Museum Buildings

Santiago Calatrava Reflects on Art and Community During 20th Anniversary Visit

For many Milwaukeeans, the renowned architect Santiago Calatrava needs no introduction. As the designer of the Museum’s Quadracci Pavilion, he is synonymous with the crisp, expansive, and sweeping white building often called “the Calatrava.” In September, we celebrated the building’s 20th anniversary with a visit from the architect—his first since the Quadracci Pavilion’s grand opening.

As part of the celebration, we asked the Museum’s social followers to submit questions for the architect to answer during his visit. Keep reading to see how our conversation reflected on the building’s preservation, its evolution as a symbol, and the vision that informed its design.

Question: How does it feel to be back and met with so much enthusiasm?

Santiago Calatrava: My first reaction was really positive, because the building looks as well as it looked on the first day. It has been very well-maintained. It’s a very uplifting experience to come back and see the building in all its splendor.

It’s like a bow and arrow. The architect is the bow, you know, who propels the arrow ahead through the building. The community embraced it so enthusiastically, and the city has had this extraordinary evolution around the Museum, with the park, the gardens, the lakeshore, and the promenade along the lake. You see the renovation of the War Memorial Center and the David Kahler extension. And I’m seeing also some new buildings around.

Seeing a lot of people visiting the Museum effectively shows the intention all of us had when creating this building. The people have embraced the building because it belongs to them. I think people have read the message we sent through this building. This building is clearly a message, a message of hope, of believing in the coming generation, of faith in the future, and certainly of love to the city and to the visitors. Because this is a gift for them.

Q: What characteristics of Milwaukee inspired you when you were creating this design, and then how did that factor into the overall design?

SC: The people here have charm. They charmed us, my goodness! Extraordinary people…

So, the trustees, as the client, had in mind a significant building. That was the decision. This community, this city, chose a cultural facility, as an emblem, a sign. Milwaukee chose a cultural statement, as an emblem for the city. I understood they wanted to do something exceptional. They encouraged me also to do something special.

And then I knew the area, a little bit of the spirit of the area, through my studies, when studying the work of Frank Lloyd Wright, particularly, and Louis Sullivan. I knew that this area was a firmament of interesting architecture. The whole thing had for me the legendary character of a place with completely unexpected, interesting architecture. In the 20th century, even in the 19th century, very interesting and substantial contemporary architecture had been done. I came here with a lot of expectations, and, of course, a little fear, knowing the place and knowing the significance of what I could do.

Q: Thinking back on the early planning stages, how did you approach designing a building that both served and reflected the Milwaukee community?

SC: As an architect, you are surrounded by two very powerful forces. One is the client and the other is the executor. The client was purely Milwaukee. The client became, for me, the reflection of the society of Milwaukee. I visited Milwaukee more than 48 times, from the beginning of the project to the conclusion of the project. That means I was here almost every month. But looking back, it was worth it to do that. I got related to Milwaukee. I embraced the spirit of the community.

I participated also in the fundraising campaign. I met all kinds of people and all kinds of donors, from those who gave a lot, to those who gave from their heart what they could afford. I am a witness, you see, to the interest of the community in having a beautiful facility, an extraordinary facility. I had to give my very best to these people.

The other force, I will say, was the architect of record. It was my friend and colleague David Kahler, who made an enormous contribution to the quality of the museum. And the people who built it were purely from the area. They put their hands, their knowledge, their expertise into delivering the very best building you can have. But looking back, it was worth it to do that. Indeed, I embraced the spirit of the community.

Q: When you were designing the Burke Brise Soleil, what was the original purpose and what were you hoping to evoke when you included it?

SC: Architecture can be considered, and is for me, an art, not only a technique. Being an architect but being also an engineer, I have a lot of belief in technique. The technique is a vehicle of innovation and renewal. Beyond that, architecture is an art that belongs to the culture of a place.

The brise soleil is a tool that gives shadow. When it is open, it has completely changed, because you have behind you the landscape, you have all these extraordinary surroundings. It’s just like taking two tools that you use every day, like a piece of bread and a glass of wine. With that, you can do something extraordinary in the sense of raising the significance of the bread and wine to a much higher level. And you can also take a regular tool of the everyday, like a brise soleil that controls the light, and elevate its significance through the magic of the landscape and the situation and the presence of this extraordinary nature around us.

When you are approaching the museum from Michigan Avenue, you have a first reference: the di Suvero sculpture. And then behind it is the brise soleil. When the brise soleil is closed it appears like a line behind the sculpture. Once the wings are open, you are embracing the landscape, you are embracing all the birds flying around, all the boats in the lake. And these things happen in architecture.

