Santiago Calatrava

Who is he?

Santiago Calatrava is a spanish engineer-turned-architect famous for his expressive, dramatically curving structural compositions. He has completed projects all over the world – our recent travels have brought us to some of those across Spain, Portugal, France and Italy.

The projects shown here via photograph include the Oriente Train Station in Lisbon, the Gare de Lyon in Lyon, and the Ciudad de las Artes y de las Ciencias in Valencia.

What do we think?

As discussed in a previous post on Zaha Hadid’s MAXXI Museum in Rome, here, we have discovered that Calatrava’s work is better in the flesh than it is on the page – an important yet rare quality in the works of architects of his international standing.

His structures are complex and extraordinary, so unlike the buildings of our daily experience that upon arrival – and for a long time thereafter – we stare at them as if seeing columns and arches and trusses for the first time. As we pace the length of a train platform or bridge or car park, our eyes thirstily drink in their elegance, mesmerised by the interplay between elements, their continuously shifting formal relationships.

Inside or, given the openness of his most exciting transport projects, at least within the general boundaries of Calatrava’s works is where we discover the locus of his creative energies. Columns, arches and trusses are words perhaps too categorical for the structural elements he employs – columns sweep up from their elaborate anchors, splitting, fanning out and re-combining as they stretch out across the roof of a space, twisting and reshaping to become gently-curving beams that span 50m or more before retracing the steps of their metamorphosis back down to the ground.

Calatrava is a master of concrete and steel. He uses them with deftness and certainty, confident in the structural opportunities they possess but also cognisant of their limitations – how far he can push them, how best to shape them to express their inherent strengths. In this way, he achieves both vast sophistication and modest simplicity in every project: whilst there is no doubt that his works must cost a fortune to document and build, and that the structures he employs are at least 1 part expression to 1 part function, it is clear that his interest lies in the reduction of a building to its essence, the peeling back of the layers of program, skin and material down to the fundamental core of a building, its skeleton.

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