In 2013 , the Grand Rapids art collective SITE:LAB held an international ideas competition for the transformation of the abandoned Public Museum. Built in 1940, the art deco building was the home of the city’s Public Museum of science, anthropology and natural history for more than 50 years before it moved to a modern structure to accommodate its growing collections and changing standards in museum design.

The competition asked teams of designers to think broadly about a 21st century reinterpretation of the museum’s former home. A team of designer from Progressive AE made this proposal which received an Honorable Mention award from the jury. More details on the competition can be found at

C O M P E T I T I O N  P R O P O S A L

The existing Public Museum dedicated at its entrance to the “free dissemination of knowledge to all” takes a structured view of the world presented in its static halls, display cases and frames. The knowledge available is what fits within its walls.

Re-envisioning a “public museum” for the 21st century, we propose a building serving a broad public, each individual visiting with his or her own stories and knowledge of the City and world. RAPIDexpression, a digital media center, will establish a place to create, collect and share this knowledge while introducing the community to this world of information and experience.

Inspired by the intricate mapping of social networks and the fabric of Grand Rapids communities, we propose opening the building to its urban surroundings to attract and connect to the digital expression that is already occurring at home, at work, or at play.

RAPIDexpression is the interplay between TWO types of spaces arranged around the existing building’s central hall.

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Preserving the building’s past, existing museum galleries are preserved and repurposed for the creation and editing of specialized digital media and as collaborative work spaces. The reuse of these spaces with the proposed intervention layers past and present and supports the continuity of the center as a Public site.


Introducing the depth and extents of the digital media center, a continuous, layered ribbon wall maps a network of movement through the building. It forms and connects spaces for public engagement with digital media, gathering and assembly, and performance.

This collected exchange assembles a deep and changing portrait of the City. RAPIDexpression creates a truly Public center for the City of Grand Rapids.