Milwaukee Art Museum - Quadracci Pavilion
700 N. Art Museum Drive
Wisconsin 53202

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.

The Quadracci 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 shapes.

Laura van der Sande 2004


How to visit

Getting there

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.

The museum is well worth a day-trip if you’re in Chicago.

Planning your visit

The museum is open every day. For details please call +1 414-224-3220 or the visit the museum's web site at

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 them closed.

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 meals.

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 sites

Click the book title to view and to order direct from


3822878839_m.gif (13082 bytes) Santiago Calatrava
Philip Jodidio


3764356278_m.gif (7764 bytes) Calatrava: Public Buildings

Santiago Calatrava, Stanislaus Von Moos (Editor)

Comprehensive and priced to match (though well discounted at amazon)


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