What and where is it?
A bridge by Santiago Calatrava that crosses the Grand Canal near Santa Lucia Station in Venice, completed in 2008.
What do we think?
It is a beautiful bridge, in both macro form and micro detail. It is connected to the history of Venetian bridge-building through its stone paving, yet is still recognisably the work of the Spanish structural master. Its arch is both sophisticated and graceful. Its progression of increasingly-gentle steps and hill-like crest are generous, and its cool bronze balustrade is pleasant to the touch. Its frosted-glass steps filter light and shadow both up and down, connecting the flow of people moving from one side of the canal to the other with the world on the water underneath.
There are, however, two important and widely-known problems with this bridge: first, it does not provide disability access, and; second, its aforementioned glass steps become intolerably slippery in the wet, so much so that it is closed whenever it rains (a fact we discovered first hand when blocked by the local carabinieri so far along the canal from the bridge that we could not yet even see it).
We can accept that the disability access may not have been Calatrava’s fault – after all, the briefing requirements for the bridge would likely have been the responsibilty of the city of Venice. And in any event, a lift is being bolted onto the superstructure as we speak, spoiling the lines of the steel perhaps, but resolving access for the disabled. Unfortunately, the slippery steps are not so easy to forgive, nor resolve – a beautiful gesture the glass steps may be, but a fundamental flaw they are also.
What is still on our minds?
We like the bridge, no doubt. Think of it as a flawed masterpiece if you like. The only question that remains is this: do we accept the poorly-specified step material as an isolated error that architects all over the world sometimes make, or is it the egotistical transgression of an international starchitect, prioritising the boldness of his idea over the practicalities of implementation?