May 04: Up, Up and Away

2016/05/04 § Leave a comment

On this day in 2001 the Quadracci Pavilion at the Milwaukee Art Museum opened.

Although it’s pretty standard to describe a newly accessible building as being ‘open,’ in this case, it is a literal description: the building opened as few do. The Quadracci Pavilion is the showiest part of the big addition that Santiago Calatrava (b. 1951) made to the existing museum that, as an institution, has roots in the nineteenth century.  It is basically a big hall of unusual shape–maybe owing something to Saarinen’s TWA Terminal, if anything–with a 90′ ceiling, great views over Lake Michigan, and the requisite number of Chihuly sculptures currently required of museum-cum-event spaces.  As such, it’s a reasonable, even pretty nifty, version of the Cocktail Party Fundraising and Wedding Rental Space that all big city museums appear to be in dire need of presently.  But Milwaukee got something special when they got Calatrava: someone with an ear for the lyrical nature of the waterfront site, and an eye for the elegant in structural gymnastics.  Thus, the movable sun screen (officially and lucratively named the Burke Brise Soleil).  Comprising 72 steel fins and measuring a wingspan of 217 feet at its widest point, the whole thing flaps (well, verrryyyyy slllllllowwwwwwwyyyyyyyy) to ostensibly control the temperature and light in the space.  Seeing that it goes up and down, treating its sides symmetrically, on a set time table, and that there is very little ‘art’ in the room, this ‘function’ is a bit dubious.  Let’s be honest, Milwaukee: you got lucky and built this thing before the bubble burst and had a zillion dollars to throw at a gizmo-building that is itself a fundraiser even before you order the canapés and chablis for donor night.  There’s no shame in that.  Own it!

To see the brise soleil in action, go to Milwaukee.  

Or, watch this, which is Calatrava’s own animation.  Granted, it moves faster than the real thing, but it will save you (1) a few minutes (2) seasickness from watching crummy footage from some architecture major’s YouTube channel and most importantly (3) the bizarre amount of slow jam ambiance that a lot of people have added to their poor films of this thing in action.  Really people, it is just a building.  Do not cue the Barry White.

Image: one of the wings (Clio’s)

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