The Marcus Center for the Performing Arts was designed by architect Harry Weese, with the surrounding landscape by Dan Kiley, and was completed in 1969. As described by Miriam F. Stimpson in A Field Guide to Landmarks of Modern Architecture in the United States, "sheathed with travertine, the massing of strong forms employed for this center make a dignified and prominent addition to Milwaukee's downtown area. Landscaping and terracing down to the riverside close by is aesthetically pleasing and inviting. A large concert hall dominates the interior space flanked by a small recital hall, repertory theater, and a banquet pavilion."
In December 2018, the Center announced an overhaul of the cultural venue, the culmination of a months-long strategic planning process. However, the proposal drew backlash for its insensitve treatment of the Dan Kiley-designed landscape.
The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) quickly gave it a "Landslide" designation, for significant at-risk cultural landscapes, calling it an "exemplary collaboration between...two masters of their craft." Local advocates, including Jennifer Current, landscape architect at Quorum Architects, and Mark Debrauske, principal and architect at the Tredo Group, filed an application for local historic designation, in hopes of applying a layer of protection. If locally landmarked, changes to the site must be approved by the city's Historic Preservation Commission (HPC). Two former architecture critics for the Journal Sentinel issued public calls advocating for historic designation. Docomomo US and Docomomo US/Chicago issued a joint letter to the Common Council supporting landmark designation.