San­ti­ago Calatrava

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Ar­chi­tect, artist and en­gi­neer San­ti­ago Calatrava made a name for him­self by con­struct­ing a series of grace­ful, harp-like bridges and dra­matic, sculp­tural build­ings, an el­e­va­tion of en­gi­neer­ing to art form. He cre­ates ar­chi­tec­tural mas­ter­pieces of as­ton­ish­ing beauty rather than strictly util­i­tar­ian ones. In New York, his World Trade Cen­ter Trans­porta­tion Hub is stun­ning, the ma­jor pub­lic com­mis­sion speak­ing of his aes­thetic vir­tu­os­ity. The hub’s main Ocu­lus struc­ture is com­posed of steel ribs and glass ar­ranged in an elliptical shape. Be­tween two gi­gan­tic arches, a roughly 100-me­tre-long op­er­a­ble sky­light frames a sliver of sky, and opens on tem­per­ate days as well as an­nu­ally on Septem­ber 11, en­abling nat­u­ral day­light to flood into the struc­ture and fil­ter down through all floors to the rail­way plat­forms some 18 me­tres be­low ground. Al­though it could be com­pared to mo­tifs from dif­fer­ent world tra­di­tions – the Byzan­tine man­dorla or per­haps the wings of the cheru­bim above the Ark of the Covenant – the shape, ac­cord­ing to Calatrava, ref­er­ences a bird re­leased from a child’s hands. “One of the things I find most ex­cit­ing about ar­chi­tec­ture is that it’s an ac­tiv­ity that has the ca­pac­ity to of­fer works that, apart from be­ing use­ful in their func­tional role, make it pos­si­ble to con­vert spa­ces into some­thing in­spi­ra­tional,” he says. “As architects, through our work, we’re able to trans­mit feel­ings to who­ever is con­tem­plat­ing it. By de­vel­op­ing this func­tional role that also pro­vides a ser­vice, the ar­chi­tect has the ca­pac­ity to es­tab­lish ex­tra­or­di­nary re­la­tion­ships with peo­ple, which is, by it­self, some­thing beau­ti­ful.” Calatrava’s rep­u­ta­tion is cen­tred more on form and less on func­tion, and when not mak­ing build­ings he cre­ates sculp­tures, ce­ram­ics and paint­ings. Draw­ing is in­te­gral to his cre­ative process, and he sketches and pro­duces wa­ter­colours con­stantly to ex­plore and re­work his ar­chi­tec­tural de­signs. Born in 1951, he at­tended the Arts and Crafts School in Va­len­cia, Spain, from the age of eight. Ob­sessed with draw­ing, he car­ried his pencils with him wher­ever he went and seemed des­tined for a ca­reer in art un­til he dis­cov­ered the work of Le Cor­bus­ier. Af­ter earn­ing a de­gree in ar­chi­tec­ture from the Polytech­nic Univer­sity of Va­len­cia in 1974, he took a post­grad­u­ate course in ur­ban­ism and stud­ied civil en­gi­neer­ing at the Swiss Fed­eral In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy in Zurich to learn how build­ings are con­structed in or­der to

push the lim­its of ar­chi­tec­tural con­ven­tion, earn­ing a doc­tor­ate in 1981. That same year, he es­tab­lished his own ar­chi­tec­tural and en­gi­neer­ing firm in Zurich, be­fore open­ing of­fices in Paris, New York and Dubai. “Since I was a kid, I’ve al­ways felt a pro­found at­trac­tion to­wards the arts,” says Calatrava. “I was very in­flu­enced by my par­ents, from whom I learned to con­sider art as a state of mind that’s able to move us. When I turned 16, I moved to Paris with the in­ten­tion of study­ing fine arts, but it was May 1968 and the school was closed due to ri­ots. “Dur­ing my time in the city, I en­tered a shop to buy paint­brushes and I found a book on Le Cor­bus­ier, which was a rev­e­la­tion for me. Un­able to start my stud­ies in Paris, I re­turned to Va­len­cia, en­rolled in arts school and later in ar­chi­tec­ture school. Dur­ing those years, I bal­anced my stud­ies with trips across Europe, which al­lowed me to learn about ver­nac­u­lar ar­chi­tec­ture and ac­quire un­for­get­table life ex­pe­ri­ences. “This learn­ing process has served me both in my train­ing as an ar­chi­tect and in the prac­tice of my pro­fes­sion. Of­ten, when you’ve ded­i­cated your­self for such a long time to one job, you find your­self in a com­pletely dif­fer­ent place from where you started. What’s im­por­tant is that through­out your route, you’re able to find the path to ex­press emo­tions through your works.” Calatrava quickly built up a rep­u­ta­tion for com­bin­ing high-tech en­gi­neer­ing so­lu­tions with grand visual spec­ta­cles, par­tic­u­larly in his mas­tery of bridge-build­ing. His Alamillo Bridge, built for Expo ’92 in Seville to pro­vide ac­cess to an is­land that hosted the ex­hi­bi­tions, fea­tures a 142-me­tre-high py­lon slant­ing asym­met­ri­cally away from the river, hold­ing up a span with more than a dozen pairs of ca­bles, thereby trans­form­ing the bridge into a type of sculp­ture that could re­vi­talise the sur­round­ing en­vi­ron­ment. Other no­table bridges by Calatrava in­clude the Bach de Roda in Barcelona, the Sa­muel Beck­ett in Dublin, the Mar­garet Hunt Hill in Dal­las, the Campo Volantin Foot­bridge in Bil­bao, the Woman’s Bridge in Buenos Aires, the Fourth Bridge over the Grand Canal in Venice and the Bridge of Strings in Jerusalem. “I be­lieve each one of the projects I’ve cre­ated re­flects who I am as an ar­chi­tect,” he says. “It’s log­i­cal that there’s an evo­lu­tion both in de­sign and process, be­cause our life is a con­tin­u­ous learn­ing curve. I’ve al­ways at­tempted to speak my own lan­guage. That doesn’t mean a per­son can be en­tirely



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