Full view of the Quadracci Pavilion with the Milwaukee skyline in the background

The Quadracci Pavilion

The Quadracci Pavilion is the iconic sculptural addition to the Milwaukee Art Museum designed by Santiago Calatrava. The Spanish architect was inspired by the “dramatic, original building by Eero Saarinen…the topography of the city” and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie-style architecture.

The 142,050-square-foot structure was completed in 2001 and houses a grand reception hall, an auditorium, a large exhibition space, a store, a café, and parking. Both cutting-edge technology and old-world craftsmanship went into creating the graceful building, which was made largely by pouring concrete into one-of-a-kind wooden forms.

Windhover Hall is the grand reception hall and among the pavilion’s many architectural highlights. Complete with flying buttresses, pointed arches, ribbed vaults, and a central nave topped by a 90-foot-high glass roof, it is Calatrava’s interpretation of a Gothic cathedral. An average-sized, two-story family home would fit comfortably inside it. 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 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, so when winds exceed 23 mph for more than 3 seconds, the wings close automatically.

According to Santiago Calatrava, the Quadracci Pavilion’s design “responds to the culture of the lake: the sailboats, the weather, the sense of motion and change.” And “in the crowning element of the brise soleil,” he stated, “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 expansion of the Museum was made possible through the generosity of donors in a capital campaign, with major funding provided by Betty and Harry Quadracci.