Milwaukee Art Museum -
700 N. Art Museum Drive
Santiago Calatrava 2001
Seen as a complete folly by some local
Milwaukee residents, this is one of the most captivating contemporary
buildings I ever visited. With the Quadracci Pavilion, the boundaries
between engineering, sculpture and architecture have simply disappeared. If
any Calatrava building deserves the description of ‘poetry in motion’, the
Quadracci Pavilion is certainly it.
Pavilion is Calatrava’s first building in the US. Its
objective was not simply to increase space for the Milwaukee Art
Museum, but to create a new image for the museum,
and by extension for the city of Milwaukee.
The Quadracci Pavilion is technically an
extension of Eero Saarinen’s War Memorial on the lakefront of Michigan Lake
in Milwaukee. But rather than add to Saarinen’s building, Calatrava proposed
to add to the lakefront. It forms a link between the city of Milwaukee and
Michigan Lake and extends Wisconsin Avenue almost into the lake. The
Quadracci Pavilion complements Saarinen’s heavy – and rather grim – building
both in form and in material. Where Saarinen’s building is landlocked,
introvert, heavy and built in grayish stone,
Calatrava’s extension is light and open and reaches out to the lake. The low
and transparent connecting hallway almost denies that a relationship between
these two buildings exists.
Although the suspension bridge connecting the
pavilion to the city of Milwaukee is spectacular in its own right, the
central hallway with the Burke brise
soleil wings that open and
close are really the centerpiece of the building. Outside, you can
argue whether you think it was inspired by the wings of a bird or by the
sails of a boat – but it really doesn’t matter.
Inside, the entrance hall is nothing short of
spectacular. The play of light through the glass roof panels never bores and
it is inside the Pavilion that you really start to appreciate Calatrava’s
phenomenal attention to detail.
The interior of the building is deceptively
simple with shapes, details and finishes repeating themselves over and over
– right into the parking garage underneath. But the shapes are organic and
powerful and change continuously depending on your perspective. Standing at
the end of the entrance hall, you almost feel like you are floating above
the lake. The display cabinets in the Museum Shop and the chairs in the
Auditorium were also designed by Calatrava and show repeats of the same
Laura van der
How to visit
Public transportation: The Milwaukee County
Transit Bus Route #10 stops on the west side of Mason Street Bridge, just
west of the museum.
By car: Follow I-94 or I-43 downtown to I-794
East. Exit at ‘Lakefront’ (exit 1F). The museum is located at the
intersection of Michigan Street and Lincoln Memorial Drive. The parking
garage is located underneath the Museum and there is an additional parking
garage across the road from the Museum.
is well worth a day-trip if you’re in Chicago.
The museum is open every
day. For details please call +1 414-224-3220 or the visit the museum's web
site at www.mam.org.
You really should not miss
watching the opening and closing of the wings. Although most people watch
from the suspension bridge, the best view is at an angle from the roof of
the parking garage right opposite the museum, where you can really
appreciate the changes in shape. The wings open and close with the museum's
opening and closing times and at noon every day. Do check with the museum
before visiting as wind and other Midwestern weather conditions can keep
The museum has a good and
quite interesting film about the design and building of the Quadracci
Pavilion with some great footage of the building and the installing of the
72 fins. Check with the museum for show times.
The art collection itself,
although small, is definitely worth the visit too. The restaurant on the
lower floor has great views over the lake and offers simple but tasteful
Please note that although
the museum offers a special ‘architecture tour’ on Sundays, this is really a
tour of the museum’s collection – which is not housed in the Quadracci
Pavilion – and not at all informative from an architectural point of view.
The tour guides seemed quite surprised that you would visit the building
just for its own merits and clearly felt that it is the art collection that
should take center stage and not the building.
Books and other web
Click the book title to view and to order direct