For nearly a decade, the Figge Art Museum has had a prominent place on Davenport's skyline, reflecting off the nearby Mississippi River and making a world-famous name for itself.

But what if the final Figge design would have resembled more of a skyscraper than its current look? Or been more of an elongated structure without much height?

That kind of speculation fuels "The Model Museum" exhibit, which opens today at the Figge.

It looks at the initial plans for the museum, not only from British architect David Chipperfield, who ended up getting the design nod, but also from five other firms around the world that were considered from an initial field of 54.

"When you look at the drawings, one idea was a horizontal museum and one idea was a vertical museum," said Figge executive director Tim Schiffer, who was hired three years ago next month. "Actually, what (Chipperfield) ends up with was a hybrid — a horizontal museum with a vertical element."

Both of those earlier models are on display at the Figge, as well as glimpses of proposals from the other architects.

Securing additional land on the block it shares with U.S. Bank helped the Figge make its eventual expansion from the original plans, Schiffer said.

One model is clad in silver, almost resembling a mirror along the Mississippi, he said.

"But on the first design, it was actually a silver box on the corner. It was tall, really quite beautiful," Schiffer said. "But by getting the full length of the block, they got a much more monumental building."

Funding from the Figge Foundation, which led to becoming the building's namesake, made way for the additional space.

The Figge is the successor to the Davenport Museum of Art, which moved from its west-side spot next to the Putnam Museum in the summer of 2005 for an opening downtown that August.

While the Figge is celebrating its 10th anniversary, Schiffer said, it's also the 90th anniversary of the Davenport Museum of Art.

He said the exhibit gives museum-goers a bit of behind-the-scenes knowledge into the decisions that went into building the Figge.

"This process is what made this museum, and it seemed like a good time to bring this stuff out," he said.

The committee choosing the architect had three criteria, according to the exhibit:

"1. The Museum should become an architectural symbol for the community.

"2. The Museum should be a 21st Century facility that serves as a 'new public square.'

"3. The Museum should stand as a testament to the traditional Midwestern emphasis on self-improvement through education."

It was one of the first large American projects for Chipperfield, who has gone on to design the Nobel Center in Stockholm, the St. Louis Art Museum, the Des Moines Public Library and, recently, an addition to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

"It helped make his reputation," Schiffer said. "He was one of the lesser-known firms."

Chipperfield will return to the Quad-Cities on Sept. 10-11, Schiffer said, for a donor dinner and part of the 10th-anniversary celebration.

The celebration also will include "I (Heart) Figge," with drawings by children and their families; a show of American modern work on paper and, opening July Fourth, an exhibition of works added to the Figge collection during its first decade.

But the occasion won't just be nostalgic, Schiffer said.

"We're using it to look forward to the next phase," he said.

That will include a redesign of the Figge plaza, already underway with the hiring of Chicago landscape architect Ted Wolff; and working with an artist to create digital light artwork for the exterior of the building, likely two sides — on 2nd Street and River Drive.

"At night, it's pretty much dark. One thing we keep hearing was that it was never completed," Schiffer said. "We're working ... to turn the exterior of the museum into an artwork. That would be great.

"It would be such an amazing thing," Schiffer added, "not just for us but for the whole riverfront."

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