Growing up in Milwaukee, the Calatrava was that place you went to on boring art museum field trips (boring because you had to be quiet). It was the home to a countless number or high school winter formals and proms. It was the perfect backdrop to Fourth of July fireworks on the lakefront. It was a conversation starter - "Oh, how's the weather? Did the Calatrava have its wings up or down?" It wasn't until recently that I started to fully understand the not only architectural but also artistic genius behind the Calatrava.
The building was designed by Santiago Calatrava in 1994. When designing the building, Santiago wanted to incorporate the culture and history of Milwaukee's lakefront.
"Rather than just add something to the existing buildings, I also wanted to add something to the lakefront. I have therefore worked to infuse the building with a certain sensitivity to the culture of the lake - the boats, the sails and the always changing landscape" - Santiago Calatrava
He succeeded. Today, any school age child will be able to explain how when the wings are closed, its supposed to look like the sail of a sail boat with the cables of the bridge leading up to the mast while when the wings are open, it is meant to look like a sea bird in flight.
This feeling of freedom and openness one associates with the lakefront is carried out through the grand entrance and the reception hall. Made mainly of glass with the wings acting as a sort of sunscreen and temperature control, natural light floods the place and one does not feel as if they stepped into a building. Unlike other buildings, the Calatrava does not attempt to take you away from the outside but rather let the beauty of the outside in and enhance the building. The colorful play of light at night and the structural ingenuity has characterized our Milwaukee lakefront forever. In its complete uniqueness, it fills a space our city never knew was empty and yet now, we could not imagine our city without it. Much like Frank Gehry's buildings, people visit the Calatrava just for the experience. To me, that is when architecture has truly intertwined with art.