Art gifts

Santiago Calatrava is in town to celebrate the Milwaukee Museum of Art


RELATED: Calatrava Revisits Its Iconic Milwaukee Design, Over 20 Years Later


Photo courtesy of Santiago Calatrava

The renowned architect whose work left an indelible mark on Milwaukee has returned to the city for the first time in more than two decades.

Santiago Calatrava has gained worldwide recognition for his design of the Quadracci Pavilion, a stunning addition to the Milwaukee Museum of Art along the city lake which opened in September 2001.

The eye-catching project was Calatrava’s first in the United States and led to other major works and commissions, including the Oculus Transportation Hub at Manhattan’s World Trade Center, which features some of the same striking design elements seen in the Quadracci pavilion.

Many were on hand to greet Calatrava as he stood in the pavilion’s atrium on Wednesday morning, his appearance capping a year-long celebration of the project’s 20th anniversary. He eventually made his way to Lubar’s pristine auditorium, where he gave a short speech, repeatedly holding back tears.

“I must say that entering the museum was like opening day for me,” said the 71-year-old Spaniard. “It is so well preserved, so beautifully preserved and with such care. You see, it is very important. It means respect for the work, respect for all the people who have worked here.


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Calatrava said he has vivid memories of working on the project, even though he hasn’t been to Milwaukee since the Quadracci Pavilion officially opened in October 2001.

Construction on the $121 million project began in 1997 and was completed four years later.

“Everyone who enters the Quadracci Pavilion feels a sense of pride and a sense of awe and a sense of inspiration and aspiration,” said Marcelle Polednik, Donna and Donald Baumgartner Director of the Milwaukee Art Museum.

“The building also elevated our purpose to the Milwaukee Museum of Art and created a truly iconic structure that aligns with this institution’s iconic mission. It has also elevated the stature of Milwaukee and our community as a whole over the past 20 years.

The Quadracci Pavilion has had a lasting impact on the city, Polednik said.

Santiago Calatrava presenting his plans for the Quadracci Pavilion, 1996; Photo by Lila Aryan

“In 1994 when we started this process, we thought we would have a nice building,” she said. “Ultimately, what we received as a gift from Mr. Calatrava was a sense of destiny, a sense of hope and aspiration for our community.”

The 142,050 square foot structure houses a ballroom, auditorium, large exhibit space, store, cafes and parking lot. Windhover Hall, the grand reception area, is one of many architectural highlights. Featuring flying buttresses, pointed arches, ribbed vaults, and a central nave topped by a 90-foot-high glass roof, it represents Calatrava’s interpretation of a Gothic cathedral. The chancel hall is shaped like the bow of a ship, with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Lake Michigan.

Adjoining the central hall are two arched promenades, the Baumgartner and Schroeder galleries, with stunning views of the lake and the city center. The museum’s signature design element is its winged wings, called Burke Brise Soleil, which form a 217-foot-wide movable sunscreen.

Photo courtesy of Milwaukee Museum of Art

Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley said the building has become “rooted in Milwaukee’s DNA.”

Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson credited the project with “redefining” Milwaukee.

“It’s very fitting that there are wings on this building, as the work you’ve done has helped build momentum for the city that has launched a renaissance and a new sense of pride in Milwaukee,” said he declared.

Johnson issued a proclamation designating Friday as Santiago Calatrava Day in the city. In recognition of this honor, the Milwaukee Art Museum is offering free admission on Fridays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Calatrava became emotional when Johnson presented the proclamation to him.

“I’m speechless,” Calatrava said. “It’s something completely unexpected. It’s a great honor, really.

Calatrava praised everyone who made the project a reality and repeatedly stressed how welcome he felt in the community.

“It was worth coming here and living among you,” Calatrava said.


Photo by Rich Rovito

Photo by Rich Rovito

Photo by Rich Rovito

Photo by Rich Rovito

Photo by Rich Rovito

Photo by Rich Rovito

Photo by Rich Rovito

Photo by Rich Rovito

Photo by Rich Rovito

Photo by Rich Rovito

Photo by Rich Rovito






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