31 december 2000

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ART/ARCHITECTURE; His Signature Is Bold: Architect, Artist, Engineer - The New York Times

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December 31, 2000 ART/ARCHITECTURE

ART/ARCHITECTURE; His Signature Is Bold: Architect, Artist, Engineer By ALAN RIDING

VALENCIA, Spain— DURING a harried week this fall, Santiago Calatrava rushed across Spain from Valencia to Bilbao and then on to Orleans in France, stopping briefly in each city to attend the inauguration of major public works that he had designed. The timing was, of course, coincidental: the projects -- a museum, an airport terminal and a bridge -- had been years in the making. But they had one thing in common: all carried a strong architectural signature. Put differently, Mr. Calatrava's buildings are hard to miss. As an architect who is also an artist and an engineer, he has learned to combine sculptural concepts with technology to create designs that are both visually striking and structurally daring. Thus, clients who hire him, whether to build bridges or railroad stations, museums or opera houses, are usually seeking something dramatic. Little wonder that many Europeans can now recognize the Calatrava ''look.'' Soon, this 49-year-old Spaniard may also be better known in the United States. His first major American project, an expansion of the Milwaukee Art Museum, should be completed by mid-2001. He has just been chosen to design the new Christ the Light Cathedral for the Roman Catholic diocese of Oakland, Calif. And he is still confident of realizing two earlier commissions that await financing: the completion of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Manhattan and five bridges in Dallas. A year ago he also won the design competition for The New York Times Capsule for the next millennium. Barely 20 years in the profession, the dark-haired, soft-spoken Mr. Calatrava is clearly on a roll. He has plenty of work and even more energy. He keeps his company's headquarters in Zurich, where in the 1970's he studied engineering and met his wife, Tina, who is also now his business manager. He has offices in Valencia and Paris to oversee architecture competitions and construction projects in Spain, France and Belgium. And recently, as a measure of his fascination with the United States, he bought a house on Park Avenue in Manhattan. Yet, for all his renown, what appears not to have changed is Mr. Calatrava's intensely intellectual approach to architecture. As a painter and sculptor, he seeks inspiration in nature, in the forms and movements of humans and animals, of flowers and trees. As an engineer, he is concerned with materials, mechanics and fluid dynamics. Yet it is only as an architect that he feels he can properly express himself, where his love of art and science merge. ''I don't know if an architect is an artist, but I am convinced that architecture can be an art,'' he said recently over lunch in Valencia, just a few miles from his birthplace in Benimamet. ''It is something beautiful and

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ART/ARCHITECTURE; His Signature Is Bold: Architect, Artist, Engineer - The New York Times

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mysterious precisely because there is not a specific discipline called architecture. You study it through a series of approximations. You learn to draw, you study art and history of art, you study mathematics, physics, mechanics, you create models, you visit sites. Only later comes the value added -- beauty.'' It was nonetheless engineering that provided him with the answer to the question raised by every significant building that he studied: how it is made? ''We're used to describing architecture through examples, but the path through materials is more of a mystery,'' he said. ''It interested me to go down that path. How are things made? That's why I studied engineering. Architects work in abstract terms, while engineers work more with models of nature. In the Renaissance and the Gothic period, they worked inward from the stone: how does the arch behave, what are the lines of pressure, what is the form that the arch should take? It's like Michelangelo, who finds the figure inside the block of stone.'' Two old buildings in Valencia served him as early sources of inspiration: a 16th-century Gothic palace known as La Lonja, with its forest of stone columns sustaining a high roof, and the 19th-century Central Market, with fewer iron columns supporting a still larger roof. With reinforced concrete and steel at his disposal, Mr. Calatrava understood that he could go further, conceiving lengthy or vaulted or overhanging roofs in shapes and sizes that would have been unthinkable a century earlier. The artist then took over from the scientist to give them a modern grace. Mr. Calatrava's first major commission, in 1982, was the Stadelhofen Railway Station in Zurich, a complex task that involved working in a hilly, built-up area alongside some 300 yards of curving track. The success of this project led to other railroad commissions, which in the case of the Oriente Station in Lisbon and a station currently under construction in Liege, Belgium, were started in conjunction with urban redevelopment plans. For the Satolas station at the airport in Lyon, France -- given more space and greater freedom -- Mr. Calatrava designed a dramatic V-shaped roof, which resembles the body of a landing eagle (an image echoed, perhaps now as a swan taking to the air, in the V-shaped roof of the new terminal at the airport in Bilbao). It was as an architect of bridges, however, that he first won wide attention. The speciality was no coincidence: Valencia is a city with no fewer than 20 bridges, seven of them made of stone. Mr. Calatrava's particular interest, though, was in putting the traditional suspension bridge to the test of modern technology and design. Today, his geometric white bridges -- 47 so far -- are to be found from Bilbao to Berlin, London to Toronto, and now Orleans, where the 1,550-foot-long Europe Bridge spans the Loire. None is more breathtaking than the Alamillo Bridge in Seville, built for Expo '92, with its single, sharply tilted, 500-foothigh pylon holding the steel wires that sustain the bridge. ''I love being an architect of bridges,'' he said. ''Take the Golden Gate Bridge, a perfect work of art. Without it, San Francisco would be just one of many beautiful bays along the Pacific coast of the Americas. Instead, it makes the bay unique in the world. The idea of a bridge adding dignity to a place is very important. That's why every bridge has to be different. It is made for different people, above all for different surroundings. It can be in a horrible urban spot, but it can rescue its environs.'' Still, for architects today, true recognition seems necessarily to pass through cultural buildings. And it was in

