We call the Milwaukee Art Museum’s Quadracci Pavilion “The Calatrava” so much that it’s perhaps easy to forget that Santiago Calatrava is a living, breathing person.
Twenty-one years after the opening the striking pavilion – the Spanish architect’s first building in the United States – Calatrava returned to Milwaukee on Wednesday for a 20th anniversary moment delayed by the pandemic.
In a press conference held early Wednesday afternoon alongside Mayor Cavalier Johnson, County Executive David Crowley and MAM’s Donna and Donald Baumgartner Director Marcelle Polednik, Calatrava spoke briefly on his Milwaukee landmark.
“Entering the museum it was for me like the opening,” he said. “It’s so well-preserved, so beautifully preserved and so much care has been taken, it means respect for the the work ... respect to all the people who have been working here.”
He also paid tribute to Milwaukee architect David Kahler of Kahler Slater, which worked with Calatrava on the design.
Ground was broken on the museum addition in 1997 and it opened in 2001.
“I cannot forget the person of David Kahler who was with me co-architect of this building,” Calatrava said. “He helped enormously. He used his enormous experience from a whole life as an architect to elaborate and make the precision and quality of all those details (that) are there.”
Afterward, Calatrava opined that his stunning, winged building – along with the Dan Kiley landscape – was “an anchor” for development in the area.
“It opened this part of the city,” he said, noticing the people walking, biking and running past. “The intention was to open the city to the lake. It was not only a contribution to the art, but a contribution to open the city to the lake.”
Polednik began the conference by thanking Calatrava for a “truly iconic” building.
“When this process was started in 1994, we though we’d get a beautiful building,” she said, “but what we got was a gift from Mr. Calatrava.
“All who walk into the Quadracci Pavilion feel a sense of pride, a sense of awe, of inspiration and aspiration.”
Crowley added that the building is “a work of art” and that “it is ingrained in Milwaukee’s DNA.”
Johnson expanded on the latter theme, calling the building, “an essential destination and a touchstone of civic pride.”
“For 20 years, the Quadracci Pavilion has helped to redefine Milwaukee,” the mayor said. “Everybody knows about the Quadracci Pavilion, about the Art Museum and what the symbol means.
“You jump started Milwaukee's renaissance,” added Johnson, addressing Calatrava. “It’s fitting that there are wings on this building because it gave lift to the city.”
Friday will be Santiago Calatrava Day in Milwaukee. @MayorOfMKE @DavidCrowleyWI @Milwaukeeatrisk @visitmilwaukee @MilwDowntown pic.twitter.com/k2kPlvCSkH — Bobby Tanzilo ð» (@BobbyOnMKEcom) September 14, 2022
Johnson then read a proclamation declaring Friday, Sept. 16, 2022 to be Santiago Calatrava Day in Milwaukee and presented a framed print of the proclamation to the architect.
The museum will offer free admission from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. on that day as part of the 20th anniversary celebration.
“This is really unexpected,” Calatrava said, visibly moved. “I’m speechless.”
Much like Milwaukee was and remains moved by his remarkably enduring building.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.