5/28/12

Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee WI

To gaze upon Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava's only building in the United States is a moving experience. Literally. Perched on the western shore of Lake Michigan, the spectacular structure features massive wings weighing over 90 tons that open and close twice daily. 


Spanning 217 feet when open, the wings also close automatically if winds off the lake are over 23 knots for three minutes or longer - quite a spectacular sight to see the the building come to life as it responds to inclement weather conditions. Can you think of another structure that's so connected to nature?

Quadracci Pavilion is named after the founders of Quad Graphics. The Milwaukee-based printing company - second largest in the western hemisphere - is responsible for hundreds of publications, including Architectural Digest, Sports Illustrated, and National Geographic to name a few. The iconic silhouette (below) has become the Milwaukee Art Museum's logo as well as the symbol of the proud city it inhabits. 

Dramatic lighting effects from the Burke Brise Soleil change constantly due to time of day, weather conditions, and open and closed positioning of the wings. The soaring interior is often compared to a cathedral.
Windhover Hall is a popular venue for weddings and receptions. Laurence Tamaccio has fun with photos (above) taken at an opening reception during Biedermeier: The Invention of Simplicity. The internationally acclaimed exhibition was organized by, and opened at, the Milwaukee Art Museum, - the only American venue - before traveling through Europe to its final destination: the Louvre in Paris.

Two long, windowed halls (below) connect old and new structures, nestling gallery spaces, auditorium, and the museum gift shop in between. On one side, a pedestrian bridge (above) crosses beautiful gardens, fountains, and busy Lake Drive to connect museum and city, while the other side boasts gorgeous lake views.



Innumerable opportunities for light to slice through the building at unusual angles create interesting shadow play on the white marble floors and structural shapes and surfaces.
Both halls provide additional gallery space for changing exhibitions and open onto the Quadracci Pavilion's main reception area, Windhover Hall.
Dale Chihuly's glass sculpture explodes with curlicued colors in contrast to Alexander Calder's serenely contained mobile of circles - a shape repeated in the elevator, stair shafts, and 'portholes' in the walls.


No detail was overlooked. Calatrava designed everything from the gift shop's elegant display units to the heated underground parking structure beneath the museum. White and well-lit with repeating structural design elements from above, the architect has elevated the status of the lowly parking lot. And if you happen to go on a freezing or rainy day, the welcome blast of warmth upon exiting your car is a godsend.



Early morning finds the sun rising over Lake Michigan to the east and the Brise Soleil still closed. Notice the rectangular building in the far background....it's important.




Some of my favorite memories at MAM involve snow storms of the white-out variety. One was during the final hour, on the final day of the incredible Gees Bend Quilters exhibition, and I was the final visitor. Standing alone at the prow, protected from the snow silently swirling around me, I had Calatrava's magical 'ship' all to myself for a quiet moment. It's a humbling experience to be enveloped in such a powerful space.


But Calatrava isn't the only architectural luminary to hold a claim on the Milwaukee Art Museum. The 'floating building' of rectangles in the distance holds an important pedigree, and the architects may have more of a connection than one would first imagine. We'll get into that in the next post. See you then!
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Keep cruisin'....
          Kimball Art Museum
Modern Art Museum
                    Dallas Museum of Art
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