A FLAIR WITH CON­CRETE AND STEEL

Zurich-based Span­ish ar­chi­tect SAN­TI­AGO CALA­TRAVA tells y-jean­mun-del­salle how he cre­ates in­spi­ra­tional spa­ces that con­vey emo­tions through a per­sonal artis­tic ap­proach

Prestige (Malaysia) - - Culture -

ar­chi­tect, artist and en­gi­neer San­ti­ago Cala­trava made a name for him­self by con­struct­ing a se­ries of grace­ful, harp-like bridges and dra­matic, sculp­tural build­ings, which el­e­vated en­gi­neer­ing to an art form. He cre­ates ar­chi­tec­tural mas­ter­pieces of as­ton­ish­ing beauty rather than strictly util­i­tar­ian ones. In New York City, his World Trade Cen­ter Trans­porta­tion Hub is stun­ning, the ma­jor pub­lic com­mis­sion speak­ing of his aes­thetic vir­tu­os­ity.

The Ocu­lus is com­posed of steel ribs and glass ar­ranged in a gen­er­ous el­lip­ti­cal shape. Be­tween two gi­gan­tic arches, a roughly 100m-long op­er­a­ble sky­light frames a sliver of the 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 reach the Port Au­thor­ity Trans-Hud­son (Path) train plat­form about 18m be­low ground. Although it could be com­pared to mo­tifs from dif­fer­ent world tra­di­tions — the Byzan­tine man­dorla, the wings of cheru­bim above the Ark of the Covenant, the shel­ter­ing wings on Egyp­tian canopic urns — 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 is 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 states. “As ar­chi­tects, through our work, we are 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, whose rep­u­ta­tion is cen­tred more on form and less on func­tion, is an ar­chi­tect known less for his prag­ma­tism. When not mak­ing build­ings, you’ll find the aes­thete cre­at­ing sculp­tures, ceram­ics and paint­ings. Draw­ing is in­te­gral to his deeply per­sonal cre­ative process, as he sketches and pro­duces wa­ter­colours end­lessly to ex­plore and re­work his ar­chi­tec­tural de­signs.

Born in 1951, he at­tended the Arts and Crafts School in Va­len­cia 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 grad­u­at­ing with a de­gree in ar­chi­tec­ture from the Polytech­nic Univer­sity of Va­len­cia in 1974, he took a post-grad­u­ate 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 sub­se­quently open­ing of­fices in Paris, New York and Dubai.

Start­ing Sketches

“Since I was a kid, I’ve al­ways felt a pro­found at­trac­tion to­wards the arts,” Cala­trava dis­closes. “I was very in­flu­enced by my par­ents, from whom I learned to con­sider art as a state of mind that is 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 my­self 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 later on. Of­ten, when you have ded­i­cated your­self for such a long time to one job, you find your­self in a com­pletely dif­fer­ent place from where you had 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 142m-high py­lon slant­ing asym­met­ri­cally away from the river, hold­ing up a span with over a dozen pairs of ca­bles, thereby trans­form­ing the bridge into a type of sculp­ture that could re­vi­talise the sur­round­ing en­vi­ron­ment.

Other no­table bridges in­clude the Bach de Roda Bridge in Barcelona, the Campo Volantin Foot­bridge in Bil­bao, the Woman’s Bridge in Buenos Aires, the Mar­garet Hunt Hill Bridge in Dal­las, the Sa­muel Beck­ett Bridge in Dublin, the Fourth Bridge Over Canal Grande in Venice and the Bridge of Strings in Jerusalem.

“I be­lieve each one of the projects I’ve cre­ated re­flect who I am as an ar­chi­tect,” he re­marks. “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 au­tonomous; one is con­stantly sub­ject to out­side in­flu­ences. But I al­ways have the am­bi­tion of bring­ing my own ideas to life and in­cor­po­rat­ing my feel­ings into my projects.”

Bridg­ing Ideas

His in­no­va­tive build­ings of con­crete and steel show­case or­ganic shapes and rhythms as well as zoomor­phic forms. “I’ve al­ways been in­spired by na­ture,” Cala­trava ex­plains. “We can see how it re­news it­self con­stantly, of­fer­ing mul­ti­ple nu­ances and sen­sa­tions, which are not al­ways the same for ev­ery per­son. From that in­spi­ra­tion, ar­chi­tects have to look for their own lan­guage, a way of ex­press­ing them­selves. All this is very ob­vi­ous in my work and in the way I de­sign a project.”

His spi­ralling Turn­ing Torso apart­ment tower in Malmö, Swe­den, evokes a twist­ing spinal col­umn, while the Lyon-Saint Ex­upéry Air­port Rail­way Sta­tion sug­gests a bird with out­spread wings about to take flight. Nu­mer­ous iconic works have fol­lowed, in­clud­ing the Stadel­hofen Rail­way Sta­tion in Zurich, an opera house, a sci­ence mu­seum, a plan­e­tar­ium and gar­dens for the al­most-35ha City of Arts and Sciences that gave a new lease of life to an un­der­de­vel­oped and ne­glected area of Va­len­cia, the Liège-Guillemins TGV Rail­way Sta­tion, the Pala­cio de Con­gre­sos con­ven­tion and ex­hi­bi­tion cen­tre in Oviedo and the Mu­seum of To­mor­row in Rio de Janeiro.

Other projects on the draw­ing board or un­der con­struc­tion in­clude one in cen­tral Huashan, China, which com­prises three large ve­hic­u­lar and pedes­trian arch bridges for ac­cess across a new canal. These con­nect the road level to prom­e­nade path­ways at the canal level, and in­clude re­lax­ation zones around and be­neath the bridges.

With Penin­sula Place, Cala­trava is at the heart of the trans­for­ma­tion of Greenwich Penin­sula, Lon­don’s sin­gle largest re­gen­er­a­tion project set to be­come a new cul­tural dis­trict. The roughly 130,000sqm de­vel­op­ment will in­clude a new tube and bus sta­tion, a the­atre, a cin­ema, a per­for­mance venue, bars, shops, a well-be­ing hub and a nearly 25m-high win­ter gar­den over which three tow­ers of workspaces, apart­ments and ho­tels will rise; all are tied to the Thames via a new land bridge.

Mix­ing con­tem­po­rary, sus­tain­able de­sign with the UAE’s rich cul­ture and her­itage, the Dubai Creek Tower land­mark, in­spired by the forms of a lily and minaret, will fea­ture 10 ob­ser­va­tion decks as part of an elon­gated, oval-shaped bud at the top of the tower, while the slen­der stem acts as the struc­ture’s spine, with ca­bles link­ing the build­ing to the ground rep­re­sent­ing the rib­bing of the lily’s leaves.

Cala­trava de­scribes his hopes for the fu­ture: “Ar­chi­tec­ture must face en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues such as cli­mate change. The en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact of build­ings must be con­sid­ered, as well as the car­bon foot­print and the use of re­cy­clable ma­te­ri­als. We can­not avoid any of these is­sues. Ar­chi­tec­ture needs to cre­ate build­ings that are aligned with our mind and spirit, and don’t de­stroy, but rather, in­te­grate har­mo­niously with the land­scape.”

LEFT: SPAN­ISH AR­CHI­TECT SAN­TI­AGO CALA­TRAVA; BE­LOW AND OP­PO­SITE: THE WORLD TRADE CEN­TER TRANS­PORTA­TION HUB IN NEW YORK CITY CRE­ATES A PAUSE AMID THE DENSE COM­MER­CIAL TOW­ERS

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