We have a beautiful art museum here in Milwaukee. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the opening of the Quadracci Pavilion, designed by Santiago Calatrava. It was an expansion of the art museum, an addition to the already existing Saarinen building. The “wings” of the Burke Brise Soleil that you see in this picture actually open and close. Weather permitting, this happens on a daily basis. A world renowned and revered architect, this was Calatrava’s first building in the United States. It is a source of great pride for us Milwaukeans to have such a structure in our city. We don’t have a lot of tall buildings downtown. There’s an ordinance about just how tall a building can be, so we have no skyscrapers. If you’re in downtown Milwaukee, this lack gives you the impression that Milwaukee isn’t a very big or interesting city. But if you’re standing or driving along Wisconsin Avenue and facing east towards the lake, this building is an awe-inspiring sight.

Santiago Calatrava designs buildings and bridges with concrete, steel, and glass that look structurally impossible. His waves, wings, skeletons, and ribs seem to defy gravity. He’s not only an architect, but also has a Ph.D. in civil engineering, so he knows how to design buildings that are actually meant to move. When you’re standing in Windhover Hall (pictured to the right), you see no pillars, no obvious means of support. And yet there are 200 tons of moving concrete and steel above you! Walking into the MAM just makes me happy, no matter what exhibits are there, no matter what part of the museum I’ve decided to see on that visit. I think it’s great that a building that houses art is such a beautiful work of art.

I’ve often felt that to make jewelry one has to be an engineer as well as an artist. You have to know how a piece works, how it will open and close, how the elements fit together, how it will look on the person that wears it, whether or not it will be comfortable to wear. All of these concerns have to be engineered into the finished piece. With some things it comes easily. For a simple pendant on a chain you may only have to determine the length of the chain. But some pieces have moving parts. A brooch, for example – where will the pin back go? What direction should it face, should it go across the back vertically or horizontally and open to the left or to the right? How long should it be? Jewelry artists have lots of engineering decisions to make. And beyond all that, will the person who owns the piece of jewelry be happy with it? Will they enjoy owning it, looking at it, wearing it?

So, here’s to the artists who are also engineers among us. May we inspire one another. And here’s to the Milwaukee Art Museum as they celebrate the 10th anniversary of their beautiful Calatrava.


2 responses

  1. Pingback: Dissecting Desert Peas

  2. I watched the wings open the other day – I was out for a run and the music that announces the opening and closing of the building made me stop and watch. What awed me especially was that I COULDN’T EVEN HEAR the wings move!!! I can’t imagine making something that big, that heavy, and move THAT much without any squeaking or scraping. You can’t even (really) see the mechanism – you’d think once you walk inside you’d see a bunch of pulleys or gears or something, but it’s all so expertly hidden…
    Anywhoo, nice post. What did you go see at the museum? Any inspirations there? 😉


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