The graceful Quadracci Pavilion is a sculptural, postmodern addition to the Milwaukee Art Museum completed in 2001, designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. A 1975 addition had increased space five-fold, but the Museum remained hidden from public view on the lower floors of the War Memorial Center. A $10 million then-anonymous gift from Betty and Harry Quadracci kicked off a capital campaign.
In 1994, the Museum’s search committee convinced Santiago Calatrava to submit a proposal and was wowed by his creative design. Calatrava, inspired by the “dramatic, original building by Eero Saarinen, …the topography of the city” and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie-style architecture, initially proposed a small addition, with a pedestrian bridge connecting the Museum to downtown. As excitement over the project grew, fundraising accelerated and the project evolved, with the architect and Museum trustees sharing ideas.
The 142,050-square-foot Quadracci Pavilion was planned to primarily contain public spaces—a reception hall, auditorium, café, store, and parking, plus 10,000 square feet of flexible space for temporary exhibitions. Calatrava later said, “I had clients who truly wanted from me the best architecture that I could do. Their ambition was to create something exceptional for their community…. Thanks to them, this project responds to the culture of the lake: the sailboats, the weather, the sense of motion and change.”
The structure incorporates both cutting-edge technology and old-world craftsmanship. The hand-built structure was made largely by pouring concrete into one-of-a-kind wooden forms. It is a building that could have only been done in a city with Milwaukee’s strong craft tradition