Plan your visit to experience the wonder of the Museum’s iconic architecture. Explore its world-class collection by revisiting familiar artworks and discovering new favorites. See the exhibitions currently on view, each filled with new scholarship and fresh perspectives. Expand your art knowledge during events and programs for enthusiasts of all ages.

Want to do all of this and more with free Museum admission, added perks, and special discounts? Become a Museum Member! Enjoy all of these perks, strengthen your connection to art, and be a part of the community that helps extend the Museum’s mission to all.

Art Behind the Scenes Museum Buildings

A Night at the Museum

Alberto Rios is not only one of the Museum’s wonderful third-shift security officers; he is also a talented photographer. You may have seen some of his photos featured on the Museum’s social media pages. He captured this gorgeous sunrise on the East End and an image of Schroeder Galleria lit up for Pride Month, among other views of the Museum. Because he has such a great eye, and he has the unique opportunity to capture the Museum at a time when most are asleep, I asked if he would create a photo diary, taking viewers through one of his shifts. Get a behind-the-scenes—and somewhat eerie—look at the Museum (after dark!) below.
—Erin Aeschbacher, associate content writer

Art Museum Buildings

The Poem that Inspired the Name “Windhover Hall”

Water and sunshafts reflecting through Windhover Hall

Did you know that the Museum’s Windhover Hall was named after one of donor Harry Quadracci’s favorite poems: The Windhover (published 1918) by Gerard Manley Hopkins? Read the full poem, and hear the work read aloud by Alicia Rice, Kohl’s Art Generation Community Relations Coordinator.

Events Museum Buildings

Rent the Gorgeous Space Portrayed on this Season’s The Bachelor

battaglia-goodell-wedding-9-21-13-193Recently engaged? Looking to throw the party of a lifetime? No event venue in Milwaukee compares to the soaring architectural elegance of the Museum’s Quadracci Pavilion. Masterfully designed by the renowned architect and structural engineer Santiago Calatrava, the Pavilion’s Windhover Hall boasts breathtaking views set against Lake Michigan and Milwaukee’s cityscape.

The space acts as a quintessential backdrop to any occasion—it even made a recent date-night appearance on season 21 of ABC’s The Bachelor! Additional rental areas include a spacious auditorium, lavish boardroom suite, modern meeting space, and trendy Café. These areas work perfectly for corporate galas and meetings as well as social celebrations and gatherings.

Milwaukee Art Museum hosts premiere weddings, both ceremony and reception accommodations, including a cocktail hour with dinner and dancing for up to 400 guests. In combination with the expert assistance of a Museum Sales and Event Coordinator, the end result is truly a special and infinitely memorable experience for all.

Contact 414-224-3287 or for additional information or to schedule your consultation.

Images: Frontroom Photography

Art Museum Buildings

Museums and the Parking Business

Milwaukee’s United Performing Arts Fund “Ride for the Arts” happened along the gorgeous lakefront this weekend. Included was a Milwaukee Art Museum team of bicycle riders including staff, members, friends, family, and neighbors who woke up early on a Sunday morning to ride 25 miles in support of the arts.

To be honest, I joined the ride because it’s fun. But the lines between work and play can blur very easily for non-profit professionals, so I’m going to put on my Director of Visitor Services hat and talk to you a little bit about how I see bicycles, cars, and all things public access.

Because “parking” is a part of my job description at the Milwaukee Art Museum.

Art Behind the Scenes Museum Buildings

A Beautiful Friendship: The Museum Store Welcomes Milwaukee Artist Chrisanne Robertson

Chrisanne Robertson's illustration in the Museum Store. Photo by the author
Chrisanne Robertson’s illustration in the Museum Store. Photo by the author.

This winter, the Art Museum Store has had the good fortune to forge a new and wonderful relationship with an exciting Milwaukee artist, Chrisanne Robertson.

Education Museum Buildings

Art inspired by technology

The Museum's Kohl’s Art Generation Studio doors. Frosted at left, clear at right!

The Kohl’s Art Generation Studio has some very nifty doors.  They appear to be frosted glass, until you flip a light switch and *click* they are clear.  How do they work?!? Here is a full scientific explanation, thanks to the Department of Engineering at the University of Cambridge.

Art Museum Buildings

From the Collection: Marble Through the Ages

Gaetano Trentanove, The Last of the Spartans, ca. 1892 (detail). Marble. Layton Art Collection, Gift of William E. Cramer. Photo by the author.

The Museum Collection contains endless stories. Our paintings hold narratives of mythological legends; decorative art objects tell us of life way-back-when; contemporary art puts our finger on the pulse of what is going on now. But have you ever traced a story through the Collection? There are many ways to do this: you could follow an artist’s work through his or her lifetime, a collector’s vision (Mrs. Bradley, Mr. Layton, the list goes on…), or you could really veer off the beaten track and follow the story of a material—you know, what an art object is made out of. One of our super-star materials? Marble!