Milwaukee Art Museum
Milwaukee, Wisconsin
1994 - 2001

Photos courtesy Santiago Calatrava archives

Invited competition

The Milwaukee Art Museum, which overlooks Lake Michigan, was partially housed in a building designed in 1957 by Eero Saarinen as a war memorial.

Further exhibition space was created in 1975 by David Kahlerıs addition that extends to the waterıs edge and effectively creates a plinth on the axis of the Saarinen building.

The Saarinen-Kahler ensemble, a concrete structure with rectangular geometry, is connected to the city by a concrete bridge.

The competition brief stipulated a new grand entrance, a point of orientation for visitors, and a redefinition of the museumıs identity through the creation of a strong image.

Calatrava proposed a pavilion-like construction, on axis with Wisconsin Avenue, the main street of central Milwaukee. Conceived as an independent entity the white steel-and-concrete form, reminiscent of a ship, contrasts the existing ensemble in both geometry and materials.

Being linked directly to Wisconsin Avenue via a cable-stay footbridge, pedestrians may cross busy Lincoln Memorial Drive on the bridge and continue into the pavilion. Drivers enter via an underground vaulted parking garage where pairs of canted concrete columns, down the center of the garage, form a skeleton like series of elements shaped like the letter "V."

The design allows for future expansion, offset from but symmetrical to the exhibition facilities, on the other side of the Kahler building.  At shore level, the expansion houses the atrium, gallery space for temporary exhibitions, an education center with a 300-seat lecture hall, and a gift shop. The 100-seat restaurant, placed at the focal point of the pavilion, commands panoramic views onto the lake.

The pavilion features a spectacular kinetic structure, a brise-soleil with louvers that open and close like the wings of a great bird.  When open the shape also becomes a sign, set against the backdrop of the lake, to herald the inauguration of new exhibitions.  The pivot line for the slats is based on the axis of a linear mast, inclined at 47 degrees, as a parallel to the adjacent bridge mast.

The expansion added 13,200 square meters to the existing 14,900 square meters, including a linear glass and stainless steel wing, with lamella roof, that is set at a right angle to Saarinenıs structure.

Client: Milwaukee Art Museum