The Milwaukee Art Museum, which overlooks Lake Michigan, was partially housed in a building designed in 1957 by Eero Saarinen as a war memorial. From the outset, two lower floors were allocated for use as an art gallery. Further exhibition space was created in 1975 by David Kahler’s 160,000 square meter addition — a structure that extends to the water’s edge and effectively creates a plinth on the axis of the Saarinen building. The Saarinen-Kahler ensemble is notable for its massive character: a concrete structure with rectangular geometry, connected to the city by a concrete bridge. However, despite its growing importance, the museum lacked architectural identity and functional clarity.
Calatrava proposed a pavilion-like construction on axis with Wisconsin Avenue, the main street of central Milwaukee. Conceived as an independent entity, the pavilion contrasts to the existing ensemble in both geometry and materials, as a white steel-and-concrete form reminiscent of a ship. It is 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. Most visitors, though, will drive to the museum, entering either from a vaulted underground parking garage or from a drop-off in front of the new entrance.
The design adds 13,200 square meters to the existing 14,900 square meters, including a linear wing (made of glass and stainless steel, with lamella roof) that is set at a right angle to Saarinen’s structure. 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; 1,500 square meters of gallery space for temporary exhibitions; an education center with 300-seat lecture hall; and a gift shop. The 100-seat restaurant, which is placed at the focal point of the pavilion, commands panoramic views onto the lake.
The pavilion features a spectacular kinetic structure: a bris-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 bris-soleil’s slats is based on the axis of a linear mast, inclined at 47 degrees, as a parallel to the adjacent bridge mast.
1994 - 2001
700 N. Art Museum Drive
- Business Journal '2010 Project of the Decade Real Estate Award'
- IABSE Outstanding Structure Award
- SEAOI '2002 Excellence in Design Award for Best Large Structure'
- Time Magazine 'Best of 2001' for the Milwaukee Art Museum