When finished, the $25 million project will give the museum 17,000 square feet more space and renovate two of its older buildings, including the War Memorial Center designed by modernist architect Eero Saarinen, whose works include the Gateway Arch in St. Louis.
Milwaukee architect Jim Shields, of HGA Architects and Engineers, came up with something respectful and mindful of both Saarinen's and Calatrava's designs, said Dan Keegan, director of the Milwaukee Art Museum.
"We realized the goal here in the design of this building is not to try to compete with (the Saarinen building) and similarly the goal of this addition was not to try to replicate what is going (with the Calatrava designed building)," Keegan said.
The addition will be light colored and glassy, like the Calatrava building with its glass ceiling and moveable sunscreen, which opened in 2001 as Calatrava's first completed project in the United States. The addition will also have a cantilevered aspect, like Saarinen's building.
The extra space allows more of its 30,000 works to be on view, Keegan said. Currently, only 2,000 to 3,000 pieces can be viewed at any given time in its 345,000 square feet. The addition will also allow visitors to make a circular path around the permanent collection for the first time and allow a lakeside entrance.
Construction is expected to start this fall and the art in the two buildings will be put in storage until work is done in fall of 2015. The Calatrava addition, called the Quadracci Pavilion, will remain open.
The county owns the War Memorial Center, finished in 1957, and the Kahler Building from 1975, which both house the museum's permanent collection. They are chipping in $10 million to repair mold, a leaky roof, mold issues, broken concrete, leaking windows and foundation problems in the two buildings.
The museum is responsible for the $15 million, with $13 million already in the bank. Fundraising started two years ago, well after the recession ended, Keegan said.
Before the recession, there used to be a sense the money would never dry up, Keegan said, but now they have to be cautiously optimistic on such a project. He said they could have used even more space but decided it wasn't feasible.
"There is a more thorough vetting of what makes sense to make sure it's the right measure and the right proportion and it's not just an irrational exuberance around let's just build, build, build," he said.
Donors have always been cautious but now they are asking even more questions, he said.
"I think donors these days want to make sure their contributions are for generations and they want to make sure the change and improvements we are making are sustainable," he said.