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ART/ARCHITECTURE; His Signature Is Bold: Architect, Artist, Engineer - The New York Times

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his home town of Valencia that Mr. Calatrava was first able to expand his repertory when in 1991 he was commissioned to design a $300 million cultural complex known as the City of Arts and Sciences. Conceived by Valencia as a way of regenerating a run-down part of town, the 950,000-square-foot project is easily the largest that he has taken on so far. A hemispheric-shaped planetarium opened in 1998. A large parking building has a landscaped garden on its roof, which will soon be shaded as vegetation grows over its long latticed roof. And in November, the gigantic Science Museum was opened to the public. The Opera House, due for completion in 2003, will have an 1,800-seat theater for opera, a 1,500-seat auditorium for orchestral music and a 600-seat hall for chamber music, all in a single building tucked beneath an enormous concave roof. Nearby, Mr. Calatrava will also build a music conservatory. The Science Museum, a 150-foot-high white structure of steel, reinforced concrete and glass, suggests something of the rib cage of a beached whale, with light pouring into its main exhibition area on the third floor, itself so spacious as to remind one of a hangar (and a plane is in fact on display there). No less striking is the Calle Mayor, or Main Street, a broad avenue with sculptures that run along the building's glasscovered northern side. Open around the clock to the public, the Calle Mayor reflects Mr. Calatrava's belief in the political message of architecture. ''Politics transcends architecture more than any other art,'' he said. ''My generation in Spain was born in a dictatorship and is now living in a thriving democracy, and the new architecture we see in Barcelona, Seville, Bilbao and Valencia mirrors this. All the buildings I have built are public works; they can be penetrated by the public. They have a transparency that reflects the new political reality.'' Certainly, on its opening day, there was proof enough that the Science Museum had become a public space: while Valencians crowded around Mr. Calatrava to congratulate him, a group of university researchers walked along the Calle Mayor waving banners and handing out flyers demanding increased government funds for scientific research. The City of Arts and Sciences is of course also intended to be a landmark, as is Mr. Calatrava's Opera House in Santa Cruz de Tenerife in the Canary Islands, with its dramatic V-shaped overhang roof, which is now just a year from completion. Similarly, the trustees of the Milwaukee Art Museum were inviting a landmark when they chose Mr. Calatrava to design an extension to the museum, which is housed in a 1957 war memorial designed by the great Finnish architect Eero Saarinen and in a 1975 expansion designed by David Kahler. ''There is a very important emotional dimension to the war memorial, which is probably Saarinen's most austere building,'' Mr. Calatrava said. ''So it wasn't easy to build something beside this. But I thought, if the memorial is in the ground, mine will be all of glass and steel; if the memorial was to the dead, I want to make a building that is alive, one that actually moves.'' A long, single-story building, kept low so as not to obstruct views of Lake Michigan, will provide new exhibition space as well as a lecture hall. The expansion will in turn be linked to Wisconsin Avenue by a pedestrian suspension bridge supported by a 200-foot-high angled mast reminiscent of the Alamillo Bridge in Seville. The defining feature of the museum, however, is a transparent atrium enclosed by a large ''brise-

http://www.nytimes.com/2000/12/31/arts/art-architecture-his-signature-is-bold-architect-artist-enginee... 25/07/2011

ART/ARCHITECTURE; His Signature Is Bold: Architect, Artist, Engineer - The New York Times

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soleil,'' or sunscreen, which opens and closes like the wings of a bird, following the path of the sun and providing shade throughout the day. It is here, perhaps, that Mr. Calatrava's engineering background is most evident: while some architects sketch ideas and then ask engineers whether their designs are viable, his work with sculptural models and mathematical formulas has enabled him to experiment with kinetic architecture. Many of his bridges open, while the planetarium in Valencia, which resembles an eye, has metal sides that can be lowered to suggest eyelids. His proposal for the restoration of the Reichstag in Berlin included a dome that opened to the sky. And his design for the new cathedral in Oakland allows the roof to open and close like two hands in prayer. ''If you have technical knowledge, it's much easier to convey your emotions through the automaticism that technique gives you,'' he said, albeit insisting that the objective remains artistic. Indeed, if his early inspirations were Le Corbusier and Alvar Aalto, if today he admires such different architects as Richard Meier (''for his geometric rigor and purity'') and Frank O. Gehry (''for the explosive impact of his work on the city''), his chosen role model is Picasso. ''Picasso constantly renewed himself, and that's what most concerns me,'' he said. ''The greatest challenge is to live this profession like an artist. You have to be ready to make the leap of death and surprise everyone and yourself. Your work has to be in constant evolution.'' Photos: Santiago Calatrava's planetarium, foreground, and Science Museum, rear, in Valencia, Spain. (Barbara Burg and Oliver Schuh/Palladium Photodesign)(pg. 36); Santiago Calatrava in front of his Science Museum in Spain. (Joan Costa/Cover, for The New York Times)(pg. 37)

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