Milwaukee Art Museum – Calatrava Addition

A building inspired by the wings of a bird

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

A flight into Milwaukee takes you over Lake Michigan and its shoreline. Look out the window and you’ll see an ultra-modern white structure that looks like the prow of a ship jutting out into the water. Morespecifically, a ship with wings. It is the Calatrava addition to the Milwaukee Art Museum – a structure proclaimed by Time Magazine as the Best Design of 2001. It is also the first U.S. project designed by the internationally celebrated Spanish architect, Santiago Calatrava.

Kahler Slater, a long-time friend and architect partner of the Milwaukee Art Museum complex, was chosen to manifest Calatrava’s vision, inspired by the wings of a bird, of a building that could take flight. Our design team turned his watercolor sketches into a landmark museum known around the world for its design and pioneering in engineering. Instantly recognizable as a Calatrava design – with its aerodynamic planes and mechanical brise soleil, which opens and folds like bird wings – the addition was built entirely inside a concrete envelope sunk into the waters of Lake Michigan. A new main entrance opens into a soaring, 90-ft., reception hall built entirely of glass specially treated to protect the priceless art within. A cabled pedestrian bridge is suspended by a mast, further evoking the feeling of maritime birds and sailboats aloft on light and air. The Milwaukee public instantly embraced the museum as their new point of pride. Milwaukeeans of all walks of life eagerly tracked the addition’s progress as it was being built. And on opening day over 30,000 went through the addition, where the museum’s highest daily visitation rate before then was only 10,000. Today, the iconic image of the winged architecture is the logo for Milwaukee’s Convention and Visitors Bureau.

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