Quadracci Pavilion and Cudahy Gardens, Milwaukee Art Museum

Milwaukee, WI

Contributed by Project for Public Spaces

A marvelous feat of architecture, engineering and art that nonetheless fails miserably as a public space.

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Why It Doesn't Work

A great icon and point of pride for Milwaukee, the Quadracci pavilion and surrounding public spaces fail monumentally as a public destination. Despite its location at downtown’s waterfront edge, the building seems to shun any association with its urban context. The sculptural building pushes itself away from the city, the old museum and even from the water itself, that it offers no connection with, other to support its grand visibility.

The Pavillion is best approached and entered by car on the wide roads that separate it from the overtly obstructive and unusable Cudahy Gardens designed by Dan Kiley. The Gardens walking paths, and grass are really only designed to be looked at and there is really no place to sit, walk, gather or find protection. The museum has regretted that the gardens were not designed to be more active, but is prevented from altering the original design.

The old wing of the museum (that still has most of the gallery space), though likely thought of as failed architecture of a not-so-far-gone era, seems an obvious foreshadowing of how the new building will be viewed in another 20 years.

Inside the frictionless environment of the pavilion, there is really not much to do. There does not seem to be much art inside and the two small galleries seem rather uninteresting and unimportant in the belly of this bold architecture. The main attraction is the view, and the gift shop is really as nice as they come!

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