The graceful Quadracci Pavilion is a sculptural, postmodern addition to the Milwaukee Art Museum completed in 2001, designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. A 1975 addition had increased space five-fold, but the Museum remained hidden from public view on the lower floors of the War Memorial Center. A $10 million then-anonymous gift from Betty and Harry Quadracci kicked off a capital campaign.
In 1994, the Museum’s search committee convinced Santiago Calatrava to submit a proposal and was wowed by his creative design. Calatrava, inspired by the “dramatic, original building by Eero Saarinen, …the topography of the city” and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie-style architecture, initially proposed a small addition, with a pedestrian bridge connecting the Museum to downtown. As excitement over the project grew, fundraising accelerated and the project evolved, with the architect and Museum trustees sharing ideas.
The 142,050-square-foot Quadracci Pavilion was planned to primarily contain public spaces—a reception hall, auditorium, café, store, and parking, plus 10,000 square feet of flexible space for temporary exhibitions. Calatrava later said, “I had clients who truly wanted from me the best architecture that I could do. Their ambition was to create something exceptional for their community…. Thanks to them, this project responds to the culture of the lake: the sailboats, the weather, the sense of motion and change.”
The structure incorporates both cutting-edge technology and old-world craftsmanship. The hand-built structure was made largely by pouring concrete into one-of-a-kind wooden forms. It is a building that could have only been done in a city with Milwaukee’s strong craft tradition.
Windhover Hall is the grand entrance hall for the Quadracci Pavilion. It is Santiago Calatrava’s postmodern interpretation of a Gothic Cathedral, complete with flying buttresses, pointed arches, ribbed vaults, and a central nave topped by a 90-foot-high glass roof. An average-sized, two-story family home would fit comfortably inside the reception hall.
The hall’s chancel is shaped like the prow of a ship, with floor-to-ceiling windows looking over Lake Michigan. Adjoining the central hall are two tow-arched promenades, the Baumgartner Galleria and Schroeder Foundation Galleria, with expansive views of the lake and downtown.
The Museum’s signature wings, the Burke Brise Soleil, form a moveable sunscreen with a 217-foot wingspan. The brise soleil is made up of 72 steel fins, ranging in length from 26 to 105 feet. The entire structure weighs 90 tons. It takes 3.5 minutes for the wings to open or close. Sensors on the fins continually monitor wind speed and direction; whenever winds exceed 23 mph for more than 3 seconds, the wings close automatically.
According to Santiago Calatrava, “in the crowning element of the brise soleil, the building’s form is at once formal (completing the composition), functional (controlling the level of light), symbolic (opening to welcome visitors), and iconic (creating a memorable image for the Museum and the city).”
The “wings” open at 10 a.m. in accordance with regular days of operation, close/reopen at noon, and close at 5 p.m. (8 p.m. on Thursdays). Schedule is subject to change without advance notice due to weather/maintenance.