Calatrava: Art in Motion

The exclusive and limited pantheon of Wisconsin architectural gems found a new member in the Milwaukee Art Musuem's Quadracci Pavilion, and its creator, Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, is poised to rival Wisconsin native Frank Lloyd Wright in terms of popularity and reverence thanks to that structure.

In October 2001, Calatrava's addition to the Milwaukee Art Museum was completed. When the last of the structure's 915 panes of glass was set into its casing and the final white steel rib hoisted into place, the world took a step back and gasped.

The Quadracci Pavilion, with its soaring wing-like structure, the Burke Brise Soleil, was the first building designed by Calatrava to be completed in the United States, according to the museum, and its innovative design caught the attention of critics worldwide, particularly because Calatrava was then known more for his European bridges than anything else.

The accolades came thick and fast: Time Magazine awarded it a "Best of 2001" award, and Conde Nast Traveler magazine named it one of the "New Wonders of the World." Home & Away Magazine's readers gave the Milwaukee Art Museum the fourth spot on the magazine's list of top art museums in 2003, and USA Weekend named the museum as one of the five most important buildings of the 21st century. Toyota even used the addition as a backdrop in ads for its 2004 Solara.

Among Calatrava's 12 honorary doctorates is one from the Milwaukee School of Engineering, according to museum publicity.

Since designing the pavilion, Calatrava has been inundated with offers from across the Americas and Europe. His highest-profile project to date is the Athens Olympic Stadium Complex, where the Summer Olympic Games will be held in August.

Although Athens 2004 officials admit the project is mired in difficulties and is not yet complete, Calatrava has yet to flag even slightly. The abundance of praise for the pavilion launched Calatrava into a career as one of the world's most in-demand architects.

Two of Calatrava's upcoming projects, in fact, are in the United States.

A Calatrava design to be built on the former site of the World Trade Center is in the works in New York City, where the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is building a new $2 billion transit hub for its rapid-transit line to replace the previous hub destroyed in the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Calatrava was sub-contracted by the firm hired to build the station, which helped that firm acquire the Port Authority commission, Port Authority spokesman Steve Coleman said.

"We were familiar with his work all over the world and our goal was to have a station to rival transit stations around the country," Coleman said. Calatrava's involvement "was a key component of the selection process."

Calatrava's design echoes that of the Quadracci Pavilion and Burke Brise Soleil in that it calls for wings of white steel ribs and multiple panes of planar glass. The design was first displayed in January, Coleman said, and immediately won a warm reception.

"When it was unveiled in January, it got rave reviews from everyone, and it's still earning rave reviews," Coleman said.

Calatrava aficionados can also anticipate a building of their favorite architect's design to soar above the peach trees of Georgia approximately five years from now when the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra's new Atlanta Symphony Center is completed in autumn 2009.

Although Calatrava has not yet submitted a design, Atlantans are delighted that the Symphony's task force ended their nine-month search by selecting Calatrava's from the pool of 59 architectural firms that applied for the project, according to Minde Herbert, director of public relations for the symphony.

"Atlanta is thrilled, especially after getting to know him and getting to know his designs," Herbert said.

Undisputedly, Calatrava's unique designs are what make him so desirable.

"He is probably, in this era, one of the very few architects who designs in an innovative way," said Frederick Gibson of Frederick Clifford Gibson Architect & Associates, a San Francisco-based architecture firm that has designed buildings in Wisconsin.

Gibson said he has followed Calatrava's work ever since seeing Calatrava's Alamillo Bridge, a bridge over Seville's Guadalquivir River that looks as if a giant steel tower is falling backwards and pulling the wires that elevate the roadway below taut.

Gibson said it is Calatrava's doctorate in civil engineering — something uncommon in architecture — that enables him to design such imaginative buildings.

"Normally, a structural engineer does buildings they've always been done before," Gibson said. "Calatrava is able to think about the underlying fabric of architecture and come up with a design that's never been done before."

"He is able to create almost poetry with a building, and almost no one can do that," Gibson said.

Calatrava was born near Valencia, on Spain's Mediterranean coast, on July 28, 1951. A biography of Calatrava distributed by the Milwaukee Art Museum reports that after receiving a degree in architecture from Valencia's Escuela Tecnica Superior de Arquitecta, Calatrava then went to The Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, Switzerland, and received a Ph.D. in civil engineering.

Calatrava remained at The Federal Institute of Technology as an assistant immediately after graduating, the biography reports, but also began to accept small engineering commissions. Soon, he was entering architecture competitions. He won his first competition in 1983 with his design proposal for Zurich's Stadelhofen Railway Station, a long curving platform featuring Calatrava's signature ribs and arches that is partially built into a hill.

After designing the Stadelhofen, Calatrava kept busy by designing bridges, many of which are in Spain. His first Olympic commission was the Bach de Roda Bridge, commissioned for the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona.

In 1989, Calatrava's Zurich-based firm, Santiago Calatrava SA, opened a second office in Paris. Two years later, a third office in Valencia followed.

The projects came flowing in, from a shopping mall in Toronto to a winery in LaGuardia, Spain. Since the completion of the Quadracci Pavilion, Calatrava has accepted commissions to design bridges in Dublin, Tel Aviv and Redding, Calif.