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Santiago Calatrava is one of the most loved and criticised architects of our times. The concepts of his works are inspired by the natural world, and converts the recurring shapes and forms within in into architectures, which at a first glimpse seem abstracted and beyond common design.
Calatrava is a man of the arts, and as such, he gets inspirations from all disciplines in the realisation of his architectures. He is not only an architect, but also an engineer, sculptor, painter and a set designer. His architectural designs are often followed by watercolour paintings, which show the development of the project and the philosophy behind the concept.
Born in Valencia in 1951, he became an architect in 1974 after getting his degree at the “Escuela Técnica Superior de Arquitectura” and in 1979; he received his degree in engineering at the “ETH” in Zurich. His thesis as an engineer discussed the “Foldability of space frames”, which is about the compression of geometric models in space, and represents one of the key starting points for the development of his early architectural projects. He opened his first studio in Zurich in 1981, and almost immediately produces significant buildings such as the railway station “Stadelhofen” in Zurich and the “Bac de Roda Bridge” in Barcelona. In these years, he also developed his sculptural skills, which have helped him in the designing of the composition and definition of architectural spaces.
During the end of the 80’s, as his international fame was growing due to projects completed in France, Germany, Switzerland and Canada, Calatrava opened a second studio in Paris that aimed to the realisation of Lyon’s airport. In the following years, his architecture gains more and more importance, with remarkable works such as the “Turning Torso” in Malmo, “BCE Place Galleria” in Toronto, many architectures in his native town and one of the most famous buildings he has designed, “Tenerife’s Auditorium”.
The “BCE Place Galleria” in Toronto shows how his designs are often inspired by nature and its elements. For this project, Calatrava wanted the structural complex to look like an avenue of trees. It is visible that the structure of the upper section of the building weaves like branches of a tree. The width of the pillars becomes thinner as they elevate to create vaults that are similar to the ones in flamboyant gothic cathedrals.
Calatrava’s style is characterised by the repetition of regular lines, which despite their simplicity, express dynamism making his structures extend and challenge the rules of physics, as visible in the “Puente del Alamillo” in Seville. The “Ponte della Costituzione” in Venice also shows the clarity and essentiality of its designs. His architectural style is lives in symbiosis with his sculptures, as both disciplines influence each other as many of his sculptures, in fact, inspire his buildings.
Despite his pronounced creativity, Calatrava is one of the most troublesome architects of our time. Most of his project have failed to meet deadlines and have failed to be built within the budgets and resources given, revealing to be more costly than originally planned. The “Ponte della Costituzione”, completed in 2008, has been victim of heated criticism due to delays, escalating costs, lack of wheelchair access and its incompatibility with the Venice’s medieval and renaissance architecture.
Despite the criticism, it is undeniable that Calatrava has affected deeply the world of architecture by bridging the gap between architecture and structural engineering, and continuing the tradition of Spanish modernist engineering started by Antonio Gaudi and many others.
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