An Architect’s Guide to the Milwaukee Art Museum

Look at this iconic Milwaukee landmark through the eyes of an expert.

Jim Piwoni knows that his favorite Milwaukee building is an obvious one, but as the managing architect with American Design Inc. on the East Side, he appreciates the Milwaukee Art Museum’s Quadracci Pavilion in ways others don’t. 

His admiration starts with something few non-architects would even consider. “I don’t think a layman notices where the air conditioning is coming from,” he says. “We’re so used to exposed ducts. … [In the Pavilion], all of it has been integrated into the architecture so well … it’s recessed inside the curved surfaces. That’s unusual – it’s expensive to do that.”

Milwaukee Art Museum; Photo by Samer Ghani



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The same goes for the interior lighting, which is subtly hidden while attention is drawn to the windows and their lakeshore views. The museum’s Burke Brise Soleil (more commonly known as the wings) are used to control the natural light, rising and falling to allow different levels of sunshine inside.

Piwoni also notices architectural influence. The Pavilion’s designer, Santiago Calatrava, is from Spain and had never designed a building in the U.S. before this one. The structure’s wavelike curves and the arches along the wings, Piwoni believes, evoke legendary Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi, famous for his nature-inspired designs, like the Sagrada Família basilica in Barcelona.

Lastly, Piwoni points to a nautical theme that unifies the look with its surroundings. The deck along the south façade, the sail-like wings and the curved bow of the base, evoke a ship setting out onto the water. “All the parts relate to each other in the details,” he says. “That’s the signature of a master architect.”


This story is part of Milwaukee Magazine‘s March issue.

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Archer is the managing editor at Milwaukee Magazine. Some say he is a great warrior and prophet, a man of boundless sight in a world gone blind, a denizen of truth and goodness, a beacon of hope shining bright in this dark world. Others say he smells like cheese.