Santiago Calatrava by Benedetta Valabrega

Santiago Calatrava is a successful Spanish architect, engineer and artist who was born in Valencia in 1951. He graduated with an architecture degree from a university in his hometown and then moved to Zurich to study civil engineering. His style combines a visual concept of architecture with the principles of engineering. His works are often inspired by natural structures and his buildings are frequently biomorphic in appearance rather than rectilinear.

Unlike Frank Gehry’s obsession with the “skin” of buildings, Calatrava focuses principally on their “bones.[1]” His interest for structure and scientific composition are not to be confused with the modernist notion of “form follows function” and with its rejection of artifice and ornament. Calatrava is an authentic baroque artist who loves movement and curves. His architectonical solutions are theatrical and aim to marvel the spectators with their complex engineering and aesthetical design.

Calatrava uses art, in particular sculpture he does himself, as a source of inspiration for his projects. According to him “architecture and sculpture are two rivers where the same water flows. Imagined sculpture is unfettered plasticity, while architecture is plasticity that must submit to function, and to obvious notion of human scale. Where sculpture ignores function, unbowed by mundane question of use, it is superior to architecture as pure expression. But through its rapport with human scale and the environment, through its penetrability and interiority, architecture dominates sculpture in these specific areas. [2]

For instance he created the Turning Torso tower in Malmo, Sweden (1999-2005) from sketches of bodies twisting back upon themselves and, using the same ideas, he proposed the non-realized 80 South Street tower in New York city. Another example of biomorphic architecture is the Hemispheric, an eye-shaped planetarium, realized in 1998 for the City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia, Spain.

Santiago Calatrava is internationally known for his monumental bridges, which he identified as “collective symbols par excellence of the liberating power of creativity, hope and community.[3]”  In his opinion, bridges have a strong cultural potential, in fact they are efficient and available to everyone. Building a bridge is therefore a symbolic gesture of democratization of architecture that responds to people’s need of overcoming a barrier.

Some critics have tried to explain Calatrava’s fascination with bridges by drawing a parallel between his escape from the Franco’s Spain after his graduation and the sense of freedom and run away from problems that the bridge represents.

Calatrava is particularly careful in the combination of technological intelligence with poetry and aesthetics in order to create a sense of identity and to fit the urban setting or the landscape.

One of the most renowned bridges by the Valencia architect is the Alamillo Bridge in Seville, built for the Expo of 1992. This bridge crosses the river Guadalquivir and connects the city with the island of la Cartuja where the Expo was held. Originally the project comprehended a symmetrical pair of bridges on either side of the island but the architect later decided that a single and asymmetrical one was more original and astonishing.

Finally Santiago Calatrava was assigned the important task of designing the new train and subway station at Ground Zero in New York City.

“A man of curves in a city of grids”, that is how the journalist Mark Stevens talks about him in the article Way outside the box. Calatrava will bring his curvilinear Spanish style to Manhattan because he believes that “New York needs many more excellent buildings of intermediate scale, to help humanize and modulate the powerful effect of so many towers[4]

Bibliography:

Frampton, Kenneth, Anthony C. Webster and Anthony Tischhauser. Calatrava          Bridges.

Jodidio, Philip. Calatrava Complete Works 1979-2007. Tashen

Stevens, Mark. “Way outside the Box.” Nymag.com, 16 October 2005. Available from: http://nymag.com/nymetro/arts/architecture/reviews/14795/index1.html

Tzonis, Alexander and Rebecca Caso Donadei. Santiago Calatrava, The bridges.


[1] Stevens, Mark. “Way outside the Box.”

[2] Jodidio, Philip. Calatrava Complete Works 1979-2007. Tashen

[3] Tzonis, Alexander and Rebecca Caso Donadei. Santiago Calatrava, The bridges.

[4] Stevens, Mark. “Way outside the Box.”

Turnig Torso, Malmo Sweden.

80 South Street Tower, New York City.

Hemispheric, Valencia, Spain.

Alamillo Bridge, Seville, Spain.

Project for the World Trade Center, New York City.

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