Bel Mooney can see the point of contemporary architecture when she looks at Calatrava’s Milwaukee pavilion – whereas a Bath hotel just shows up the mistakes of the modern age
I was making a Radio 4 programme about the centenary of the Harley Davidson company in a snow-covered Milwaukee when I found this amazing building.
The Quadracci Pavilion at Wisconsin’s Milwaukee Art Museum seems to have settled on Lake Michigan like a great bird or a ship. It even has wings or sails that open and close according to the weather – the Burke Brise Soleil. You can stand in the museum’s Windhover Hall and look through them at the sky or the lake.
In terms of architecture, I’m conservative with a small “c” and I sympathise with the Prince of Wales. But when I entered this museum, I remembered why people got so excited about truly innovative modern architecture. I wouldn’t say it had changed my opinion of contemporary building, though. You have to take each case as it comes.
My blunder is the Hilton hotel in Bath, the beautiful Georgian city where I live. I pass it whenever I go shopping and look at its lack of shape, spits of concrete and meagre little windows. It’s an excrescence.
It must have been built in the sixties or the seventies and there is nothing attractive about it whatsoever. What is worse is that it backs onto the River Avon, where you would expect there to be lovely arches and walkways.
It epitomises all of the mistakes that have been made in our town centres by modern architects who, at great cost to us, did their four-year training and came up with stuff like that – and of course it’s replicated all over the country.
The Quadracci Pavilion at Wisconsin’s Milwaukee Art Museum, which houses 25,000 works of art, was designed by Santiago Calatrava with Kahler Slater Architects as project architect. The pavilion, which opened in 2001, has moveable brise-soleils open up to 217ft during the day. It holds the museum’s shop as well as a cafe named after the designer.
The 156-room Beaufort hotel was built in 1973 and stands next to Pulteney bridge. In 1989 it was bought by Hilton and renamed the Bath City hotel.
Bel Mooney is a writer and broadcaster who has a column in the Daily Mail and whose latest children's books are the Bonnie series for Walker Books