In 1994, the Zurich-based architect Santiago Calatrava got a call inviting him to submit a design for a proposed addition to the Milwaukee Art Museum. He promptly went to a map. "I knew it was in the Midwest, having been to Chicago," Calatrava says. But over the next seven years, the architect, 53, would become intimately acquainted with the city on the shores of Lake Michigan. Calatrava, who trained as an architect and an engineer, visited Milwaukee some 43 times to oversee the $95 million project, which was completed in October 2001.
The result was Calatrava's first structure in this country, the 144,000-square-foot Quadracci Pavilion, named for philanthropist Betty Quadracci and her late husband, Harry. "It's an extravaganza," wrote the New Yorker's Paul Goldberger in 2001, "that says something about the exhilaration of well-crafted structures, and about the ennobling potential of public places." Now the architect, who was born in Spain and is best known for his bridges and train stations, is designing the glassed-in transit center for the World Trade Center site.
In Milwaukee, the exterior of the pavilion is configured as a glass-and-steel cone. The interior faces the lake, offering unimpeded views of water and sky. "I worked to infuse the building with a sensitivity to the unbounded, wind-swept grandeur of the lake," says the architect.
The structure's soaring glass roof, with a 90-foot apex, is fitted with a series of steel louvers that, when closed, function as a sunscreen. The two wings of the hinged roof are opened at 10 a.m. and closed at 5 p.m. most days. When they are open, the wingspan extends more than 200 feet. "You can imagine that roof as just about anything," said a recent visitor, "a bird, a plane, even a ship."
The Calatrava addition has drawn increasing numbers of visitors—500,000 in 2002, up from 160,000 the year before—to the 117-year-old institution's collections, which include old masters; a large number of works by Georgia O'Keeffe; folk art and Haitian painting; and 19th- and 20th-century American and European works.
Calatrava calls the city of 596,000 a "well-kept secret" that earned an indelible place in his heart. He says his experience there, where he made many friends, was rooted in "the warmth of its people."