishes, local stone, and glass.
  • The rock grotto was created using Door County and Fond du Lac stone, all sourced from Wisconsin quarries. Found objects, many from staff members’ desks in the old museum, create an “i spy” game and literally embedded old museum memories in the new building.
  • Material for all costumes was donated or came from recycled clothing.
  • Cozy Cottage outdoor furniture was handmade from willow, a fast-growing native species, which is typically found along country roads and ravines throughout southern Wisconsin.
  • Tough and durable wool carpeting and rugs. Wool is naturally grown, organic and biodegradable.
  • Felted wool animals and pretend food offer an appealing alternative to plastic. Preschoolers are less likely to put wool objects in their mouths—and if they do, museum staff wash soiled objects in the washing machine.
  • Hearth Hut made using wattle and daub construction technique. Woven branches provide a framework which is filled in with earthen plaster made of sand, clay, wheat straw, wheat paste, and water. A heated mixture of linseed oil and beeswax is applied as a final coating. The grass roof is natural but not local, since the only available fire-rated material comes from Florida. This hut and its neighbor, the earthen Music Hut and its neighbor can be fully composted when they are no longer needed.
  • Both the glass for the water dome and the rain chains within it had former lives. Cut sheets of tempered glass came from this building’s former interior spaces, giving them new life and saving them from the landfill. The rain chains are strings of antique electrical insulators, formerly used on rural power lines.
  • Water for the museum’s water-based exhibits recycles through a chlorine-free purification system in the basement that brings it to drinkable quality. an ultraviolet light sanitizer purifies the water, and then a minimal amount of bromine is added to meet health code. A double-filtration system removes particulate matter to the size of one micron.
  • For more information regarding sustainable materials, visit the Buildsection of this Green Exhibits website!

Tree House

Green products used:

  • Local stone
  • Wheat straw, clay, and cattail reeds for construction of the huts
  • Cob
  • Willow thatching
  • Glass and steel salvaged from building prior to reconstruction
  • Recycled wood from Habitat Restore incorporated into suspension bridge
  • Sustainably harvested woods and flooring from local ash tree growths
  • Recycled clothing as fabric for new costumes
  • Wool rugs, carpeting, and toys
  • Wood, aluminum, wheat board, Green Core board, or reclaimed materials for signs

Tree trunk slide

Piece of advice for others regarding project:
There is so much to The Wildernest and our other exhibits that would not have been possible without the efforts and support of our community in Madison and Southern Wisconsin. Don’t be afraid to ask for help within your area for a variety of projects; most people are eager to help! Foresters, for example, became coincidental but highly beneficial contacts we made when looking for materials. Take advantage of opportunities by putting your name and your needs out to the community, and you will most likely see a greater return on that effort than you’d imagine.


Further Reading:

Wattle and Daub