Santiago Calatrava buildings make for exquisitely beautiful
photographs. The purity of the white forms contrasted against the blue of the
sky is stunning and his expressively approach to structure is nothing if not
sexy. There for a while it seemed like
every major city was clamoring to get a piece of the action. Dallas even ordered three of his bridges to
prove how awesome it is (so far, they’ve only managed to build one of them).
But a recent New York Times article paints a rather
unflattering picture of Calatrava’s operation from a service standpoint. Although his projects may be beautiful they are
egregiously expensive, often costing many times more than what their original
budget allowed while containing technical flaws that later required expensive remedies.
I do not doubt the truth of this reporting – stories of this
sort of thing have accompanied the handful of Calatrava projects I’ve
experienced in person. My take is the
Calatrava is a compelling teller of fantastical tales. His story is that if we rationally express
structure and function, it will look like his pristine and futuristic forms.
But reality is usually a whole lot more messy than his
stories would lead us to believe and one’s suspension of disbelief is broken
whenever the “purity” of his approach collides with the reality of a building
code or life-safety requirement.
Don’t get me wrong, Clatrava does what he does remarkably
well, but it comes at a cost. So long as
clients are willing to pay that price, I see no issue with what he does. But to the extent that he propogates the
impression that architects design expensive pretty things of only limited
relevance, it could be argued that Calatrava hurts the profession.